The modern religions of psychology and psychoanalysis ignore the soul, as Father Chad Ripperger correctly points out in books and lectures. Without a consideration of the spiritual life, the diagnosis of narcissism, for example and for the purposes of this second post on the subject, becomes focussed on childhood neglect, trauma, or misapprehensions, all centered on the emotions, or the uninformed intellect.
Now, very young children cannot “figure things out”, but older children, adolescents, and adult children are quite capable of reasoning and discovering the problems which caused them, perhaps, to be deficient in their character, even to the point of severe personality disorders. Some experts in the above fields believe that personality disorders can only be healed by both intensive counseling and drug therapy. However, these experts forget that the soul of the child has reacted to bad parenting or other traumas, and free will has been involved to a certain extent in those situations. In severe cases of trauma, such a sexual abuse, the spiritual life of the child has to be addressed.
I personally know of several people who have, through grace and heroic virtue, overcome childhood traumas and become holy adults.
For those adult children reared by narcissists, mostly likely some counseling is needed, either because the person has become a narcissist themselves, or has become co-dependent. But, I would like to make several points regarding spiritual victory over narcissism whether experienced exteriorly or interiorly.
Firstly, healing and change can happen. I do not believe that most people are doomed to lives of great psychological or spiritual unhappiness because of the past. We have many saints who did not have perfect parents, and many who grew up in poverty, in countries torn by wars, or in dysfunctional families. In other words, the grace of God raises people up out of their past, the past sins committed by themselves, or the past sins committed against them.
The key word here is “sin”. A person dealing with narcissistic tendencies or trying to love a narcissistic spouse, must recognize that no one is a prisoner to psychological patterns, as God is more powerful than all diseases, physical and mental. The adult who finds themselves married to a narcissist may endure more pain and suffering in a marriage, but the healing of the partner can be addressed in prayer, as well as in counseling. Sin must be admitted as part of the healing process. The narcissist cannot explain away deceit, manipulation, cruelty, envy, and anger, or rage. These are serious sins, and as all Catholics know, we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God.
The very road to perfection as described in my long series holds well for people with severe character defects as for those with less serious tendencies. One thinks of the rage of St. Paul against the Christians, and his own testimony of being a sinner to see an example of great sinner turned into a saint.
Today, as I write, it is the feast of St. Monica, but I shall publish this on the day of her victory in prayer–the feast of her son. She, who prayed for her notoriously wayward son to be converted, as well as her pagan husband, who, to be honest, seems like a narcissist, persevered in faith, hope, and love. One may want to ask whether paganism, and the connected hedonism, are not the results of a narcissistic culture, run by the Great Narcissist, Satan, who is worshipped through the evils of paganism. Monica fought against that society in tears and entreaties to God. She prayed against sin and for the victory of grace.
Therefore, sin must be recognized as part of the narcissistic tendency. Prayer, fasting, behavior changes, all part of the path to holiness, as well as virtue training, can change a person who wants to be changed. Real metanoia…
Secondly, the institution of the family was created by God to curb narcissistic tendencies, which all men and women of ego, (which means all of us to greater or lesser degrees), face. The good Catholic family of prayer, discipline and obedience to parents who seriously take their role as parents as God-given, will most likely produce less narcissistic habits of mind and soul than the dysfunctional family, where God is pushed out of the picture.
The family which adores God, pays homage to the Creator, asks for His intercession and that of HIs Mother and the saints, and follows His laws, have built-in restraints against narcissism. In other words, holy, emotionally mature parents, with balanced psyches will most likely produce children of like virtue.
The Church throughout the centuries quoted the Scripture passage which feminists hate.
