Are You Dating a Narcissist? How to Spot “Narcissistic Personality Disorder”

This just in–you may be dating a narcissist.  So said Chicago Tribune writer Heidi Stevens in her piece “Are You Dating a Narcissist?”.

“Narcissism is an epidemic in our society,” argues Lisa Scott, author of “It’s All About Him: How to Identify and Avoid the Narcissist Male Before You Get Hurt” ( CFI, 2009). “Our culture breeds it.”

Here are the nine signs that signal a person has fallen prey to “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” (you can’t make this stuff up).  The American Psychological Association has identified these:

•Feels grandiose and self-important for reasons not supported by reality

•Obsesses with fantasies about unlimited success, fame, power or omnipotence

•Believes he/she is unique and special and can be understood by and associate with only other unique or high-status people

•Requires excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation

•Feels a sense of entitlement

•Exploits others without guilt or remorse

•Is devoid of empathy

•Tends to be envious of others or believes others are envious of him/her

•Displays arrogant and haughty behavior

The biggest red flag, Scott says, is lack of empathy.

Here’s one hilarious testimony from an NPD survivor:

“My ex-husband and I were seeing a therapist, and she met with me privately and said, ‘He has NPD. The only thing we can do is continue meeting like this, and I can give him ways he should treat you, but he’ll never be able to do it on his own,’” Scott recalls. “They don’t comprehend that other people have feelings, and they never will.”

This is one of the funniest pieces I’ve read in a while.  There is now a formal psychological diagnosis for narcissism, which is nothing other than the greatest human sin–pride–parading itself before others.  You have to love the therapist–”the only thing we can do is continue meeting like this”.  Won’t hurt, of course, that this exclusive form of redress comes to the tune of hundreds and probably thousands of dollars.  How shocking to see the bottom line pop up in such a conversation.

On a more serious note, how maddening is it to see our society continue its transition from a theological foundation to a psychological one?  It seems clear that pastors need to be reading modern psychologists, because these folks are some of the only ones in a postmodern world beside ministers who are tackling character issues.  Of course, they are radically relabeling them and divesting them of spiritual content.

With that said, we might point out that narcissism does seem to be an epidemic these days.  On a constant basis, people think about themselves, whine about their lives, speak loudly in public places to call attention to themselves, throw themselves at the merest opportunity to get “fame”, broadcast the details of their daily lives like mini-celebrities, and dress and act in garish ways to draw attention.

Many of us have NPD, it seems, and the only cure can’t be found in a therapist’s chair.  We very much need wise pastors and biblical counselors to help our people to see that their narcissism is a matter of not loving Christ enough, not a mere quirk of their makeup.

By the way, does anyone else want to see Carl Trueman tackle this one?

  • Jethro

    Owen,

    There is a fundamental difference between pride and NPD. I’m sure you wouldn’t like psychologists commenting from their lay perspective on theological issues. Perhaps you ought extend them the same courtesy?

    The Christian rebellion against psychology ultimately does nothing but display the cloistered nature of the Christian worldview.

  • http://banannery.wordpress.com Dave

    There is a fundamental difference between pride and NPD.

    Enlighten me.

  • Jethro

    Sure thing Dave. It’s like the difference between being a bit sad and suffering from major depression. Between normality (pride) and pathology (NPD).

    Consider the difference between me running the 100 meters and Ussain Bolt running the 100 meters. Fundamentally it is the same thing, but boy are there some massive differences.

  • liz

    I was redirected to this site from a different blog. It saddened me to read this particular analysis of psychology and specifically this devastating diagnosis that harms those in relationship with someone with NPD. While I can see your viewpoint of narcissism simply being the sin of pride that every individual exudes, if one meets an individual with this diagnosis you will be able to note a marked difference.

    Imagine being in relationship with someone that never admits to any wrong doing. That adamantly stands by their opinion without wavering and paying heed to the others experience or emotion. Imagine a child being raised with a narcissistic parent… the child would probably have a low sense of self-esteem and a deep question of their own judgment. Individuals that exude what is defined as NPD are difficult to deal with and therapeutic techniques are probably some of the only methods that work because those that the NPD interacts with on a normal basis will not recognize these tendencies within the individual and therefore turn inward and blame themselves.

    As with many personality disorders, it’s taking a part of human nature and turning the dial up to the max. NPD seems to exist, however, I think the pop article that this blog was written towards may have misrepresented NPD to being more “normal functioning” types of reactions. If one is in relationship with someone diagnosed with NPD I believe they would agree.

    • John

      Totally agree with Liz. If you have someone with NPD in your life, it is truly a living nightmare. Yes, narcissistic tendencies in normal people can be somewhat innocuous and sometimes amusing, but dealing with a true NPD in your life is no trivial matter, it can be hell on earth. These people turn normal human social convention on its head. If you encounter an NPD, I say don’t just walk away, run!

  • http://banannery.wordpress.com Dave

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but both comments above describe a person who sounds exactly like the “insolent” and “haughty” fool found all over Proverbs—destructive and utterly unteachable. People like this existed back then, too. And Solomon, inspired by the Holy Spirit, used moral labels for them.

    Apart from that, I’m not sure how seriously you are taking the corrupting power of sin. If it’s a matter of degree, why is labeling it “pride” such a bad thing? Why should the severity of this sin and the damage it inflicts on other people be so surprising to us? Why should we think of pride as a minor sin, like being “a bit sad”?

    Thank you for replying, and I am open to your thoughts on this. It’s just that, so far, I’m not sure how what you’re saying fits into a biblical worldview.

