[The following is a excerpt from early pages of the book, The First Will Be Last: A Biblical Perspective On Narcissism]
Common Descriptions, Different Terms
While there is a degree of common ground between the secular and Biblical approaches to narcissism – mostly in the description of narcissists and how they behave, i.e. narcissistic traits – the approaches diverge substantially in the areas of root causes, possible solutions, and ways in which “victims” should deal with these troubling people.
To simply illustrate the overlap and divergence between the different approaches, the overlapping areas in the following Venn diagram below are primarily descriptive (how do narcissists behave), and the non-overlapping areas tend toward the causal (why are narcissists the way they are) and the prescriptive (what to do about it).
Human nature has been the same since the beginning of humankind. Since the Bible speaks about the nature of man and interpersonal relationships, we should see the kind of people the secular world refers to as “narcissists” in the Bible. By accurately identifying the terms the Bible uses to describe the people which the secular world calls narcissists, we can then study those terms for a comprehensive look at what the Bible says about narcissism.
Since the term narcissism derives from the character Narcissus in Greek mythology, and usage in the world of psychiatry only began in the early 1900’s[i], we would not expect the Bible to use that term. Some of the terms the Bible regularly uses for narcissism are “insolent pride,” “proud,” “haughty,” and “scoffer”. These terms, as well as others, can be considered synonymous with narcissism.
“Proud,” “Haughty,” “Scoffer,” are his names, who acts with insolent pride.
Prior to the widespread use of the term narcissism, people commonly recognized the traits of these people by other labels, such as: megalomania, egocentricity, conceit, arrogance, haughtiness, vanity, self-absorption, etc. We can equate the Bible’s terminology with the term narcissism used by the secular world, based on comparable descriptions of the same people.
Among many others, this equivalence in terms is illustrated in Wikipedia’s definition, which says that narcissistic traits derive from “arrogant pride:”[ii]
“Narcissism is the pursuit of gratification from vanity, or egotistic admiration of one’s own physical or mental attributes, that derive from arrogant pride. The term originated with Narcissus in Greek mythology, who fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water.”
Secular vs. Biblical Perspectives
One of the differences between the secular and Biblical approaches is that the secular psych world is “outside in” – observing characteristics, grouping them, and then labeling them – whereas the Biblical approach is “inside out.” God alone knows the heart and character of a narcissistic person. He gives the person with that kind of heart a name and then describes that type of person and the damage they leave in their wake in cascading detail. Here’s a simple chart illustrating these approaches:
In a sense, the secular psych world is only observing and categorizing the characteristics which God through the Bible has already defined.
There Is an Evil Underneath
While the descriptions are similar between the secular and Biblical world, God does not view “narcissism” as a mere personality disorder. He sees narcissistic behavior as an evil that is driven by what is in a person’s heart.
But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.
The battle is between good and evil, and it is waged at the heart level. We can see the outward results of this battle through actions and words, but God sees directly inside.
“Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:7
Would not God find this out? For He knows the secrets of the heart.
The problem’s source and solution start in the heart. The mind simply serves the heart. That’s one explanation for why a narcissist can appear to be self-contradictory by quickly taking the opposite position of something he just said. His mixed signals display the mixed motives of his heart.
People who are casually around narcissists may only find them annoying. However, those hurt by narcissists are quite aware there is something deeper – an underlying evil. Narcissists typically don’t see themselves as evil – in fact, they usually see the contrary in themselves – but their victims eventually recognize the evil of their insolent pride.
[i] See also Mark 7:21, Luke 6:45
[i] Sigmund Freud wrote the essay “On Narcissism” in 1914, see wikipedia.org/wiki/On Narcissism