Because of a few situations in my life, mainly in the workplace, I am reading three books on narcissism. Sometimes, one misses how envy, rage, criticism, and false praise, which accompany the actions of the narcissist work in the world, even in church communities, destroy the natural balance of the use of talents and gifts in a group.
Because I have fairly good boundaries, growing up in a family where those boundaries were encouraged and respected, I can withstand the onslaught of those who want to either take personal power away from me. or who want me to merely stroke their egos. But, in our American culture, the narcissist rules, in chancery offices, in government, in workplaces, in universities, in schools, in hospitals, and in families. Sadly, because of the lack of virtue training, and the lack of discipline in the home, where parents just “want to be friends” with their children, and where dysfunctional families seem to be the mode of living, more and more young adults, and not so young adults, have false expectations of life, live a life of entitlement, creating an entire society of pleasure seekers, who have lost the ability to even understand the meaning of the phrase, “the common good”. The narcissist has no concept of the good of any group, whether in a business or in a church, only the good needed to inflate his or her ego and succeed in the fantasy life that person has created.
What has struck me about the delineation of the narcissistic point of view, as examined in the first two of the three books I am reading, is that although psychiatrists and psychologist have excellent skills of defining and properly diagnosing the narcissistic personality defect, these professionals sometimes lack the underlying problem which is, of course, as most problems of personality which cause gross sin, is spiritual.
The great Narcissist in the world has a name, and a title, Satan, the Father of Lies. This immensely intelligent demon attacks the egos either by the typical manipulatory manners in which human narcissists, Satan’s dupes, affect those they choose for their minions.
The human narcissist feeds a daily diet of either criticism or false praise to those he or she wants to make into slaves of the ego. Only those with strong egos and good boundaries seem to be able to resist the barrage of flattery or criticism, or some, through self-defense, soothe the wounded beastly soul of the narcissist, by becoming a slave, even a willing one, to that person’s unnatural and unfeeling demands.
Even a person with good boundaries can learn to work with a narcissist by becoming indispensable, not by acting out of superior talent, but by toning down one’s own gifts to serve the master of the place. The subservient one usually becomes “burnt out” by the unreal demand of the narcissist. Remember, it is “all about him” or “all about her”.
Satan envies us, as we have sanctifying grace and will attain eternal bliss with God, if we follow God’s will for our lives, are obedient to Holy Mother Church, and allow God to purify us. Satan knows this, he hates us and envies the fact that his lost status, damaged forever in his own rebellious decision, has damned him forever. We have redemption in Christ, and through the sacraments, Satan has no redemption. He can never experience the dark night of the spirit, illumination in God, the Indwelling of the Trinity, union with God, as he lives in perpetual loss of grace and the eternal loss of the loving Presence of God. Envy and pride burn his consciousness forever.
He rages against us, throwing all the hatred a lost spirit has against the children of God, who will someday, in heaven experience the love and contentment he will never have. He sends out his armies to undermine and completely destroy the Church, the chosen institution created by Christ, to help us all gain heaven. He watches us and sends out his lower orders of demonic soldiers, who examine every detail of our lives to find out our weaknesses so that they can overcome our good intentions easily. These troops cannot read our minds, but see everything else, feeding their own sadly damned selves with the grandiose idea that they can drag us to hell–and they can, but only if we let them. Unlike these raging, angry, envious beings, we have free will coupled with the Life of God Himself, grace, to win the battles and, eventually, the war.
Some people have a constant record of critical thoughts and the “bible of negativity” drilled into their psyches from childhood, and projected onto those around them, in order to build up their own damaged egos.
Satan wrote this bible of negativity. He lied to Eve about her status before God, and her sin of curiosity brought her into a discussion into which she should have never entered. I learned the hard way in several jobs under gross narcissists, what it means to get into the wrong discussion. But, I was naive, never having met up with people who choose evil rather than good. When one learns the wisdom of being able to detect evil, one is on the way to protecting one’s self both exteriorly and interiorly. One learns “spiritual street sense” in one’s own journey from childhood faith to adult appropriation of the faith.
Satan disturbs discernment, makes one fall back into self-doubt, until one rallies and sees the grace of God, enlightening the painful situation of the bully or the manipulator. One who receives the sacraments regularly can undo years of parental damage through the healing power of grace.
