Narcissism = Insolent Pride in the Bible

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Proverbs 21:24

24 “Proud,” “Haughty,” “Scoffer,” are his names,
Who acts with insolent pride.

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You may have found this blog because you have a “narcissist” in your life, or  in the life of someone you care about.   At first, you may not have known that you were dealing with a narcissist, but the pain and damage this selfish, arrogant, condescending, domineering person caused might have driven you to search for answers on what was going on, and on how to deal with this difficult person.  As you went online or to books on  Amazon, you read more about who this person is, and how he operates.  And you likely read some explanations as to how he got this way, or advice regarding how to deal with this “narcissist”.  In the process of trying to learn everything possible in your search for answers, you may have decided to explore what the Bible has to say on the subject.

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While the Bible does not specifically refer to “narcissism” –  which takes its name from Greek mythology – it does speak to the subject.

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Causes of Narcissism – The Impact Of Generational Sin

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The secular psychological world has observed that narcissism tends to run in families.  In Biblical terms, this is referred to as the persistence of “generational sins”.  God talked about it around 3500 years ago:

Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” 

Exodus 34:6-7 (see also Exodus 20:5-6)

God does not explain how sins are transmitted from one generation to the next.  For example, we observe that alcoholism runs in families, but there is no clear evidence for how that happens.  In the case of narcissism, however, there is a logical sequence of how narcissistic parents could have narcissistic kids.  The parent in example #1 above who puts down their child could very likely be a scoffer.  The self-exalting defense of their child in the response described above would continue the pattern of insolent pride which began with the parent.

In addition, families develop their own “DNA” or family culture.  This could include a scoffing, prideful approach to everyone else “out there”.  Even though the children may be prompted in their heart to be kind, they choose to respond in the same self-exalting cynical manner as the parents.

However, there are also issues with this logic.  For example, why are not all the children of narcissistic parents narcissistic?  It still comes back to an individual’s moral heart choices on how they respond to life.

Three additional points must be mentioned:

First, generational sin is not an excuse for the child.  He is ultimately responsible for himself and his own life responses before God.  He cannot say, “it’s all my parents’ fault”.  God makes clear that everyone is finally responsible for their own sin.

The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself. 

Ezekiel 18:20

The sins of the fathers become the sins of the children as the result of the child embracing the same sin for himself.  Therefore, while the parent might rightly feel responsibility for getting the ball rolling, he does not have final accountability for his child’s heart response to God.

Second, this may seem like a hopeless situation, but it’s not.  It is always possible to turn things around, due to God’s compassionate, forgiving nature.

Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. 

Isaiah 55:7

Jesus came to break the bonds or chains of sin, including the chains of generational sin.

the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 

I John 3:8

Third, when we talk later in the book about battling entrenched patterns, we should be aware that part of that battle includes confessing not only our own sin but also the sins of the fathers.

 ‘If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me…..or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land.

Leviticus 26:40-42

Generational sin underscores narcissistic cultures

One logical, and Biblical, extension of the concept of generational sin has been little explored.  Just as there can be narcissism / insolent pride within an individual, there can also be entire cultures and nations that have narcissist characteristics.

What is a narcissistic culture?  A culture where the preponderance of the people are narcissists and act in narcissistic ways.  Or a culture (or nation) where the entire group acts toward other groups with the heart and patterns of behavior of a narcissist.

Two Biblical cases were the nations of Moab and Edom.  The Moabites descended from the incestuous relationship between Lot and his older daughter.  The Edomites descended from Esau, Jacob’s twin brother.

Referring to Moab,

We have heard of the pride of Moab, an excessive pride;
Even of his arrogance, pride, and fury; his idle boasts are false.

 Isaiah 16:6

“We have heard of the pride of Moab—he is very proud—
Of his haughtiness, his pride, his arrogance and his self-exaltation.
“I know his fury,” declares the Lord, “But it is futile; His idle boasts have accomplished nothing. 

Jeremiah 48:29-30

Referring to Edom,

 “As for the terror of you [Edom], The arrogance of your heart has deceived you, O you who live in the clefts of the rock, Who occupy the height of the hill.
Though you make your nest as high as an eagle’s, I will bring you down from there,” declares the Lord. 