  • Jonesie

    There needs to be a lot of educating of those in the Christian community regarding personality disorders. Jethro commented that the Christian rebellion against psychology demonstrates it’s cloistered worldview. He is DEAD RIGHT. I am an educated Christian pastor in the Evangelical community. I can tell you this is true firsthand. We suffer from inadequate understandings of psychological concepts, categories, and the nature of the human psyche. This is because the most within the faith community set up a false dichotomy between Biblical revelation and human scientific discovery of the human brain and personality. This fatal flaw of education impairs the ability of Christian believers to receive insights from psychology and psychiatry because they are afraid it does not line up with their list of “prooftexts” in the Bible. Or if the Bible is silent on a matter, many with faith deny it’s existence. The Bible is not meant to be used this way.

    Dave, pride and NPD cannot be compared to each other anymore than lighting a match can be compared to nuclear detonation. While those with NPD can most certainly be very prideful, those who suffer from being prideful do not necessarily have NPD. Pride is a condition of being human that redemption begins to cure by taking on the nature of humility. NPD cannot be cured because it is a condition that cannot allow humility to enter in as it threatens the very existence of those with NPD. We can cure NPD no more than we can cure someone born with no limbs. We can only make some accommodations to limit the destruction of narcissists and that is very difficult as well. Usually limited to no contact is the cure. Stay downwind from those who are NPD, BPD, HPD, or Sociopathic, and do not ever fall victim to the belief that your prayer or love will redeem them. It will not.

  • http://banannery.wordpress.com Dave

    Jonesie, do you believe that someone exhibiting NPD is sinning? Is this person responsible for his or her behavior? How is NPD related to biblical categories of morality? I’m trying to understand how you integrate this with a biblical worldview.

    I’m still not sure why you think the fact that someone is unteachable is evidence that this is a mental disorder. Doesn’t sin make someone unteachable—particularly pride? (Rom 1:21; Eph 2:1–3)

    I’m not at all trying to discredit all psychological concepts; I’d appreciate not being lumped in with your stereotypes. I just don’t want to cede ground if the Bible clearly identifies a behavior as sin and clearly offers hope of redemption through the power of the Holy Spirit.

  • Jonesie

    Dave, please don’t hear me lumping you into a category. We both know many who have no use for and discredit psychological concepts within the Faith community. I didn’t hear that from you.

    I do believe they are sinning. And they are responsible! Totally and will be held to account for the actions. Also I believe NPD is a personality disorder not a mental disorder, for which they will be responsible. Mental disorders involve something that we cannot hold the sufferer responsible for. I didn’t say nor would I that it is a matter of unteachable. The educating is needed amongst those IN the Faith community …not those who are NPD. It is far worse than being unteachable. Perhaps one can view it as a conscience seared as with an iron. Perhaps many other verses that are very blunt about those clearly headed for destruction would apply. The New Testament indicates that there are some people we are to withdraw from and have nothing to do with. If those people can ultimately be saved then it is something that must be left with God. Meanwhile social and relational isolation is necessary. They are too destructive and dangerous, and will not change. For the rare NPD Like Dr. Sam Vaknin who embraces the self-awareness, then possibilities exist to extend trust. Otherwise do not be a well intentioned obstacle in the path of an NPD.

  • http://banannery.wordpress.com Dave

    Hi Jonesie, fair enough, though I vastly prefer the biblical label of a “haughty fool,” since this indicates moral culpability. A wise person who has studied the Proverbs already knows that such a person may need to be avoided.

    I was especially troubled by your statement, “Do not ever fall victim to the belief that your prayer or love will redeem them. It will not.” I agree that you and I can’t save anyone; that’s God’s job. And the principles of wisdom definitely say that there are times when we need to break off contact with such people. But why are you saying that even prayer will have no impact on such a person? Can the Holy Spirit not change such a person’s heart? Is he that powerless? Is there truly no hope for a sinner?

    You say many Christians are too quick to dismiss secular psychology. Let me then say that many Christian psychologists are too quick to dismiss the wisdom of God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit.

  • Jonesie

    Hi Dave, yes I am saying the even prayer will have no impact on the person. It will save you and I perhaps from the destruction of the malignant narcissist, but not them. Don’t pray for them, there are a thousand widows and orphans in Africa that could much rather benefit from that time you spend in prayer. It won’t be like water through a sieve.

    Or pray instead that you and I become more resolute and tough minded and not afraid of seeing pure darkness and evil for what it is, and stop clinging to the co-dependent like belief that we can change it. It’s a bit like the discussion people have about whether Hitler could be saved. Silly waste of time because it’s not relevant, and falls outside the world of realism. It’s not a matter of could God, but will Hitler. And no he won’t. Simple as that.

    I guess I really just don’t buy into what it seems like you are presenting to me. That there is an “either / or” dichotomy between Biblical text and psychology. Why do you say you don’t want to “cede ground”? I don’t see any ground to cede because I don’t believe there are irreconcilable differences between psychology and Biblical understanding. That’s the difficulty I have with so many people in our faith communities. The Bible is viewed as a limiting document and not something that can be brought more clearly into focus by discoveries about the human condition through psychology or science etc. They too often are afraid that some new insight or discovery might suddenly prove the Bible wrong or something. It’s so crazy and drives many people into a weird paradigm of “we better defend the Bible”. I just don’t accept the insecurity of that position. Wasn’t it Lewis who said “defending Christianity is like defending a roaring lion”?

    And of course the results of this faulty belief are always practical. This is why churches and faith communities are often so easily targeted by narcissists and sociopaths. They are easy targets because the people are just so damn nice and its easy to pull the wool over the eyes.

  • http://banannery.wordpress.com Dave

    “Don’t pray for them.”

    Wow. That’s all I can say.

    I don’t believe that there is necessarily an either/or dichotomy between the Bible and psychology, but what you just wrote demonstrates that secular psychology based on an unbiblical worldview can often lead people away from biblical truth and from trusting in God…often into cynicism, fatalism, and hopelessness.

    Thanks for the conversation; I just wanted to peek into your mindset a little to understand it. I appreciate your candor.