The other day, a good friend of mine asked me “Why are there so many angry people? Why are so many people raging in the home, in the streets?”
Narcissists all-the culture of the self-reflective has come to maturation. Leaders, yes, even in the Church, have risen to the top of the narcissist mountain. And those narcissists who feel left out, rage, rage, rage. Their egos have been thwarted by reality and they cannot change, they cannot become humble.
However, the real danger of the narcissist, for us individually and for the Church, is hatred. Narcissists hate those who do not serve their bloated needs. Satan hates us because we adore God and not him. Sadly, some people have chosen to adore Satan and become one of his cooperating, soothing minions, and he rewards them well.
When Christ experienced the temptations in the desert, He was meeting the Greatest Narcissist of all time. Satan’s temptations, as seen in the passage below, were typical of a narcissist’s tempting words we may hear at work, in church gatherings, or in the family.
Let me unpack the passage and try to apply it to the lives of those who suffer under narcissists.
Matthew 4:1-11 Douay-Rheims
4 Then Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil.
2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards he was hungry.
Satan gets to us when we are weak, like the narcissist, who preys upon weakness.
3 And the tempter coming said to him: If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.
4 Who answered and said: It is written, Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.
The first temptation of the narcissist is one of security. “If you do this for me, if you use your gifts in a certain way, as I can see you have gifts, you will be rewarded.” Satan had watched Christ and knew He could work miracles, but Satan did not know Who He was on earth. The humility of God becoming a man would have been unthinkable for Satan, the master of pride. In church gatherings, too often, a prideful pastor, such as the famous tv evangelists, preach a gospel of prosperity, or worse, people in the congregation only reward “their own kind”, those who pander to their egos, and create cliques, making a congregation into a divisive battle-front of ego groupings. Sometimes, unwary, good but naive priests get caught up in these narcissistic manipulations and approbation from a particular group. Or, the priests themselves encourage a divisiveness, creating their own coterie of suppliant ego-slaves. The sex scandals revealed this evi, but we are seeing this type of pride in the Synod as well. Egotism and narcissism rule in some dioceses, as we have seen.
5 Then the devil took him up into the holy city, and set him upon the pinnacle of the temple,
6 And said to him: If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down, for it is written: That he hath given his angels charge over thee, and in their hands shall they bear thee up, lest perhaps thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Now, the Arch-Narcissist appeals to Christ’s authority and power. Satan wants to use Christ’s own power to expose Jesus, bring about a revelation which is untimely, and ruin the plan of salvation, which Satan did not know, but maybe suspected. So too, in the workplace, the narcissistic boss wants to find out all one’s personal details in order to control the life of each person, making demands which create unneeded overtime. In one job I had years ago, the boss wanted everyone to be in one, big, happy, family, run by him. The trouble was that he only wanted complete control over his subordinates. He demanded that we have our laptops and cell phones on at all times outside of work just in case he needed us to do something. Politicians tend to be like this, and government workers, and even, administrators in academic positions. The employee becomes subservient to his or her desires, even when the work is unnecessary. Notice the implied flattery here, which Christ ignores.
7 Jesus said to him: It is written again: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
8 Again the devil took him up into a very high mountain, and shewed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them,
9 And said to him: All these will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me.
So too, in the family, for instance, the narcissistic parent demands unreasonable homage from the child, and this may even continue into adulthood. Those who suffer under parents who make them feel guilty, know what this temptation does to one’s own ego. Parents who want adoration are, simply, gross narcissists. They want slaves, not children, not willing to die to self or suffer for the sake of the child.
10 Then Jesus saith to him: Begone, Satan: for it is written, The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and him only shalt thou serve.
11 Then the devil left him; and behold angels came and ministered to him.
The angels which ministered to Christ will help those caught up in unhealthy relationships of manipulation, rage, criticism, flattery, crushing power. In my next post, I shall deal with the spiritual side of how to avoid either being squashed by the narcissist because that person senses your superiority in gifts and if threatened, or being used to feed their own plan of success for their careers or personal lives.
You may anticipate that post by thinking on the dark night of the soul and the proper place of the ego in the saint.
to be continued…