When I first heard the word “narcissist”, I thought of the beautiful flower “narcissus” or daffodil. I also remembered the one piano piece that my mother could play: “Narcissus” by Ethelbert Nevin and the sweet memories of listening to her.
However, the person talking with me obviously meant something different than a flower or a piano piece when describing someone who consistently hurt them. So I asked what they meant, and they replied that a narcissist is someone who cannot or will not think of anyone other than themselves. So I tucked that into my list of “need to know” personality definitions.
So, I have been praying for more and more people who seem to fit this definition. What are the causes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)? Some theorize that too much criticism, or conversely, over-protective praise during childhood, as well as abuse, may increase the potential for NPD. (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20366662)
Narcissism comes in several forms. Adaptive narcissism is when a person with this disorder leans into positive traits—such as self-sufficiency and confidence—that can actually be healthy. They may help someone set high ambitions at work, for example, or enjoy satisfying relationships without being overdependent on a partner.
Maladaptive narcissism, on the other hand, is characterized by the toxic traits, such as a sense of entitlement and willingness to exploit others. (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-disorders/narcissistic-personality-disorder.htm)
So how do I pray for narcissists?
Jesus reminds us to look at ourselves before we criticize another. So first, I need to examine whether I am one. The previous article (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-disorders/narcissistic-personality-disorder.htm) discusses a “communal narcissist”:
Communal narcissists tend to view themselves as altruistic and claim to care deeply about fairness. They present themselves to others as supportive and selfless. However, their behavior is motivated by a desire for social power and a sense of superiority or entitlement. Because of this, their actions don’t always match their beliefs.
I think this may be a problem for those of us on the far side of 50, since we can become narcissists during adulthood. Children have natural self-absorption as they learn, but adults who do not practice focus on others enough develop into narcissists. Was this Moses’ problem when the people complained about not having water after coming out of Egypt (Exodus 17:1-7)? God told Moses to strike the rock, but late in his life, after years of complaints, Moses disobeyed God’s command to speak to the rock, instead striking it twice. Moses said, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we (i.e., Moses and Aaron) bring forth water for you out of this rock.” Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly” Numbers 20:9-11). Moses exhibited three problems: impatience and anger with God’s people, disobedience by hitting the rock instead of speaking to it and by attributing the water coming from the rock as something he did instead of God. I think as we grow older, we must pray that we do not become tired and weary of the sins of the people that God has placed in our care, that we listen carefully to God’s direction, and that we do not attribute what God has done through us to what we have done. Those sins do not necessarily lead to nor define narcissism but are cautionary in the aging process.
Second, we must be careful in rearing our children. Jacob made grievous errors in the disciplining and fairness to his children. “Now Israel [Jacob] loved Joseph more than all his sons [he had twelve] because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic.” (Genesis 37:3) Israel’s other sons knew which son was the favorite, and they hated Joseph. Joseph “brought back a bad report” (vs. 2) about his brothers and they “could not speak to him on friendly terms” (vs. 4). The doting father and antagonistic brothers were ripe for developing narcissism in Joseph. He then has a dream about his brothers who were represented by sheaves in the field bowing down to his sheaf. (vs. 5-7). “They hated him even more” (vs. 8). His next dream was about the sun, the moon and eleven stars bowing down to him. His father was even appalled that he and his wife would bow down to Joseph. Israel sent the older boys to shepherd the sheep and he sent Joseph to check on them. This was the opportunity for the brothers to seek revenge on Joseph.
Waiting in the pit for the brothers to argue whether to kill him or to sell him into slavery into Egypt was probably an experience in reality for Joseph. The trip as a new slave to Egypt, the sale to Potiphar, the captain of the bodyguard of Pharaoh changed Joseph’s life dramatically. “The LORD was with Joseph, so he became a successful man.” (Genesis 39:2) In Egypt, his obedience and relationship with the LORD gave him success but also landed him in prison because he would not have sex with Potiphar’s wife, of which she falsely accused him. The LORD was with him in prison, and the chief jailer put him in charge of the prisoners. By God’s leading, Joseph correctly interprets two different dreams, which eventually gives him the opportunity to be released from prison. He was 17 years when he was sold into slavery and he was 30 years when released from prison. It was approximately 9-10 more years (7 years of plenty + 2 lean years) when he first sees his brothers and recognizes them, even though they have no thought that they would know this Egyptian leader. https://www.thebiblicaltimeline.org/joseph/
Joseph’s accusation that they are spies, demand that one stays in an Egyptian prison and that they go to get the younger brother Benjamin to prove that they are not spies seems harsh. Joseph is probably testing them to determine their character. But putting the silver cup in Benjamin’s sack required that the brothers return to Egypt to offer another brother in exchange for Benjamin is an alarming development. My question is why would Joseph do this? Is this a throwback to the narcissism that Joseph had conquered in his daily adult life? I cannot imagine the fear both of Joseph as he travels to Egypt as a slave and his brothers as they return to Egypt to secure Benjamin’s freedom.
God used all the pain of Joseph to gain the security of His Chosen People during the famine. So God can use the pain of narcissists for His Kingdom.
Psychotherapy does not offer much hope for the narcissist. Medications are only used to treat other co-morbidities such as anxiety, depression, etc. Many articles that I read suggested that people in a relationship with a narcissist should end the relationship because of the abuse that the narcissist inflicts. Some articles suggest setting boundaries, never arguing, etc.—all good ideas in all relationships.
Is Setting Boundaries Enough?
Here is my prayerful hope. Although I do not want to pray for the suffering that Joseph experienced to end his narcissism to be inflicted on others, I do pray that God will work effectively on the hearts of those who are behaving narcissistically. God changed Joseph. Joseph did not need to see a psychoanalyst. As I started this article, so I end it. Ask God if you are a narcissist. Pray for His help to change. All of us have selfishness in us to varying degrees. Ask God to root it out.