  • http://plousia.org Susanna

    This really isn’t hilarious. I dated somebody who exactly fit this description. It was more than just “pride”, there was something seriously wrong with this person that he seemed totally unwilling or unable to recognize. He exhibited all of the symptoms listed.

    It saddens me to see Christians being so arrogant about the observations of secular scientists or psychologists. You may not believe that the cure is the same as these people are saying, but if you can’t recognize that they’re observing something valid, you’ve either never experienced it or will be ineffective in attempting to deal with it. You can either simply lump it in with “pride” because you need something to only have a label that is found in Scripture, or you can understand that Scripture was never meant to be a psychological manual and does not describe all of the myriad conditions fallen man can exhibit. In the meantime, don’t wound the people who have genuinely suffered at the hands of people like this by denying the problem exists or “normalizing” it and simplifying it to sin/repent.

  • Jonesie

    “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death , he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I DO NOT SAY THAT HE SHOULD PRAY ABOUT THAT. (caps mine)
    All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death.” (1 John 5: 16-17)

    Dave it appears that the Biblical worldview already knew about conditions like NPD long before psychology defined and brought sharper focus to it.

    So is it really “wow” Jonesie…. or “wow” John?

  • http://banannery.wordpress.com Dave

    Jonesie, what in the text has led you to believe that 1 John 5:16–17 is meant for this situation?

  • Jonesie

    Well do you have any other situation where it would apply? I mean if you can’t see it applies when it comes to destructive people with no conscience… I don’t know what you would ever come up with that it could apply to? Do you think this verse is reserved for maybe one or two people in human history like perhaps Nero or Hitler?

    NPD’s BPD’s and sociopaths are walking death and they destroy everyone they are with and have no remorse because the misery they cause is the reward of making the other person feel as awful on the inside as they do. They believe they are doing the right thing and even doing their victims a favor. They believe they have the right to dispense pain and misery to others as others are mere pawns to be used in the game of reinforcing the false image of themselves as superior. Most psychologists will not treat them since it simply arms them with better use of the lingo of therapy in order to dupe their next victim, lover, friend, co-workers, etc. We in the ministry (at least if we understand what is going on) should not minister to them either, not pray for them, not “give them encouragement” as it arms them to the teeth on their hunt through a congregation. they then have perfected Christian language and suggest to new people they meet that they are “tight with the pastor”. They often will appear to be very spiritual and sincere and will in fact be hunting for supply victims at all times. Their psychological and emotional antenna are highly tuned to probe the weaknesses of others. Where they see a need to flatter or “encourage”, to offer excessive help, to promote the gifts of somebody they see as a source of supply, they will pour it on. They will make you think that they believe you hung the moon, establish soul ties to you, suck you in, promise you everything, and then reverse it so that you come to believe that in fact they hung the moon. Then the destruction and crazy-making games begin. At the end when they have sucked you dry emotionally, relationally, physically and financially, and when your personality is nearly destroyed they will despise your weakness with an intensity that matches their initial infatuation with you. Then when you are discarded and too exhausted to know which way up is, they will tell all your friends (that they met through you) that you are a cruel, toxic, and dysfunctional failure as a human and as a Christian.

    In any case Dave, as a believer and a pastor I could tell you many stories of redemption of people who have done some terrible things and God has gotten a hold of them and changed their lives. Ten years as a prison pastor gives these wonderful stories. But there is a huge difference between these redeemed criminals, other unredeemed nasty criminals and NPD, sociopathic or BPD emotional vampires. The latter are a waste of your time. Nasty criminals have a better chance than they do.

    If you can imagine for a minute to some of us reading the dialogue between us here. We once had a Christian bubble around us that made it hard to accept the reality of people with these personality disorders. I too once shared your optimism and reluctance to allow secular psychology to weigh in. I wanted to believe that the power of the Holy Spirit was all that mattered and no other categories of the fallen condition could prevent that. So I really feel for you and the struggle you sense in this dilemma. But if you got engaged to and married an NPD, or your sister or your son married one…. your bubble would burst and you would be searching more than the Bible to find out what on earth has destroyed your life so badly.

    The victims of these people have been so badly wounded and confused that they believe they are the ones who are crazy and many never recover. Many choose suicide or exist in the ruins of their life unable to find a happy relationship. These victims know best that this person was in a category way beyond basic human sin and haughty pride or insolence. It is in fact a deep, deep insult and fresh wound to minimize what they have experienced by suggesting something like `well, sin is sin in the eyes of God and we just need to forgive and pray for the repentance of that person.“ Nah, don`t bother… go no contact and remove them from your awareness no matter how long it takes. If you need a little ceremony to help forget about them, stamp an envelope, address it to them, reserve it in a safety deposit box for the day you eventually hear about them and laugh like hell about them opening your envelope in which is a bumper sticker that reads Karmas a bitch.

  • http://banannery.wordpress.com Dave

    You may have a good observation in that such a person has passed a tipping point where now an imprecatory psalm may be a good prayer, since this person is so far down the path of sin and has given himself so eagerly to Satan’s corruption. But we should pray for that person nonetheless. There is nothing we should refuse to bring before our Father in prayer.

    And I would never wish to minimize the wounds of others, offer cheap cliches, or try to force reconciliation without repentance. God never does that in his Word. Reading your comments does help me understand the imprecatory psalms a bit better, since your words clearly indicate anger and hatred toward perverted, wicked people.

  • Jonesie

    Not the case Dave. I am surrounded by those kinds of people each and every day and have been for 10 years. I’m happy at it too and spend a lot of time with them after their release.
    I think you still miss my point.