Jeremiah 49:16

I can think of cultures that I would consider “narcissistic”.  However, a narcissistic culture does not mean that everyone in the culture is a narcissist.  For example, Ruth, the god-fearing grandmother of King David, was Moabite.

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Narcissist Case Study – Uzziah

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When seemingly “normal” people become arrogant and abusive after they get a little power or success, we may reasonably wonder whether the seeds of that pride were latent in their heart prior to their success.  Uzziah, King of Judah is a case in point, as described in 2 Chronicles 26

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26:1 And all the people of Judah took Uzziah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king in the place of his father Amaziah…….

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 He did right in the sight of the Lord according to all that his father Amaziah had done. He continued to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding through the vision of God; and as long as he sought the Lord, God prospered him…….

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……Hence his fame spread afar, for he was marvelously helped until he was strong.  16 But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the Lord his God, for he entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. 

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Insolent Pride Tops the List of Things Which God Hates

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If you are ever in doubt about whether God is passive about insolent pride (narcissism, see here), Proverbs 6:17-19 puts it at the top of the list of things which God hates.

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“There are six things which the Lord hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him

  1. Haughty eyes (“Proud, haughty, scoffer are his names who acts with insolent pride” Proverbs 21:24)
  2. A lying tongue 
  3. Hands that shed innocent blood
  4. A heart that devises wicked plans
  5. Feet that run rapidly to evil
  6. A false witness who utters lies
  7. And one who spreads strife among brother

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Look closely and you will recognize most of these actions as those of narcissists.  We may fear that they “get away with it”, but God assures us that they do not.

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Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord;
Assuredly, he will not be unpunished. 

Proverbs 16:5

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We may not know how or when He deals with the proud person, and may not see it, but we should not doubt that He will indeed do what He says.

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Note:  Narcissism is the colloquial term for what the Bible calls “insolent pride”  (see here)

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Healing – The Heart God Revives*

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All of us come across others’ who say things so well that there is simply nothing left to add.  Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth created just such a piece in the form of a bookmark which you can download here,   From her series Brokenness:  The Heart God Revives.
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Broken:  The Heart God Revives (Bookmark)  By Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

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Proud people focus on the failures of others.
Broken people are overwhelmed with a sense of their own spiritual need.

Proud people have a critical, fault-finding spirit; they look at everyone else’s faults with a microscope but their own with a telescope.
Broken people are compassionate; they can forgive much because they know how much they have been forgiven.

Proud people are self-righteous; they look down on others.
Broken people esteem all others better than themselves.

Proud people have an independent, self-sufficient spirit.
Broken people have a dependent spirit; they recognize their need for others.

Proud people have to prove that they are right.
Broken people are willing to yield the right to be right.

 

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Dealing With Bullies

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In our previous post we discussed how insolently proud, narcissistic bullies will use a position of power to coerce compliance on the part of others through bullying tactics.  Sadly, until Jesus returns to set everything right, this will be part of the world we must navigate.

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How do we deal with the bullies that inevitably cross our paths?  Here are options we have:

  1. Avoid them – bullies may have the upper hand on their turf, but who says we have to stay on their turf and play their game?
  2. Try a power play – sometimes we’re in a position to “fight back”
  3. Get our “big brother” – sometimes we can recruit someone stronger (the image of bringing your big brother to the playground) to defend us

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I had a friend tell me the story of his children bullied on the school bus on the way to school.  One morning he got on the bus and told the bullies “This is going to end.  The only question is how much pain you are going to take before you stop, because I will do whatever it takes until you stop”.  In the face of what the bullies knew was an unwinnable battle, they stopped their bullying.

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What if none of the above three options are available to us?  We can take a bigger view of the situation and invite God to be our defender and protector.

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Narcissist Tactics – Bullying To Suppress Opposition To Their Goals

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People who have dealt extensively with narcissists will often feel “beat up” by the narcissist – sometimes without understanding how or why they feel that way.  This is because a narcissist frequently uses coercive behavior in order to get what they want in a specific situation, or to achieve or maintain a position of dominance over someone.  Sometimes this bullying is overt (think playground bully) sometimes covert (manipulative, demeaning comments).

