Narcissism is defined as having an excessive interest in or admiration for oneself and in one’s physical appearance. The word, although seemingly modern, has been around for a very long time. In Greek Mythology, Narcissus was known for his beauty and a fixation on himself and his outer appearance. The story told about him is, after seeing his reflection in a pool of water, he fell in love as if it were another human being.
Havelock Ellis, an English physician who studied human sexuality, first identified the word narcissus-like and pathological self-absorption in 1897. Paul Adolf Näcke, a German psychiatrist and criminologist, was the first person to use the term narcissism, in 1899. And then in 1914, Sigmund Freud published an entire paper to the topic, On Narcissism: An Introduction.
The Apostle Paul identified and described narcissism in 2 Timothy sometime between 90 and 140 A.D. This divine wisdom has brought us to where we are today, where psychologists and mental health professionals have identified nine narcissistic traits, outlined in the DSM-5. Licensed professionals, with the ability to diagnose mental health disorders, must see at least five of the nine criteria to label someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (or NPD).
The Nine Traits of Narcissism
1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g. exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
3. Believes that they are “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
4. Requires excessive admiration.
5. Has a sense of entitlement (i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with their expectations).
6. Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve their own ends).
7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of them.
9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.
How the Apostle Paul Describes Narcissism
Knowing and understanding the nine traits of NPD helps us to understand what Paul prophesied to happen in the end times. In 2 Timothy 3:2-5, he wrote, “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”
Let’s break this down point by point to understand narcissism at its core.
1. They Are Lovers of self
Self-absorbed people will look in the mirror and admire their outward beauty; falling in love with themselves. They think they’re more special than others, or should be given special treatment. They may spend excessive amounts of time and money on their appearance to continue to get this treatment. They fantasize about having everything they want in life without restrictions or having to work for it.
2. They Are Lovers of money
Along with their love of themselves is their love of money. Having money or the appearance of having money makes up for anything they may be lacking in their physical appearance and their character. They can convince people that they’re successful and even kind because of their ability to purchase large and expensive items or donate to impress. This appearance of wealth makes them feel admiration. They think others are envious of them, while they are secretly envious of people who have more money, power, or success than they do.
3. They Are Boastful, Proud, and Conceited
Having physical beauty and/or money can cause a person to be boastful, proud, entitled, and conceited. They are “preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.” They want to be admired for what they have or how they look, so they flaunt it hoping for attention.
4. They Are Abusive and brutal
Narcissism can cause a person to be abusive and cruel. They are often controlling and expect to have all the power in any relationship; the reasons behind emotional and physical abuse. They lack empathy for how they may be treating another person or what that person may be going through because they are so consumed with themselves. When they don’t get their way, they believe they have the right to punish the person for standing in the way. They also do not like to be called out for their bad behavior, so they will rage when confronted with the truth about themselves.
5. They Are Disobedient to Parents
While children are young, needing 100% of their needs provided for, parents can become a god-like person in their child’s life. And as the child ages, parents teach their child how to obey the loving authority over them, which is God. Someone with narcissistic traits doesn’t want to respect anyone in authority and certainly doesn’t want to listen to wisdom. They want to do exactly what they were told not to do, out of rebellion. And they believe they have a right to go against all authority because they’re the ultimate authority over their own lives; they believe themselves to be a god.
6. They Are Ungrateful
People with narcissism are not thankful, grateful, or even content with what they have. It’s just not enough. It’s never enough. They always want more. They need more to be happy; and then, even more to continue to be happy. It’s like an addiction. Many times if they don’t get what they want, they’ll find a way to manipulate or take what does not belong to them.
7. They Are Unholy (Sinful), Rash, and Treacherous
They do not fear God or His punishment for unrepentant sins. They may not even have respect for earthly laws, which have been put in place by God, who is the Sovereign Head overall. They often only surround themselves with people who accept and enable their sinful ways, never telling them they should make better choices. In dysfunctional families, the sinful person will expect everyone to cover up the truth to continue to put up the appearances that they are a perfect family, what they portray to the outside world.
8. They Are Without Love and Not Lovers of Good
Love is patient and kind, not self-seeking, or easily angered. Narcissism is the opposite of everything written in 1 Corinthians 13. Relationships fail when they’re entangled with narcissism. When someone is so in love with themselves, they’re unable to love God and love others. They’re so focused on what they’re going to get from the other person, not what they can give or how they can be loving or good. If they act lovingly, it’s only because they’re expecting to get something in return for their act. Unselfish love is true love. I’m not sure if someone with narcissism is capable of true love.
9. They Are Unforgiving
They enjoy and gravitate towards forgiving, passive people, that’s why they hide well in a church environment. But they’re unable to forgive even minor offenses, especially by those closest to them. They keep a complete list of wrongs done to them by others as if it’s ammunition to get back at that person someday. When confronted with their misbehavior or sin, they will throw back any wrong done to them, no matter how big or small or how long ago it happened. Grace and mercy are expected but not given out to others.
10. They Are Lovers of Pleasure Rather Than Lovers of God
They gravitate towards lusts of the flesh instead of having self-control or living inside of God’s will for their life. It’s interesting to note that Dr. Ellis and Dr. Näcke, who described narcissism in the late 1800s, at first only referenced humans who treated their body as a sexual object in their writings. All the other pathological self-absorption traits were added later.
King Solomon Describes Narcissism in the Book of Proverbs
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” – Proverbs 1:7
“The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” – Proverbs 15:2
“The wicked accept bribes in secret to pervert the course of justice. A discerning person keeps wisdom in view, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth. A foolish son brings grief to his father and bitterness to the mother who bore him.” – Proverbs 17:23-25
“Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.” – Proverbs 18:12
“Though their speech is charming, do not believe them, for seven abominations fill their hearts. Their malice may be concealed by deception, but their wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.” – Proverbs 26:25-26
What Does the Bible Say about How We Should Relate to People with Narcissism?
“They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.” (2 Timothy 3:6-9)
A person with narcissistic traits has chameleon-type abilities to make anyone believe they have an honorable character. But behind closed doors, they can be hot-tempered, abusive, and deceptive, which needs to be avoided so you don’t get entangled (Proverbs 22:24-25). They are compulsive liars and can easily fool even the most devout Christian to believe their charm and treachery while encouraging you to follow their ways.
“I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery, they deceive the minds of naive people.” (Romans 16:17-18)
It is very hard to know if the person is genuine in what they are saying, or if it’s all just a show to get what he or she wants. You have to wait to see long-term repentance before reconciling or giving your complete trust in their words. You will know someone’s heart by the fruit of their lives. Sometimes it’s best to leave the person in God’s hands and let Him bring the truth into the light for all to see, or move that person into true repentance while you work on your healing, physically and emotionally away from that person and their darkness.
“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.” (Ephesians 5:6-14)