  • http://banannery.wordpress.com Dave

    By “perverted, wicked people” I was simply referring people with NPD. I don’t know how this sentence you wrote can come from anything but anger and hatred:

    If you need a little ceremony to help forget about them, stamp an envelope, address it to them, reserve it in a safety deposit box for the day you eventually hear about them and laugh like hell about them opening your envelope in which is a bumper sticker that reads Karmas a bitch.

    I’m not saying such hatred is necessarily bad. There may be cases where it is appropriate (Ps 139:19–22).

    Frankly, I’m not sure what the point you are trying to make is, other than that people with NPD are wicked and beyond repentance. Perhaps you could distill your point into a sentence for clarity’s sake.

  • Jonesie

    Either missing my point or perhaps proving it.
    The point was made by Jethro in the beginning. Here are two sentences that will hopefully clear it up.

    There is a huge difference between pride, insolence or haughtiness and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Psychologists don’t comment as lay people on theology as if they know better so why do Christians (who often are not even theologians) dismissively comment as lay people on psychology? Psychology and psychologists inform us on matters of psychology…. they actually have the training.

    They are not a matter of degrees of difference. My point then was that in the faith community there is an enormous amount of misinformation and lack of education about what role psychology has to help inform us about the nature of the human condition in all it’s varieties. You have helped illustrate my point.

    And I think those who have been the targeted victims of sociopaths or narcissists would know what I mean by wanting to give them a bumper sticker reminding them that their karma has caught up to them when it has finally caught up to them. That would be a very light response considering what some victims truly fantasize about doing to their narcissists once they have been devastated by them. If you have sat with these victims trying to rebuild their lives they would not describe a bumper sticker as hatred. Not even close compared to what they feel like they would like to do in the midst of their anger, devastation and betrayal.

    Anger on the other hand is very much what they feel. And there is never anything wrong with anger. It is a normal God-given emotional response to injustice, abuse and trauma.

    Pray for these people and leave the NPD’s to the highway, your rear view mirror and the bumper sticker.

    • Leah

      @Jonesie. Just found this thread, I just experienced an NPD.. 3 mos. relationship and he was able to tear me down like no other… stilll getting over it 2 mos. later and it was my shortest relationship ever! I’ve dated a socio-path, a straight up alcoholic etc.. and neither of the two did as much damage as this one has. Your paragraph on them being intensely infatuated then despising you/your weaknesses is spot on. I really hope karma gets him, NPD are so destructive and as my Mother coined it was really a spiritual attack on me.. I was having negative dreams, etc etc for weeks after. It has come down to spiritual warfare in my case and perhaps others not to let this type of person tear you down and leave the wound open to let your mind tell you “everything was your fault, if you were better here and there etc etc the relationship would have worked…” and so on. I am thankful for your words b/c they are true !

  • John

    I don’t presume to know who will or will not be saved. I would hope if it were my child or other loved one, that myself and others would not give up on them having a chance of salvation seeing as how it is God’s hope that all be saved and He does not wish that any would perish.
    Is there any possibility that the “age of reason” or “age of enlightenment” has adversely affected later generations (namely – us) into relying upon our own understanding and human wisdom rather than upon God’s? Have we been indoctrinated (rather than educated) by the public shool systems into a secularized way of thinking? Do any of us humans have complete knowledge and understanding ? Jesus shed his blood for all sinners. He roughly said that with man not everything is possible, but with God all things are possible.
    Do not psychology and psychiatry come from the Greek, “psyche” referring to a soul or a spirit ? If so, then God’s Word speaks on these matters – whether the speaker that speaks God’s Word is two years old or a hundred and two years old. God’s Word still is valid as truth and light whether it be spoken from behind a pulpit, from a pew, or in the public forum.
    I do believe in some vailidity as to the Scripture reference concerning “searing one’s own conscience”. I also believe in interceding for others. There was a crippled man that could not bring himself to Jesus to be healed. His friends brought him, carried him up on a roof, tore open the roof, and lowered him down before Jesus so he could be healed. They put forth an effort on behalf of another.
    On one occassion, Jesus’ disciples could not cast a demon out of a boy. Jesus said that those type only come out by prayer and fasting. Is it possible that NPD and other “psyche” disorders could be caused by demonic possession or oppression?
    Can secular (non-spiritual) human wisdom, human knowledge, human power, human understanding overcome the influences of demons? Who does wield this power to bring deliverance? Mark 16:17
    I cannot say that there are no such things as actual mental / emotional / behavioral / personality disorders. I can say that there are such things as actual demons. According to Scripture, in the gospels, they were responsible for causing both physical and ‘mental’/’personality’ disorders. There was a woman hunched over. There was a boy that through himself into the water and into the fire. Jesus healed them both. His power is without limit and God has mercy upon those He chooses to show mercy at times.
    The Holy Spirit also distributes gifts of the Holy Spirit – one of which is “the discerning of spirits”. Through the power of God, Samson defeated a bunchload of Philistines. Through the power of God, men have healed the sick, lame, deaf , blind, and raised the dead back to life. Through common working men and the power of the Holy Spirit, God spread the gospel and grew the church. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, men spoke in other languages even though they didn’t have the training. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, believers can discern spirits and have words of knowledge and words of wisdom concerning matters in which they are not trained by other men.
    Can the church learn from scientists and psychologists? Sure, as long as they do not dismiss God’s power and better wisdom and understanding of the human heart, soul, and spirit. Perhaps all of us should not trust in our own understanding, but in all our ways acknowledge Him. Maybe He can still help us to help others that at first seem beyond His reach. Is anything too hard for God?

    • Radiance

      “Is it possible that NPD and other “psyche” disorders could be caused by demonic possession or oppression?”

      Bingo!

      “Can the church learn from scientists and psychologists? Sure, as long as they do not dismiss God’s power and better wisdom and understanding of the human heart, soul, and spirit. Perhaps all of us should not trust in our own understanding, but in all our ways acknowledge Him. Maybe He can still help us to help others that at first seem beyond His reach. Is anything too hard for God?”