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From Dictionary.com – a bully is
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a blustering, mean, or predatory person who, from a perceived position of relative power, intimidates, abuses, harasses, or coerces people, especially those considered unlikely to defend themselves:
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The Pharisees – prime examples of insolent proud narcissists in the Bible – exemplified this.  They tried to squelch anything and anyone supportive of Jesus by using their power to expel them from the synagogue – shaming and possibly even economically damaging that person.  This was illustrated in John 9’s description of their response to Jesus healing a man blind from birth.
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The Jews then did not believe it of him, that he had been blind and had received sight, until they called the parents of the very one who had received his sight,  and questioned them, saying, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? Then how does he now see?” His parents answered them and said, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind;  but how he now sees, we do not know; or who opened his eyes, we do not know.
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Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.”  His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone confessed Him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.  For this reason his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 
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John 9:18-23
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“The People Of The Lie”

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John 9:39-41

39 And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” 40 Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, “We are not blind too, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

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One of the primary traits of the narcissistic Pharisees was their attitude of moral superiority and refusal to acknowledge that they had any sin – even though their inward lives were full of sin.  In this they deceived and lied to both themselves and others.  This can also be seen in Luke 18:9-14, Matthew 23:25-28, and Matthew 9:10-13.

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M Scott Peck was a psychiatrist whose personal journey ultimately led him to commit to Christianity.  By observation and analysis, through the lens of Christianity, he reached the same conclusion that Jesus had already made clear above.

Following are excerpts from a book he wrote on the subject

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All The Reward They Will Ever Get

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“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.

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“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.

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Narcissists – From Merely Annoying To Devastating

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The devising of folly is sin,
And the scoffer is an abomination to men. 

Proverbs 24:9

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To quickly review, “scoffer” is one of the Biblical terms used to label what the secular world calls a narcissist.  The modern secular terms also include narcissistic personality disorder (implying a higher degree of “bad”) and malignant narcissism (signifying the highest degree of “bad”), while previous generations used phrases like “delusions of grandeur” and “megalomania”.  As discussed in the book based on this blog:

  1. The biblical terms are actually more precise than the secular terms
  2. While the psychology and pop-psychology communities attempt to define the degree of narcissism which rises to the level of “personality disorder” or “malignancy”, the cutoff lines are arbitrary.  It is a continuum of insolent of pride, ranging from a little to total, 100 percent, non-stop self-obsession which dominates every thought.

While malignant narcissism is shorthand for the more extreme form, all narcissism is malignant – to a degree.  A narcissist’s self-centered, self-aggrandizing, “me first-and-only”, “I’m never wrong” heart is intent on benefitting themselves with no thought of you, so that their gain typically comes at some cost to you.  This could result in annoyances – like their hogging a conversation, or telling obvious lies to puff themselves up – to flattering you in order to extract something from you – to outright stealing, lying, cheating and stabbing you in the back.

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As Proverbs 24:9 says, all scoffers are “an abomination”.  The Hebrew word is “toebah”   meaning detestable or loathsome.  You really hate what they do.  And not just you – everyone who sees past their fake charm and flattery.  The level of loathing is a function of:

      1. the degree of their treachery in achieving their self-exalting aims,
      2. the depth of your relationship
      3. how deeply you are affected by it.

Being denied a promotion because of a backstabbing narcissistic coworker is far different than being annoyed by a relative stranger inflating and bragging about one of their “accomplishments”.

All narcissism is malignant – to a degree.  Pride is on a continuum, and while the secular world of psychology tries to make a clinical distinction between “not too much” (not NPD) and “too much” (NPD), that distinction is arbitrary and is in the eye of the one affected.

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The Contradicting Love For A Narcissist

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Is it possible to love a narcissist while at the same time being absolutely devastated by the path they have chosen including the possible impact on you?  When I say “love”, I am not referring to the romantic notion, but the most core definition of love – God’s type of love.  To answer this, let’s look at two examples in the Bible.

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Absalom was a narcissist and tried to overthrow his father David to become king of Israel.  Absalom’s move was part of God’s discipline of David for his sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12), while God ultimately punished Absalom for his insolent pride and rebellion.