1 Timothy 2:15 Douay-Rheims
15 Yet she shall be saved through childbearing; if she continue in faith, and love, and sanctification, with sobriety.
As a woman with a very long adolescent, enjoying the single life, but also pursuing God, I can attest to the fact that women can be saved through childbearing. What this phrase means in modern terms is that the act of having and raising a child, or children, forces one out of the self-centered life of singleness, or even coupleness without children, into a world of self-sacrifice and dying to self. What St. Timothy refers to is exactly an antidote to narcissism in women-the changing of priorities from one’s self, one’s looks, one’s cloths, one’s make-up, one’s career ambitions, and even undivided love of the husband, to one of servant. In fact, modern marriages seem to be challenged by child-bearing and child-rearing, as the woman or the man, or both, are simply too narcissistic to put the needs of the children before their own needs or wants. Again, sin plays a role in choices of selfishness, rising out of narcissism. No real mother or father states, “Me first, then kids.” Such a phrase resounds in the home of the dysfunctional parent. The mom or dad who wears state of the art cloths, while the mom or dad have to go to Good Will can be seen in the houses of the narcissistic parent. Or the parent who pursues money and status instead of being at home with the children, nurturing, and being a good dad or mom is a person seem daily in our society, In fact, what the psychologists and psychiatrists miss entirely has to be the connection between abortion, contraception and narcissism.
Sex without the intent of having a child must be an ultimate act of not only thwarting God’s plan for marriage, (playing God), but interrupting the act which brings about the natural cure for selfishness, a child.
The Scriptures tell us that Eve was consoled by the birth of her children, because she understood that God was giving her a chance to redeem herself a bit, although not completely, through the penances and suffering of motherhood. God shared His Creative power with Eve, and she recognized this as mercy. Her sins involved in her very bad choice leading to Adam’s Original Sin were finally wiped away through Christ Passion and Death, but the birth of her children was a sin of life, of redemption, as birth is to all mothers.
Genesis 4:1 Douay-Rheims
1 And Adam knew Eve his wife: who conceived and brought forth Cain, saying: I have gotten a man through God.
Thirdly, the soul damaged either by exterior narcissistic cruelty, or damaged by interior narcissism can decide, with free will informed by reason and grace, to become a selfless person, instead of a raging beast or a passive-aggressive snake-in -the-grass type of controller-manipulator. God has allowed evil and sin in order to show forth His greater glory. Just as Christ faced Satan, so too, each one of us has to face the evils in our worlds. Unlike the pure Christ, we must be freed from what the world sometimes calls, “personal demons”.
That phrase leads to my last point which is, fourthly, that a narcissist may need, although not in all cases, exorcism. Most likely, the narcissist needs freedom from oppressions and obsessions, through prayers like those said by the members of the Auxilium Christianorum. God does not leave anyone defenceless against evil and sin.
Spiritual warfare takes place in and around us. In this Age of Rage, we must learn to deal with those who are perpetually angry or aggrieved, as well as dealing with the evil tendencies within.
We have the example of the saints and the wisdom of such spiritual writers as Garrigou-Lagrange to aid us in our path to freedom from even concupiscence, and definitely from sin, both mortal and venial.
The cloud of witnesses to the power of grace holds one great sinner who broke away from years of both intellectual deceit and physical pleasure, a follower of the dualistic false religion of Manicheism, and a man who needed the prayers of his mother for thirty years in order to wake out of his selfish sleep into the new life of grace in God. St. Augustine, whose feast we celebrate as you read this, in his Confession states this:
For so doth pride imitate exaltedness; whereas Thou alone art God exalted over all. Ambition, what seeks it, but honours and glory? whereas Thou alone art to be honoured above all, and glorious for evermore. The cruelty of the great would fain be feared; but who is to be feared but God alone, out of whose power what can be wrested or withdrawn? when, or where, or whither, or by whom? The tendernesses of the wanton would fain be counted love: yet is nothing more tender than Thy charity; nor is aught loved more healthfully than that Thy truth, bright and beautiful above all. Curiosity makes semblance of a desire of knowledge; whereas Thou supremely knowest all. Yea, ignorance and foolishness itself is cloaked under the name of simplicity and uninjuriousness; because nothing is found more single than Thee: and what less injurious, since they are his own works which injure the sinner? Yea, sloth would fain be at rest; but what stable rest besides the Lord? Luxury affects to be called plenty and abundance; but Thou art the fulness and never-failing plenteousness of incorruptible pleasures. Prodigality presents a shadow of liberality: but Thou art the most overflowing Giver of all good. Covetousness would possess many things; and Thou possessest all things. Envy disputes for excellency: what more excellent than Thou? Anger seeks revenge: who revenges more justly than Thou? Fear startles at things unwonted and sudden, which endangers things beloved, and takes forethought for their safety; but to Thee what unwonted or sudden, or who separateth from Thee what Thou lovest? Or where but with Thee is unshaken safety? Grief pines away for things lost, the delight of its desires; because it would have nothing taken from it, as nothing can from Thee.