      Well stated!

      What a blessing this blog has been to read! I came across it after doing a google search on the harms of Christian celebrity culture…It turns out God might have led me to this blog to read about the ways believers are reconciling the discoveries made in the field of psychology with their Biblical worldview — an issue that has become quite relevant in my own life lately.

  • Bob McDowell

    Teaching narcissism through song.

    According to this, Jesus thought of ME above all. So much for the Glory of the Father!

    How about the climax line in the CCM song “Above all”?

    Crucified
    laid behind the stone
    You lived to die
    rejected and alone
    Like a Rose
    trampled on the ground
    You took the fall
    and thought of me
    Above all

  • Jonesie

    John, why did you assume we were even discussing the issue of ultimate salvation? I have not said that it is not possible for a person with malignant narcissism to be saved in the end. To say that the consensus is that there is no known way to truly cure NPD, and that it is not likely treatable, is not to say there is no chance for that person to be saved.

    I think this is the complaint many non-Christians have with the Christian worldview. Jethro stated it earlier and that was that it is a “cloistered” worldview. The discussion is about the here and now matter of dealing with narcissists. I have always wondered why we Christians cannot seem to deal in the here and now world and tend to hastily force discussions like this into whether or not the person will go to heaven or hell. Who in this discussion is talking about final salvation or damnation? The issue is what to do with Narcissistic destructive people in the here and now. Why is it so difficult for those in our faith community to come to terms with the insights of psychology, that deals in the here and now?

    Why is it a matter of either “the age of enlightenment” OR “relying on God’s wisdom”? Why are these two things mutually exclusive to us as Christians. I think many of us would agree that the enlightenment gave us a number of faulty ideas, but it also transmitted to us significant abilities to peer into those very things that are the wisdom of God. Why the fear of that?

    The enlightenment gave us the scientific ability to discover God’s wisdom in matters of medicine as in the discovery of penicilan and a thousand other medical breakthroughs. Would it be so bizarre to imagine that the science of the human psyche and personality might also give us ways to understand some of the complexities of the human condition?

    The enlightenment gave us the science to understand how to cure some medical conditions and how to understand others have no cure and why. Why would it be such a surprise to grant psychology the same ability. At the end of the day would we all not agree that both reflect the wisdom of God? Why this irresistable fear and suspicion that cloisters Christians in a worldview that cannot take this stuff in? Do we easily forget that believers once thought that schizophrenia and other conditions were considered evil or demonic possession? Or that witches were accused not for witchcraft but for mental conditions?

    I think it is often a major gap between the faith community and the scientific or psychological community that makes the two unable to communicate to each other at all. I am venturing to say that the fault lies more on our side. It’s a stone only we can throw at ourselves.. and should. The experts discuss the treatment of or inability to treat the complexities of psychological abnormality and the resulting behavior, and all Christians tend to hear is “Ummm … They’re saying God’s word is not true.” No they’re not. They are saying that there are complexities of the human condition that have taken milleniums to learn. The other problem is that we Christians don’t even quote secular experts correctly. In Owen’s blog post he incorrectly stated that psychology came up with NPD and conditions like this to basically generate a growth in the psychology and therapy industry. These kind of factually incorrect assumptions do more to discredit the Christian worldview than anything because it says to the secular world that not only are these people dumb but they are also dishonest. Owen evidently forgot to do his research before he approached his keyboard. In fact, most psychologists and psychiatrists agree that it goes great harm to try and treat NPD and sociopaths. It only arms them with the lingo to better manipulate and is a waste of time anyway as it is untreatable. So much for making money off the diagnosis.

    John, sure I would assume some cases of disorder are actually demonic. And I would assume that a case of any degree could be cured in a miracle of God. But the norms for these matters in the here and now are often not stated in the Bible. The norms for here and now seem to indicate to stay the heck away from NPD and sociopathic individuals… they are a waste of our time and will only destroy.
    The Bible seems to grant some roles and insights to us to fulfill and discover, and would it be far-fetched to see these as truths of God discovered through inquiry? For example, the Bible says nothing about the ethical details of human cloning, or of nuclear fusion, or of rocket science. But there are truths discovered in all of them.

    I would submit that our evangelical Christian worldview for some reason in North American Christianity has some strange mentality implanted within it that actually betrays it’s true nature and it’s history. It then causes us to suffer a strange kind of social and intellectual retardation. And it is not necessary. I have to leave it to others smarter than myself to figure out what that strange mentality really is.

  • owenstrachan

    Jonesie–you make some provocative points here. Some good stuff to think about.

    I do think, though, that we have to think hard about psychology and psychiatry. I would agree that insights come from these professions. Furthermore, not everything that we know and live by is explicitly spelled out in the Bible.

    It seems a mistake, however, to cede these disciplines–barely a century old, being generous–the authority they request, especially on matters that relate to morality and, seemingly, spirituality. My personal, relatively undeveloped opinion is that for many folks, psychotherapy trumps spirituality or theology. Many modern types have little truck with the church, but they have much engagement with a shrink, or self-help healing, or therapy. It’s not too much to suggest that for some, psychology has replaced spirituality, and psychiatrists are the new pastors.

    For Christians, the ultimate moral, spiritual and theological authority is the Bible. The Bible has a great deal to say about character and behavior. In multiple places in Scripture, it devastatingly critiques pride, which is really just public narcissism. To be excessively proud is not to have a mental disorder–it is, primarily, to be deeply sinful and radically mancentric.

    Which is why I made the post that has sparked this long and heated discussion. Secular types have identified deep-seated narcissism as a problem but are treating it not in moral terms, but in therapeutic terms. This is a major mistake, and a common one in psychotherapy–making a moral issue a therapeutic one.