David clearly understood that Absalom had become his enemy, described in Psalm 3 “A Psalm of David when he fled from his son Absalom”,

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Lord, how my enemies have increased!

Many are rising up against me.
Many are saying of my soul,
“There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah

But You, Lord, are a shield around me,
My glory, and the One who lifts my head.
I was crying out to the Lord with my voice,
And He answered me from His holy mountain. Selah

l lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the Lord sustains me.

 I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me all around.

Arise, Lord; save me, my God!
For You have struck all my enemies on the [e]cheek;
You have shattered the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the Lord;
May Your blessing be upon Your people!   

Psalm 3

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But what was David’s response?  He first told his military that, in spite of the fact that Absalom was trying to overthrow (and possibly kill) him, they should deal gently with him,

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But the king commanded Joab, Abishai, and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the people heard when the king commanded all the commanders regarding Absalom. 

2 Samuel 18:5

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and when Absalom was killed….

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Then the king trembled and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And this is what he said as he walked: “My son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you, Absalom, my son, my son!” 

2 Samuel 18:33

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How could this be?  David’s lament for Absalom was so obvious that his people complained that David would have rather them die than Absalom (2 Samuel 19).

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A second example is found in Matthew 23.  Jesus had just finished a “truth encounter” with the narcissistic Pharisees, clearly and bluntly outlining to them various aspects of their insolently proud hypocrisy.

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“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who have been sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.  Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!  For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!’” 

Matthew 23:37-39

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David was a “man after God’s heart”, and Jesus was God Himself.  Both showed us God’s heart for insolently proud people walking in rebellion against Him.  While justice will (and should) occur, God – as illustrated by both David and Jesus – still has an underlying heart of love and care for those insolently proud recipients of that justice.  He deeply mourns their outcome.

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The implications for us in dealing with the narcissists in our lives are:

    • Yes, we can deal with narcissists wisely and Biblically, avoiding them when appropriate and placing boundaries and judgments when appropriate.  We can also ask God to deal with them and humble them
    • But at the same time, we can mourn their insolent pride – not just for what it does to us, but more importantly what it does to them.  They are blinded and lost, and will receive the consequences.  While we may feel relief at their judgment,  grieve it at the same time.

 

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,
And do not let your heart rejoice when he stumbles,
Otherwise, the Lord will see and be displeased,
And turn His anger away from him.

Do not get upset because of evildoers
Or be envious of the wicked;
For there will be no future for the evil person;
The lamp of the wicked will be put out. 

Proverbs 24:17-20

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Narcissist Case Study – Absalom, David’s Son

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In the case of Absalom, there is not a clear statement in the Bible about his insolent pride / narcissism.  However, there are clues regarding Absalom’s drive for self-aggrandisement, which ultimately led to his own death.   Absalom’s quest for exaltation resulted in his destruction, and in the process was a tool used by God to chasten David for his sin in the case of Bathsheba and Uriah.

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Dealing With Narcissists – Focus On What You’re Doing, Instead Of What They’re Saying

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“But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” 

Matthew 11:16-19

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Secular Thoughts On Dating A Narcissist

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This blog started as a result of a situation with a narcissist which led me to cry to God for “Help!”  God’s process of answering that prayer began with leading me first to the secular definition, traits, and tactics.  I thought, THIS is what I’m dealing with.  After that I thought, “surely God says something about it”, and the research for this blog commenced.

The secular world does a good job of observing and describing narcissistic traits – as those are readily apparent to everyone to see.  The difference between the secular and Biblical perspectives lie in 1.  what is the cause, 2.  what are possible solutions, and 3.  how do you deal Biblically with them?

In some cases, the right answer is to “avoid” them (where this applies is discussed in the post Dealing With Narcissists – It Depends on the Relationship).

This is particularly appropriate in dating relationships.  We have a friend who was recently badly hurt dating a narcissist.  This friend constantly felt bad, and did not know why.  I just shared with him an article I found @ https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/am-i-dating-a-narcissist.

