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Dealing with Narcissists

This post is borrowed from Benjamin Deu, LMFC. It is a great piece on identifying narcissistic behaviors.

How Christian Counseling Can Help Narcissists

The narcissus flower and personality type were named after a character of Greek legend. How he got to the fountain where he died depends on the story you read, but the original Narcissus became so captivated by the beauty of his own reflection after seeing it in a fountain that he wasted away and died because he couldn’t stop admiring it. The story ends with a narcissus flower growing where he expired.

Modern narcissists may not spend their lives cooing over the beautiful face looking back at them from the water, but that doesn’t make them any less egotistical.

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Truth be told, narcissism exists to some degree in everyone. In healthy amounts, it’s described as confidence or self-sufficiency. These are helpful traits. When the ego is so overblown as to consume a person, drive them to manipulate, and exploit others, then it is a disorder.

Like the flower that shares their name, narcissists need a specific environment to thrive. “Narcissists thrive in big, anonymous cities, entertainment-related fields (think reality TV), and leadership situations where they can dazzle and dominate others without having to cooperate or suffer the consequences of a bad reputation.” (1) Putting a narcissist in Hollywood would be like pouring a whole container of Miracle-Gro on a flowerpot.

Dominating a social circle is enough for small-time narcissists. However, more Machiavellian, and possibly psychopathic, narcissists use their charm and power to exploit others. They lash out when excluded or rejected by other people and are easily drawn into physical conflict. (2) They enjoy coercing others into doing things they aren’t comfortable doing (non-sexual and sexual).

Why are They So Obsessed With Themselves?

Current research by Lorna Otway and Vivian Vignoles supports Freud’s theory that narcissism is the result of parents vacillating between ignoring their children and showering them with praise. Because their parents went back and forth between insincere, profuse praise and rejection, child narcissists stop trusting the good things others say about them and develop constant, underlying insecurity. (2) It doesn’t help when this behavior is reinforced by their friends as they get older. Because narcissists are charming, they are great at quickly making friends. But these relationships eventually disintegrate as people come to see them for the blowhards they are. (3)

The irony is that narcissists know they’re narcissists. “Graduate student Erica Carlson and her colleagues found that college students scoring high in narcissism rated themselves more intelligent, physically attractive, likable, and funny than others, as well as more power-oriented, impulsive, arrogant, and prone to exaggerate their abilities!” (3) They even recognized that their reputations worsened over time.

If they know other people grow to dislike them, why don’t narcissists change? Like most people, narcissists use their good deeds to outweigh the bad. Accentuate the positive; eliminate the negative. They may focus on their superior ability to make a smooth, positive first impression to compensate for other flaws. They may also make themselves feel better by assuming “enemies” are just jealous or not smart enough to realize how cool they are.

Narcissists don’t think much of other people, but they are dependent on them for praise. They gravitate toward people who will reaffirm their grandiose self-image, and they stay away from anyone who might try to poke holes in their over-inflated balloons. However, it is rare to find a lot of people who will pat them on the back all the time, so narcissists often cycle through groups of friends. (2)

How Do They Get Away With It?

Narcissists are fascinating and winsome, if not likable. Consider the example of celebrities; would you actually want to have lunch with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West? It sounds tempting, but it would probably be a miserable hour. You’d just sit there as two windbags talked about themselves at each other.

“Narcissists get away with these unsavory antics because, at least initially, they are so charming. Psychologist Mitja D. Back of Johannes Gutenberg-University in Mainz, Germany, and his colleagues deconstructed the “charismatic air” that many narcissists exude: attractiveness, competence, interpersonal warmth, and humor. Among a pool of college students, those reporting higher levels of entitlement tended to be the most popular students in the class. In a separate study, Back and his colleagues found that while students expected charming individuals to like others more, people with “self-centered values” actually dislike others more.” (2)

And, as this behavior potentially has roots in human mating rituals, studies suggest women may be more attracted to narcissist during times of high fertility. “In a study conducted by Steven Gangestad at the University of New Mexico, 237 women watched videotapes of men compete for a lunch date. On days when women were at high fertility, they were much more attracted to displays of social presence (e.g., composure, eye contact) and competitiveness (e.g., derogation of competitors), both of which signal the confidence that is the narcissist’s hallmark.” (3)

Women who thrive on drama tend to gravitate toward narcissistic men because they enjoy the chaos of being charmed and rejected. Male narcissists also attract women looking for “fixer-uppers,” thinking they can change them. (3)

Dating a narcissist is exciting at first. But, after about four months, the ping-ponging between wooing and rejection gets old. “Campbell and his colleagues found that people who date narcissists are highly satisfied for about four months, at which point they report a rapid decline in relations. Ironically, the four-month mark is when people start to reach peak satisfaction when dating non-narcissists.” (3)

How Christian Counseling Can Help Narcissists

God does not look kindly on narcissism. Which is not to say you must run out, buy a hair shirt, and flog yourself in the street. Just don’t stick your nose so high in the air you stumble because you can’t see your feet. If this article has read like a mirror, consider making an appointment with a professional Christian counselor. Self-confidence is a fine, helpful quality, but if your opinion of yourself and disdain for others keeps others at a distance, you might want to make some change. A professional Christian counselor is equipped to help you see where you’ve overestimated yourself and underestimated others and how you can make those views more realistic.

There are more secure and satisfying sources of happiness than manipulating others and tricking them into liking you. “Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’” (John 4:13-14) As the Samaritan woman had to continually draw from the well to quench her earthly thirst, so narcissists must continually rotate through acquaintances to feed their craving for attention. Meeting with a godly counselor can help you discover the infinite affection to be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ.

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