    None of this belittles the deeply troubling struggle for those around the narcissist. Pride is a terrible thing, and it has major consequences for all around oneself. But it is not primarily a therapeutic problem. It is moral. It needs not soothing talk and heavy introspection, but rebuke, challenging, spiritual correction, and the application of theological truth, namely, the need for a radical theocentrism and a thoroughhgoing self-abasement.

    This isn’t not terribly complicated; it’s not worth spending thousands of dollars on in sessions; it requires hard spiritual work powered by prayer for the Holy Spirit to work in a sinner’s life.
    Therapists may have a genuine desire to help people, and psychology may present us with some insights about human thinking and behavior, but we can take great comfort–and great financial security–in knowing that we are not dependent on experts who charge us hundreds of dollars for hope. The Bible has a clear solution to narcissism–die to self, and live to Christ.

  • Jonesie

    Owen, you too make several good points. In fact, as far as the North American Evangelical Christian worldview goes, you articulate it at its best. But let me underline the terms North American and Evangelical. They are young viewpoints as well, barely more than 200 years in the first case and probably only 80 years in the second (younger than the age you give to psychology).

    Historic Christianity worldwide encompasses much more than current evangelicalism which I submit is most handicapped by a reductionist, polarizing, and juvenile outlook. It has a hard time absorbing and re-interpreting concepts that come forward from worldly outlooks, so it pushes them from view or labels them as bad and inferior to Christian theology (a big mistake). But if all truth is in fact in Christ, then no matter who finds it first (secular psychology or Christian theology) it is in Christ and can be accepted and absorbed. North American Evangelical Christianity is woefully incapable on the whole at doing this.

    This is why psychiatrists and psychologists are the new pastors for most people. They are the ones providing answers to todays problems experienced by people. Most pastors are terribly ill prepared and can no longer deal with the complexities of the human condition in the light of the problems of today. I think sheep tend to wander to where the food is at.

    Secondly, you are putting forward a factually incorrect statement regarding the psychological and psychiatric professions, and you made the same error in your original post. You make the case that it is a “new” condition diagnosed by the therapists in order to be self-serving and benefit financially from the therapeutic process. In reality it is generally agreed in the professions that it is of no value to treat for example malignant Narcissism since treatment generally does not work, and there is really no known cure. Most psychologists leave it alone. So where is the financial benefit you are suggesting they receive? There isn’t one. In the case of sociopaths, it is in fact a dangerous mistake to treat them since it only arms them with the language to manipulate and destroy. Again, no benefit to the profession.

    Believe me, I have seen and been a part of attempts to offer personality disordered and sociopathic individuals with “rebuke, challenge, and application of spiritual truth”. It’s about as successful as calming and corralling a raging bull elephant with a fly-swatter. Good luck with that.

    So while Evangelicals bemoan the fact that society is moving away from theological foundations to psychological ones, it is movements like new age that fill the void and incorporate psychological understandings and provide answers to people. So why wouldn’t they go to where the answers are? whether it is a good change or not is not really that important. It is what it is, and that’s where they are going.

    I just don’t think it is necessary because we in the evangelical movement do not need to be so reactionary.

    With narcissism or “public narcissism” as you call it, we all share in that and yes it is sinful and man-centric. But that is a HUGE difference from malignant Narcissictic Personality Disorder. That is where the raging elephant lies. Elephants are beautiful, just stay in the jeep and watch them through binoculars. And DON’T make the mistake of believing that that pretty elephant can be tamed to behave. He can’t. He is what he is and was created in the wilds.

    You would benefit greatly from studying what is said about NPD, BPD, HPD, or psycopathy, and talk to those who know what it is like to have been devastated by one of them.

  • owenstrachan

    Jonesie–as others have experienced, I can see that this is quite a concern of yours. Your remarks are well-taken.

    My comments about financial profiting stem directly from the article above (which is the context for everything I’ve said before): “My ex-husband and I were seeing a therapist, and she met with me privately and said, ‘He has NPD. The only thing we can do is continue meeting like this, and I can give him ways he should treat you, but he’ll never be able to do it on his own.’” In addition, all truth is indeed God’s truth, but where God has spoken, His counsel takes priority. There is a term for the serial narcissist in Scripture, it seems to me: the fool of Proverbs.

    I do understand what you’ve said about the inefficacy of some pastors. We need more “soul counselors”. When pastors truly know the Word, they will be best equipped to handle people who are dealing with primarily moral issues that also have other dimensions. Narcissism is not a neurosis, fundamentally–it is a sin. As I understand it, sin will manifest all kinds of problems in our lives–mental, psychological, psychosomatic, and so on. But this does not mean that the fundamental issue is not moral. On the other hand, neither will sin be easy to deal with, necessarily, as you’ve pointed out. Again, it seems we see again the importance of stout biblical preaching and richly theological counseling.

    We can agree to disagree where necessary. I’m not interested in Internet flame-wars. You’ve made some good points, and I hope for a return to Puritan soul-care that is, in my opinion, the best treatment for the particular struggle before us in the article cited above.

  • Jonesie

    Well I see no flame-wars or even heated discussion. This discussion feels pretty much like a healthy disagreement. Myself and a few other comments were directed at correcting substantial factual errors about financial gain from diagnosing NPD and the originating Christian belief system that distrusts psychology.

    I think we have all played the “fool” from Proverbs. I know I have. But Malignant Narcissism is completely different from that. A Narc will surely play the fool, but not everyone who plays the fool is a malignant Narcissist.

    Let me suggest you try to look at it this way; would you consider it God’s normal will that we are all born able bodied and sound in mind? If so, then you would agree that being deformed or not of sound mind is ultimately a product of being in a fallen world. The sinful condition messes with humanity and we see things like schizophrenia, polio, or birth deformation, hereditary illness and so on.