Thus doth the soul commit fornication, when she turns from Thee, seeking without Thee, what she findeth not pure and untainted, till she returns to Thee. Thus all pervertedly imitate Thee, who remove far from Thee, and lift themselves up against Thee. But even by thus imitating Thee, they imply Thee to be the Creator of all nature; whence there is no place whither altogether to retire from Thee. What then did I love in that theft? and wherein did I even corruptly and pervertedly imitate my Lord? Did I wish even by stealth to do contrary to Thy law, because by power I could not, so that being a prisoner, I might mimic a maimed liberty by doing with impunity things unpermitted me, a darkened likeness of Thy Omnipotency? Behold, Thy servant, fleeing from his Lord, and obtaining a shadow. O rottenness, O monstrousness of life, and depth of death! could I like what I might not, only because I might not?
Could not this be the words of an ex-narcissist, the seeking of pleasure and power over his environment, excluding any thought of selfless actions, and the welfare of the common good, his family, his parents?
The narcissist, like Satan, revels in a false omnipotency, which mimics that of God, Who Alone is truly omnipotent. The narcissist, indeed, all sinners sin against this Omnipotence of God, making up personal rules, creating personal worlds, which they want to inhabit with slaves to their own dead souls.
But, there is hope, and here is the great Augustine who experienced renewal, giving all who suffer, hope.
Too late loved I Thee, O Thou Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! too late I loved Thee! And behold, Thou wert within, and I abroad, and there I searched for Thee; deformed I, plunging amid those fair forms which Thou hadst made. Thou wert with me, but I was not with Thee. Things held me far from Thee, which, unless they were in Thee, were not at all. Thou calledst, and shoutedst, and burstest my deafness. Thou flashedst, shonest, and scatteredst my blindness. Thou breathedst odours, and I drew in breath and panted for Thee. I tasted, and hunger and thirst. Thou touchedst me, and I burned for Thy peace.
When I shall with my whole self cleave to Thee, I shall no where have sorrow or labour; and my life shall wholly live, as wholly full of Thee. But now since whom Thou fillest, Thou liftest up, because I am not full of Thee I am a burden to myself. Lamentable joys strive with joyous sorrows: and on which side is the victory, I know not. Woe is me! Lord, have pity on me. My evil sorrows strive with my good joys; and on which side is the victory, I know not. Woe is me! Lord, have pity on me. Woe is me! lo! I hide not my wounds; Thou art the Physician, I the sick; Thou merciful, I miserable. Is not the life of man upon earth all trial? Who wishes for troubles and difficulties? Thou commandest them to be endured, not to be loved. No man loves what he endures, though he love to endure. For though he rejoices that he endures, he had rather there were nothing for him to endure. In adversity I long for prosperity, in prosperity I fear adversity. What middle place is there betwixt these two, where the life of man is not all trial? Woe to the prosperities of the world, once and again, through fear of adversity, and corruption of joy! Woe to the adversities of the world, once and again, and the third time, from the longing for prosperity, and because adversity itself is a hard thing, and lest it shatter endurance. Is not the life of man upon earth all trial: without any interval?