Is It Stubbornness or Narcissism? (Part Two)
Narcissism was probably not a word when the Bible was written by its forty authors over a period of 1600 years. But does the Bible describe this human condition? Is it stubbornness or narcissism?
“For I knew how stubborn you were; your neck muscles were iron, your forehead was bronze” (Isaiah 48:4). An iron neck and bronze forehead leave little room for flexibility. This refers to someone deeply set in their ways with little hope of change. An iron neck does not easily budge nor allow the head to bow in humility and repentance. A bronze forehead deflects every thought not already inside. Is it only stubbornness this verse describes, or does it also point to narcissism?
The narcissist is powerless to change himself. “Instead of bronze I will bring you gold, and silver in place of iron” (Isaiah 60:17). God says “I” because only He can do this. Only the love and power of the Holy Spirit can penetrate the iron and bronze and bring about healing and true change. However, the narcissist must do his part in acknowledging responsibility for actions and behaviors contrary to God’s Word and invite the intervention of God and others. As sinners, this is true for every one of us.
I recently sat down with two counselors on two separate occasions to discuss the complicated and complex mental condition known as narcissism. I also read articles from websites they suggested so that I could have a better understanding. By no means do I have a perfect grasp on this personality disorder, but here are a few things I have learned.
All of us have some degree of narcissism. However, those with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), which is a small percentage of the human population, possess an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. Behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.
Signs and symptoms of NPD and the severity of symptoms vary. People with the disorder can:
- Have a sense of entitlement and require constant, excessive admiration
- Exaggerate achievements and talents
- Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with the expectations
- Take advantage of others to get what they want
- Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
At the same time, people with NPD have trouble handling anything they perceive as criticism, and they can:
- Become impatient or angry when they don’t receive special treatment
- Have significant interpersonal problems and easily feel slighted
- React with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior
- Have difficulty regulating emotions and behavior
- Feel depressed and moody because they fall short of perfection
- Be intolerant of disagreement or questioning
Navigating a relationship with a narcissist can be deeply frustrating and distressing. In their quest for control and admiration, narcissistic people may manipulate and exploit others, damaging their self-esteem and even aiming to alter their sense of reality. Arguing with a narcissist about their action often proves fruitless.
This condition, which can be devastating to personal relationships, especially close family, has a reputation for being difficult to treat, particularly because those with the disorder often refuse to admit they have a problem. While NPD is treatable, recovery requires patience and time.
Plain and simple, narcissism makes it very difficult for a person to get the help they so desperately need from God and other people if they are unable to truly admit they need help, take responsibility for their actions, and stop shifting blame for all their problems to others. Notice I said “very difficult.” I did not say “impossible.” Nothing is impossible with God. Whether stubbornness or narcissism, God alone is our Hope.
“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God’” (Mark 10:27).
“These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).