    If that is the case, then schizophrenia is not demon possession like it was thought to be back in your cherished “Puritan days” by the faithful who simply had no paradigm to understand mental illness and wrongly concluded it was demonic possession. Part of the fallen human condition indeed, but not demonic, and we have come to see that thanks to science and brain discovery.

    That being said, if you are placing your trust entirely in “stout Biblical preaching and rich theological counsel” by “pastors who know the Word” why don’t you take those resources and go empty the psychiatric wards, heal club foot, give arms and legs to those born without, etc.

    Probably because you can’t, nor can I, nor could Jonathan Edwards. Ultimately every issue is moral…. we are born into the human condition with roots back to the fundamental moral problem. Christian disdain for psychology only leaves people without answers, and powerless to understand what is taking place when a mental illness such as schizophrenia or a personality disorder like Narcissism is recognized. And you suggest Biblical preaching as a cure? Seriously?

    The leading Theologians of the day said to Galileo that believing that the earth revolves around the sun was just like denying the virgin birth. And they quoted the scripture too that “the earth is fixed” to support their cause. Thanks to science, we can look back at them and rightly see that it was them and not Galileo who were playing the fools. They suffered from a Christian cloistered worldview that refused to accept scientific discovery. Would you not see the same error today in your position dismissing the fields of psychology and psychiatry while clinging to Bible verses to support that view?

  • zed

    The obvious issue with psychology and neurology is simply that it identifies corrosive character flaws, and that they expose the mentality of faith.

    The current definition of a malignant narcissist applies directly to the author, and every person of faith that I have encountered in the last 40 years. This isn’t an issue for the malignant narcissist if only one person realized the relationship between the two, but modern communication allows anyone to read and understand the destructive nature of malignant narcissism.

    Such a direct threat to the religion industry and the mental hedonism that encourages faith has to be countered by those that feel threatened by it. After years or entire lives of living a lie, there is no truth.

    Reforming a malignant narcissist that has lost their personality completely is no different than death for them.

  • Mark

    “On a more serious note, how maddening is it to see our society continue its transition from a theological foundation to a psychological one?”

    Dead right, Owen. I am not anti-psychology; I think that the human race is exercising our *imago Dei* by discovering new things about God’s creation—including ourselves. (And maybe someone who is so extremely proud they can’t even live peaceably with others deserves their own DSM-IV diagnosis!) But without a theological foundation to give ultimate purpose, meaning and direction to life, what are we left with? Average behavior determining moral absolutes? In that world, how do we even know which therapeutic goals are to be preferred? Our modern (or, more properly, post-modern) society is busily and obliviously sawing off the branch we are sitting on. Thanks for pointing this out.

  • Jonesie

    Mark, you quoted Owen;

    “On a more serious note, how maddening is it to see our society continue its transition from a theological foundation to a psychological one?”

    I would simply say we in the Christian tradition brought it on ourselves as we really offer nothing to counter the transition. Maybe it’s just as well. Sheep go where the food is, so we can decry the transition from theological foundations to psychological ones all we want but it’s a little like me complaining about the referee after my son’s team loses. It’s futile and looks like sour grapes.

    The reality is that more people look to psychology than theology because it is answering questions that arise out of some of modern (or post-modern) humanity’s deepest need. Meanwhile theologians and Christians are bemoaning that people are looking elsewhere and not to us instead of synthesizing current psychological insight with traditional theology.

    Boo-hoo. Get over it! There’s a new show in town and it ain’t us. wailing and moaning and gnashing our teeth is not going to change it. There is a reason for it. Are we listening to those reasons? Not if you read most Christian blogs. They are too busy trying to herd everyone back into the 17th century or into some irrelevant reactionary fundamentalism.

    And the question I ask about the transition you and Owen allude to is “why is it maddening?” If it is answering peoples questions and meeting their needs and bringing them comfort, why on God’s green earth would that be maddening? Wouldn’t you say that’s a good thing? I would think so!!

    Or is it because it’s not about their needs or about theology, psychology, or a correct way of viewing reality at all? Maybe it’s maddening to theologians and Christians because we have lost our influence. Maybe it has nothing to do with truth or society’s foundations whatsoever. What if it’s about followers and the dread of loosing them! Now surely THAT would be maddening to most believers and certainly to the theologians and influence leaders and even more so to those of us who are pastors!

    Religion is a social phenomenon and it’s real lust is controlling people and how they think and what they think about as well as what they do. The loss of that control, I am convinced, is really what is maddening to the religious right and to most of our community.

    Isn’t it a funny co-incidence how every religious person like you or me (or Owen) tends to decry society’s drift away from our favorite pet theologian or influential historical figure? The Reformed believer decries the loss of faith in Calvin, the evangelical in Jonathan Edwards or John Wesley, the catholic in Thomas Aquinas or John Paull II, and the Baptist in Charles Spurgeon. You never hear the wailing and moaning by any of them if society has lost faith in the favorite leaders of a different or opposing Christian viewpoint. When is the last time a Calvinist found maddening society’s drift from Thomas Aquinas’ view of holy communion or John Wesley’s view of Christian perfection? Or a catholic decrying society’s drift from Luther’s views on faith and works? And when did you last hear a Methodist decry society’s transition away from John Paul II’s view of birth control?

    No, each decries as maddening the drift away from the influential figure HE or SHE agrees with, which is to decry and declare maddening society’s drift away from themself! “How maddening it is to see society continue it’s transition away from me!” This is what Owen should have said in the first place if he was truly being honest, and it’s what each of us should really say if we are truly being honest. But that would be admitting what it is all really about and we are caught in the transparency of our dishonesty. It is really about control over what other people believe and the followers we gain from that very control. The loss of that is what religious people really find maddening when you really get down to it. Otherwise “maddening” would be the last word one would use to describe a transition to psychological viewpoints if someone is truly being helped by it.