Here are some highlights

11 Signs You’re Dating a Narcissist

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When The Mask Comes Off

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Narcissists will conceal their intentions, their heart, and their actions to make sure things look good while still working toward their goal of self-exaltation and dominance.  However, while they may hide their intentions for awhile, once they feel they are in a position to truly “go for it” they will discard their mask and fully show their true colors.  They likely showed glimpses of their true nature before taking their mask off, but when given the opportunity they revealed themselves fully.  This is true of many prominent megalomaniacs in the past, but you likely also see examples much closer to home:

    • The “cooperative employee” that becomes a tyrant when he gets to be boss
    • The girlfriend who makes joking digs at her boyfriend, but “becomes” a contentious wife after she ties the knot
    • A congenial cooperative politician who becomes a dictator once in power

Proverbs hints at this phenomena of people showing their true colors when given the chance:

Under three things the earth quakes,
And under four, it cannot endure:
Under a slave when he becomes king,
And a fool when he is satisfied with food,
Under an unloved woman when she gets a husband,
And a female servant when she dispossesses her mistress. 

Proverbs 30:23

Biblical examples might include

    • Satan gave a seemingly little temptation to Eve in the Garden of Eden, but showed his full true intention – to usurp God – when he told Jesus in the wilderness

Again, the devil *took Him along to a very high mountain and *showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” 

Matthew 4:8-9

    • The jealous Pharisees couched their opposition to Jesus in pious sounding questions, but when they saw the opportunity they orchestrated his death.

It IS a mask they wear, as narcissists are hypocrites.  The very definition of the word “hypocrite” is wearing a mask to cover intentions and behavior.

Proverbs says that charm is deceitful (Proverbs 31:30), and that scoffers (narcissists) are flatterers.  They will use those tactics to “win you over”, but after they have accomplished that the mask will come off and they will begin to reveal their true nature and agenda.

This underscores the importance of keen discernment in looking for the clues ahead of time, and avoiding the consequences

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A prudent person sees evil and hides himself, But the naive proceed, and pay the penalty. 
Proverbs 22:3

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Once N’s have their hooks in and feel they are in a position of power – whether personally or at a geopolitical level, they are much more difficult to deal with.  It is better to recognize the clues early, and take action early (like steering clear), than to wait until their mask comes off.

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Solving Intractable Problems

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Some of life’s problems seem intractable – unsolvable.  While some of these problems are not our fault, we are a major contributor to others.  We make problems far worse when we take things into our own hands and look everywhere except to God for solutions:

The sorrows of those who have bartered for another god will be multiplied; 

Psalm 16:4

What do we do with unsolvable problems?  We can despair and lose hope, just waiting for life to end so that we can escape into the brighter hope of heaven.  Or we can take a path of faith, realizing that as long as we have breath and God is involved, the final chapter of our lives has not been written.  This path of faith realizes that nothing is impossible with God.

 

27 But He [Jesus] said, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.” 

Luke 18:27

This was illustrated by Abraham and Sarah having their first child when he was 100 and she 90 years old.

Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” 

Genesis 18:14

God’s ability to “fix things” does not mean that He will put everything back the way they should have been before we “veered off course”.  And it does not mean that He will create the future that WE want, according to our plan – an attitude that indicates we still are trying to force God to serve us in our goals, rather than us allowing Him to be Lord.  It does mean, however, that He can give us joy, satisfaction, and purpose by weaving our past into a fruitful, loving future.

Godly, even Biblical “wisdom” is helpful and essential in finding our way forward.  But we also need to bring God directly into the equation.  We have discussed previously (here and here) this essential aspect of bringing God into the middle of things.

But there is one more thing – some will call it radical, others will not.  When we consider that earthly battles are actually spiritual battles…

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.   

Ephesians 6:12

.. we may need to kick our “crying out to God” up a notch and consider fasting with our prayer.  This does not automatically make the answer come faster, but does show an added level of seriousness.

 In those days, I, Daniel, had been mourning for three entire weeks. I did not eat any tasty food, nor did meat or wine enter my mouth, nor did I use any ointment at all until the entire three weeks were completed…

… Then he said to me, “Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was standing in my way for twenty-one days;  

Daniel 10:2-3, 10-14

This added seriousness of fasting might be more natural than we think.  In times of severe distress many of us tend to lose our appetite (others may binge eat or drink).   Why not use that loss of appetite as additional impetus to show God our sincerity through fasting?

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