I walked out of the doctor’s office a few days ago and noticed a young woman in front of me crying. I passed her on the way to my car and then thought I should check if she was okay and turned around and went back to talk to her.
She looked at me as she wiped a tear from her eye and said that she was just diagnosed with PTSD. She shared that it had been a year since she left a relationship with her narcissistic boyfriend.
She fled England a year ago after her boyfriend burned her house down. The only way she could get away from him was to leave the country.
Just days before leaving England she considered going back to him “because he would only be angry for a while and then things would get better.” This is the same guy that set fire to her house!
What was interesting about this is that until a few weeks ago, I had no idea what narcissism was until I started reading a blog by psychotherapist Terri Cole.
Narcissism is defined as a person who has excessive interest in oneself, extreme selfishness with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration. I recognize some of these traits in myself, because we all have a sin nature.
But we shouldn’t condemn ourselves, because a narcissist is out of control and excessively dominated by these characteristics.
As parents, narcissists can exhibit different characteristics. There is the “engulfing” or smothering narcissist who dominates and controls all aspects of a child’s life. Then there is the under-functioning, ignoring, neglectful narcissist who is unable to give their children the attention, guidance and care they need.
It is almost impossible for a narcissist to show compassion and empathy. They often compete with their child pitting one sibling against another and one child often ends up as the “scapegoat” of the family. It is their fault when anything goes wrong.
Narcissists often tell lies, exaggerate accomplishments or elevate their importance. They are thin-skinned, super ego driven, vengeful and keep a running tally of every perceived slight or offense and have a desire for someone to pay for it.
Everything is about them. Your wedding can become about them. Your accomplishments become theirs. They are jealous of their own children.
In order to free yourself from this kind of relationship you must accept this is how it is and their behavior may not change.
It may be time to save yourself! You must take action towards the person you fear the most and draw boundaries. You may have to limit contact, step back, not pick up the phone and give yourself permission to take a break from them.
You may even have to choose “no contact” if the situation is extremely toxic. You need to focus on yourself and build healthy relationships with other people.
We recently had a conversation with friends and the husband has spent years healing from the narcissistic relationship with his mother who seemed intent on destroying him. He was the “scapegoat” of the family and if something went wrong it was his fault.
People involved with a narcissist be it a parent or spouse experience tremendous guilt when trying to deal with these relationships. It may seem wrong to separate yourself from a parent or spouse who manifests this behavior. Forgiving them doesn’t mean you have to hang around and suffer the abuse.
In his letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul says that in the end times there will be a dramatic rise in a type of behavior that I believe today we call narcissism:
3 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— (2 Timothy 3:1-4 NASV)
If you look at this verse, it could almost be used to define narcissism. Paul is simply describing what happens when we remove God from our culture.
But there is hope!
One Christian therapist I follow says she recognized her own narcissistic tendencies when she became aware that her ten-year-old daughter was afraid of her. She realized then she needed to change and sought professional help to heal her childhood experience with a narcissistic, abusive father.
Jesus is the antidote to narcissism as He sacrificed His life for the world. He perfectly demonstrated God’s call to love our neighbor as ourselves.