    But being helped and comforted is actually quite low on the priority list of most religious folk when they observe people seeking comfort in alternative thought systems. Control is always top of the list. Then when you agree with me (and my favorite Christian theologian) and control is maintained, other priorities can be explored, but not before.

  • Michele

    I am a new Christian. God is faithful, He is coming!-so does any of this really even matter. I may be ignorant and immature, but I see nothing fruitful here. In His Grace, Peace, Mercy, Patience, Compassion and Love may God bless you all.

  • Phylis

    I am a Christian and I have to tell you, it’s like the difference between a child who is born mentally retarded and therefor acts inappropriately in social settings (NPD) and an able minded and able bodied person who chooses to act out in public (pride). Does that help clear it up? Or a person who has a chemical imbalance and is medically depressed and someone who is sad because something disappointing happened to them. Is it clearer now?
    I thank God that my pastor didn’t speak to me the way you are on this blog. Yes, NPDs sin because they are prideful but that is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of explaining the causation.

  • Phylis

    One other thing…my dad is a minister and he is a classic NPD. Most NPDs have experienced some childhood trauma that has led them to utilize some very sick and sinful comping mechanisms to get through life. I have to speak up for Christians who believe in Christ and have enough sense to understand that not everything is purely spiritual–man is body, mind and soul/spirit. For those reading this who are not Christians PLEASE do not be mislead into thinking that all Christians are so limited in their understanding of science–it just appears that the ignorant ones are the loudest. God created science!!!

  • Jonesie

    Phylis,

    That is heart-wrenching to hear as you reference your Dad. I would find it very interesting to listen to your experiences over several hours of coffee. The mixture of NPD in the role of minister is fascinating, from a distance of course and not as a family member or participant.

    Do you find it therefore easier to see NPD in men you dated or who wanted to date you? Or in girlfriends or work associates you knew closely? What deeper insight do you think you gained from that experience around your Dad?

  • Paul

    Hi,
    I am both a Christian believer and someone who has a colleague who is unfortunately an NPD.
    Here are my thoughts, for what they are worth:
    The Bible is Gods word, and it is the beginning of the study of human psychology.
    There is most defenitely a difference between normal human pride and NPD, and I would liken it to a 100m race between a normal person and Usain Bolt.
    I personally am not quite 100% convinced, but I think demon possession might be the underlying problem that is labeled by the letters ‘NPD’, I say this as there is something else present and at work in my colleague that everyone else I have ever met does not possess. I’m sorry if this causes offense, and I do believe all cases should be looked at individually, and if I am wrong I am exactly that, this is my genuine opinion though.
    By the way working with my colleague helped me to come to Christ, as my colleague actually professes as well. Before I ever met him I was a nominal Christian, albeit a well meaning one, however after I had finally come to terms with the painfully obvious truth that my colleague can’t possibly be a real believer, I was sure that there must be such thing as a real Christian (if there is a counterfeit, the real thing must exist).
    What is a true believer? Someone who believes! (on the Cross of Jesus Christ – it’s a finished work!)

  • Tommi

    Wolves in sheeps clothing, those who claim to be of God, living for God. In the end God will show all as he will come. God made every man in his own image. Satan is a tempter, he tempted Eve. God threw him to Hell, but he is now back, trying to destroy all that is good. So don’t pray for the prideful one? God saved a prideful king so that he was no longer prideful. So the one born with no limbs don’t prey for them either because you don’t have the power to cure him? People for real, this saddens me. Pray for the sinner so that he too may be saved. As you are not the judge on mans salvation, only God can do that. You don’t know what someone has endured in this evil world, you have not walked in there shoes, only God knows. Jesus died so that we all may too be saved if we accept him as our Lord and Savior. Even the prideful one, all. God can cure the sinner and the illness, remove the demon, whatever you want to label it as. As we all have sinned and fell short from the glory of God. God blesses people with a gifts to be able to help people, as easily as God gives it he can also take it away. Use your gift of helping people to bring Gods children close to him. Not mislead . God can change everything in the blink of an eye, what may be your science today may not be tomorrow. As many times man has found to be wrong. Later seeing things in a whole other perspective. Though shall not judge, who are we to make any accusations that someone is evil because of an illness, or demonic hold they are now suffering from? So they sin now, so have all, except Jesus Christ. Sometimes people get lost, especially after having endured much abuse in there life, feeling all alone. Sometimes they put on this big prideful front to protect themselves from anymore hurt. That’s a theory of psychology as being cause to NPD, also as much as it is fact in every day life. Those need Jesus even more than any man can imagine, they are lost. As Jesus endured much suffering from the evil man for no reason, so do we. But he died for us and rose again so that we may have everlasting life, if we accept him. They need a lot of Gods loving children to hold them and guide them back into the light, more so than you can ever imagine, AND LOTS OF PRAYER! I will pray for the ones suffering from the hold on them, illness that has struck there very being. Beware of the wolves in sheep clothing! Gods children are not to be judgmental nor put themselves higher than God no matter how much school knowledge you have. Only God knows the soul of a man. So NPD is an illness. The story of Jobe, after God saw that no matter what happened to Jobe he remained faithful and God took his illness away. As God can save any man who accept him! I will pray for all the ill that God may set there spirit free. Everyone have a blessed day, and may God be with you!

  • Martin Bass

    Dave, I see a strange resistance to the idea that NPD could be anything but just a sinful act of pride. Let me put it this way, satan can not be saved because he thinks he is greater than God . The person with NPD displays the very same traits that got satan thrown out of heaven. I believe you can accurately say this disorder is of satan,but you can’t say its just pride. Is “down syndrone” a result of some sort of pride? Neither is NPD. As a born again christian , I have seen this disorder closeup on two occasions. If you ever experience it closeup you will have a very different prospective.


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