How Christians Can Deal With Narcissists
Narcissist. The name may conjure up an image of a self-absorbed, megalomaniac boss who is constantly bragging about his accomplishments. He is a sponge that can't get enough praise and approval from his staff. He has unreasonably high expectations and is vicious with anyone who falls short.
It's also the vain drama queen who constantly demands attention from others. If people don't measure up to her expectations, she ignores them or takes revenge.
Characteristics of a Narcissist
What does a narcissist look like? According to various sources, about 75% of narcissists are men but they can be hard to spot as they are extremely charming and easy-going at first. Narcissists are very difficult to deal with because they have a false belief system that includes some or all of the following characteristics.
- They are superior to others and deserve the best of everything.
- The rules don't apply to them.
- They are special and are so self-absorbed that they have no empathy and don't care about other people's feelings.
They tend to:
- Brag because they have an insatiable hunger for love and approval.
- Become workaholics and high achievers to earn more praise.
- Have unrealistic expectations of others and are vicious when they are not met.
- Want people to admire them. If they're not admired, they want others to fear them.
- Bully, cheat, and lie to get their way.
- Become defensive when criticized and will retaliate.
God hates these signs of selfishness, vanity, pride, and arrogance. Here is what the Bible has to say about many of the traits of narcissists.
What the Bible Says About narcissistic characteristics
Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him will I put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not.
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.
Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.
Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.
Before his downfall a man's heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.
Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin!
A man's pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.
Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."
A Fictitious Example of a Narcissist
Here is a fictitious scenario that plays out in life every day:
Jenna, a new employee, liked her boss at first. He seemed charming and outgoing. She soon felt uncomfortable, however, when she heard Mike bragging about his accomplishments to her co-workers. She noticed that he always kept his cell phone on in case customers called, even on his brief lunch breaks and after hours, and bragged abut his dedication. Jenna found that his stories didn't match the information she heard from customers and her written files.
One day, Mike boasted to some other staff members that he now had 40 clients. Before she could stop herself, Jenna blurted out, "but the records show you only have 20." Mike gave her a dirty look and ignored her.
From then on, Jenna lost respect for Mike and did not "oooh" and "ah" during his next bragging session like the other staff did. Mike saw it and resented it. He became infuriated when she started deliberately ignoring him when she could. He started to criticize her work.
She became afraid of him and dreaded seeing his looming form coming toward her. She would shake with fear when he was around. Mike saw her fear and took satisfaction from it. He showed no empathy for the mental anguish he was putting her through.
Jenna had attacked his inflated self-esteem, and that was a crime in his eyes. She finally started to look for another job and did not give Mike as a reference.
Narcissists are dangerous when their expectations are not met or their delusions of grandeur are challenged. How can we as Christians handle them, especially when they are in a position of authority over us?
A Biblical Example of Narcissism
We can look to the example of how Daniel handled King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the ultimate narcissist (see the first few chapters of Daniel).
Daniel was just a slave from the conquered Israelites who was called into the king's service, but he was also an exceptional man who obeyed God.
Nebuchadnezzar was so full of himself that he used his power to control his universe. He was really frustrated one day when he had a dream about a gold statute that his advisors could not interpret.
Like most narcissists whose unreasonable expectations have not been met, he went into a destructive rampage. He didn't get his way, so he was ready to kill all of his advisors. He didn't care about the people themselves or the anguish of their families. Because they didn't do what he wanted, he said "off with their heads!" as the queen of hearts said in Alice in Wonderland.
Lessons we can learn from Daniel
He prayed: Daniel prayed to God for guidance and praised Him when He gave him the interpretation of the dream. Daniel went before the king and told him what the dreams meant. He was thoroughly grounded in his life as an Israelite who obeyed God.
In the same way, we need to be in a state of obedience and submission to God when facing the challenge of dealing with narcissists. It is easy to reach for a phone to call a friend or dig in a self-help book, but what we really need is to spend some time on our knees to seek God's guidance.
Narcissists can be very dangerous when crossed. We need to have a true understanding of how narcissists think and operate as well commit a lot of time to prayer for the wisdom to know how to handle them.
He spoke and acted wisely: When the guards came for Daniel, he spoke to them with "wisdom and tact." Like Daniel, we need to be wise with our words and actions around narcissists.
Many narcissists are very angry people who retaliate on impulse without considering the consequences. They believe they are entitled to act in whatever way they choose, no matter how outrageous. Our wise words could make them reconsider their harmful behavior.
He did not take revenge: It is easy to respond to narcissists by become defensive and striking back, but that would just aggravate the situation. If Daniel had started mouthing off to his executioners and criticizing the king, he would have been killed and the book of Daniel would not have been written.
Instead, Daniel focused on solving the problem at hand by seeking God's guidance and offering to interpret the king's dream. Each situation like this with a narcissist is different and should be considered carefully.
He let God deal with their pride: Many narcissists are blind to their personality disorder. It will probably take an extreme intervention such as a rebuke from an authority figure much higher than themselves or legal action to make them change their megalomaniacal behavior.
In the end, God does bring down the proud. Of the seven things that God detests, Proverbs 6:16-17 lists haughty eyes first. God hates pride and arrogance (Proverbs 8:13).
God says that the proud will fall one day. We have to be careful that we don't fall with them by becoming angry and vengeful ourselves. In the end, we should feel compassion for these lost souls and pray for them as Jesus commanded.