disarming the narcissist

I don't like it when I see and hear the inner narcissist in me. A glimpse here. A sound-bite there. It disturbs me. After all these years, it shouldn't still be hanging around.

So when I sighted Wendy Behary's Disarming the Narcissist, I thought I'd give it a go. Always happy to engage with wisdom from different places. It wasn't a great start because she makes clear that her focus is on the narcissists around me, rather than the narcissist in me. It crosses my mind whether that is the best option for her readers. Surely, the narcissism in others becomes a problem partly because it clashes with the narcissism in me...

[By the way, lest you think otherwise, narcissism is nasty - and very common. A soaking in the self. A toxic intoxication with the individual - namely, me! It is as if I move across to the window to look out into the world around me - only to have that window morph into a mirror and everything I see becomes processed in terms of how it impacts on me-myself-I. The self becomes the fatal attraction. 'Self-centeredness is elevated to (the) unrecognised principle of interpretation' (DA Carson). People become 'pickled in themselves' (Bono). 'We are taking the world as an udder to feed our supreme selves' (George Eliot).]

So although it was not what I was expecting (and I was not really engaged by it), I persisted. I like to finish what I've started. But, alas - I did give up. Page 47 has my final pencil marking. It is a giant question mark next to #13 in a list of Eighteen Early Maladaptive Schemas: "13. Self-sacrifice: Excessive focus on voluntarily meeting the needs of others in daily situations at the expense of your own gratification." Really?! Nah. I know a lot hangs on the word 'excessive' - but even then, I am not going to buy that sentence. Partly because my mother comes to mind and I'd want to stop short of saying that her life has been marked by a maladaptive schema.

However the book will have its place. The author is dealing with some serious narcissism causing plenty of damage out there. Donald Trump comes to mind, as this brand of narcissism is the defining piece in his character. However in an effort to cultivate a Christian mind, I would add this comment. If all our frameworks for analysing a problem tend to be psychological, then it is too easy for all our solutions to be solely psychological as well. On the matter of the self and its satisfaction, that would be so unwise. It is a theological issue. There are truths to name and live and falsehoods to see and discard.

So while I tried my best to benefit from the book, when it comes to 'disarming the narcissist' in me, I've gone back to my mantra-truths accumulated over the years. I gather them afresh and as I do so, I ask God to move them from being mere words on a screen to becoming the inner fabric with which my life is woven. Here they are:

Dignity and Depravity (God, in the Bible):
I am made in the image of God, but that image is stained by sin and often abused by evil.

Make me a captive, Lord - and then I shall be free (George Matheson).

I don't know who I am, until I know whose I am.

Let me get lost in something bigger than myself  (Cynthia Clawson).

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me (Jesus).

Not thinking less of myself, but thinking of myself less (Tim Keller).

He must increase, I must decrease (John the Baptist).

Take my life and I will be, ever, only, all for Thee (Frances Havergal).

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (Jesus).

Thou hast made me for thyself, and my heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee (Augustine).

Life can be great when you give (John Graham).

You are what you love - because you live towards what you want (James KA Smith).

Worth and Unworthiness (John Stott):
his chapter on 'self-understanding' in The Cross of Christ turned me in the right direction:

On the one hand, the cross is the God-given measure of the value of our true self, 
since Christ loved us and died for us. On the other hand, it is the God-given model 
for the denial of our false self, since we are to nail it to the cross and put it to death. 
Or, more simply, standing before the cross 
we see simultaneously our worth and our unworthiness
since we perceive both the greatness of his love in dying, 
and the greatness of our sin in causing him to die (285).

Maybe the way forward is to go back to the classic from Thomas Chalmers: 'the expulsive power of a new affection'. The inner narcissist is flooded-out and 'disarmed' by the life that fills with these new affections - under the hand of God, in the power of the Spirit and for the sake of Christ.

nice chatting


PS: Writing this post took me back, way back, to my years as a student at the University of Auckland. I was doing Science, but my eye was on theological study and the seminary to which I was applying (TEDS in the USA) had asked me to enrol in some Arts classes.
So in the final year of my BSc I added two classes: Introduction to Psychology and Cultural Anthropology. It was soul-destroying stuff. In the latter class so much time was spent comparing anthropologists-at-their-best with missionaries-at-their-worst. Having recently returned from a total childhood in the latter world, I bristled my way through the unequal iniquity of it all. In the Psychology class we worshipped the human mind and how it works for an entire year and gave not one syllable of thought to its Creator and what his purposes for that mind might be. To this day, I look back in amazement at this staggering achievement.


Mark Meynell said…
great stuff as ever... reminds me of a nice line from John Ruskin:
When a man is wrapped up in himself, he makes a pretty small package.
Paul said…
Yes, that is a goodie, especially for a big guy like me!
I need to add it to my list.
Bless you, Mark.

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