Is Malignant Narcissism a Spiritual Disorder?
Why People Hurt Others
Are people born wicked, or does evil behavior develop, incrementally, over time? Do people intentionally hurt others because they've sinned so much that their hearts become hardened?
I don't have the answer to these questions. I'm not sure anyone does. But, as a Catholic who blogs about malignant narcissism, I often wonder what's behind the apparently rising incidence of personality disorders, such as this one.
This condition we call "malignant narcissism" was first described in 1964, by a German psychologist named Erich Fromm. He was the first to put a label on the highly inappropriate behavior he observed. This included exploiting others, as well as being manipulative and dishonest.
A malignant narcissist will try to take whatever they see. When they set their sights on something, they're like a runaway train. Nothing can stand in their way. They have no problem destroying friendships, marriages or someone's good name.
Nowadays, nearly every office has a workplace bully. These are the folks who try to get other people fired, just for sport, or because they want to claim their target's position as their own.
Malignant narcissists are also prone to exacting revenge. If their feelings are hurt, even if you didn't mean to do this, watch out. A payback is headed your way, and it's not going to be fun.
Have you ever shared a secret with a malignant narcissist? If so, you've made a big mistake. That's because morally disordered people can't keep a secret. In addition to spilling it, they'll add their own sinister twist, all in an effort to make you look bad.
I could go on and on about malignant narcissism, but I won't. Instead, I'll defer to Dr. Fromm. He described it as "the quintessence of evil."
Character Disturbance in Our Society
A Severe Mental Sickness
Dr. Fromm also believed the behaviors he saw represented "a severe mental sickness."
People who practically live to hurt, and even destroy, others are very disturbed indeed.
Therapists know that someone who incessantly gossips and tries to stir up trouble, two other characteristics of this disorder, are not mentally grounded. They are miserable inside, filled with jealously and a deep-seated rage. What they have is never good enough. They always want more. If someone else has something, that possession (or person) becomes all the more attractive to them. So they will do anything, even to the point of breaking the law, to achieve their goal of getting what they want.
Malignant narcissists have poor impulse control, so they oftentimes do really stupid things. As much as they try to mask their disorder, this liability often exposes them.
Another characteristic of this disorder is inability to control their anger. Not being able to stop themselves from lashing out most of their relationships are short lived.
All of these are signs of great mental distress.
What About the Ten Commandments?
As Christians we need to refrain from judging one another? But what does this really mean? Certainly, we should never try to judge the state of someone's soul, or where a particular person is headed for all eternity?
But we are free to disapprove of aberrant behavior. We need to believe that murder is wrong, as is anything else that breaks one of God's Commandments.
Malignant behavior is not according to God's plan. He asks us not to lie and not to bear false witness against our neighbor. He asks us not to covet our neighbor's goods. He also commands us not to kill. It's part of Catholic moral teaching that we can kill someone's reputation as well as their physical bodies.
So, in an objective sense, we can determine that this sort of vexatious behavior is sinful. Whether or not an individual is committing a mortal (or serious) sin is where things become fuzzy. That's something known only to God.
But, objectively speaking, the behavior associated with malignant narcissism is very sinful.
Conditions for Mortal Sin
The Catholic Church teaches that three conditions are necessary for mortal sin. First, the sin must be serious. Second, the person must know it's serious, and in violation of God's law. And, third, the person must know what he or she is doing is wrong, but decides to do it anyway.
If all three of these conditions are not met, any sin committed would be considered "venial." All sin offends God, but venial sins do not separate us from Him.
Since the conditions required for a sin to be mortal are subjective, whether they are met are not for us to judge.
Queries on Malignant Narcissism
Do you think personality disorders are the result of sin?
Malignant Narcissism Involves Breaking the Commandments
The Eighth Commandment (according to Catholic tradition) explicitly tells us not to bear false witness against our neighbor. But the deviant behavior associated with malignant narcissism usually involves a well-executed smear campaign. Although a narcissist's accusations may contain some truth, it's their particular spin on this tale that causes so much damage.
Morally disordered people have a propensity for mixing a little bit of truth with a lot of lies. This is very sinister because it make the fabrications easier to digest.
We are also bound by the Fifth Commandment not to kill. This includes "killing" anyone's good name. In fact, it's Catholic teaching that if you malign someone, God requires you to try to set the record straight. Of course, this is impossible because, at this point, the people who've heard the gossip have probably formed a negative opinion of the target. It's virtually impossible to erase the damage.
However, malignant narcissists rarely admit they are wrong. In order to make reparation, they would have to backtrack and remember every conversation, and then beg the listener to not believe their lies.
What Sin Does to the Soul
It's a well-known fact, based on Scripture and Catholic teaching, that mortal sin hardens the heart and closes one off to God' grace. It's grace that helps us avoid sin in the the first place, and keeps us on the right path. It's this same grace that prompts us to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Have you ever heard the expression, "There but for the grace of God go I?" This is usually said in response to the knowledge that one of our brothers or sisters has fallen. It underscores the fact that without God's help, we'd do something similar, or even worse.
Sin also blinds us to the fact that we're sinning in the first place. It is very true that one sin (or one lie) leads to another. A soul mired in sin doesn't really love God, or anyone else. When love is lacking, all bets are off. So we're much more likely to abuse others.
A Catholic Take on Calumny, Detraction and Whispering
Pope Francis Speaks About Corruption
Before Pope Francis was elevate to the Papacy, he wrote about the spiritual effects of corruption back in 2005, when he was Cardinal of Buenos Aires. He believes corruption is "worse than any sin," according to a published news report in a Catholic media outlet. This is because it "hardens the heart" against feeling of remorse, which someone would normally feel after they've done something wrong.
In his published writings, then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, explained that before corruption is set in one's soul, there is potential to repent, and to ask for God's mercy. However, someone corrupted becomes oblivious to the fact their wicked acts are sinful, in the first place.
The behavior of the corrupt, described by Pope Francis, sounds a lot like what psychologists today call malignant narcissism. He noted that those who engage in corrupt acts have an overblown sense of their own importance. He compared them to the Pharisees, whom crucified Jesus and would neutralize anyone who disagreed with them, or attempted to expose them.
The Pope also noted that those who've fallen into such deep sin then exploit and take advantage of those around them.
Our Troubled Society
As someone who's survived narcissistic abuse, I appreciate the fact that malignant narcissism is now getting a lot of attention in the secular press. Many of us have been harmed by these deceivers. Learning how they operate is our best defense against future problems. Modern psychologists have done us a great service by shining a lot of light on this insidious "personality disorder."
However, I prefer the word "moral disorder." That's because I firmly believe this aberrant behavior we're seeing is the result of sin, as well as a reflection of our very troubled society.
I am not a psychologist, just someone who became well-versed inNarcology through a series of incidents involving a morally disordered "friend" I met at church.
For Additional Reading
- Letting Go of Toxic People
Sometimes certain people can no longer be part of your life. Here's how to distance yourself.
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