Beyond Narcissism – To Behold the Face of God

Perhaps the most difficult personalities encountered in anyone’s life are those that can clinically be labeled “narcissistic.” It refers to a very describable disorder that can be diagnosed but treated only with difficulty. The narcissist is critically handicapped when it comes to recognizing and respecting boundaries. They want to run your life (and will). Everything in the world revolves around them simply because their own boundaries are so non-existent. Being in relationship with a narcissist can often be toxic. They often make us feel that the problem belongs with us, not them. We can begin to question our own sanity and judgment. There are popular articles on the topic that I think are very helpful to those engaged in such situations. There are also spiritual questions that can be very problematic.

At the core of a narcissistic disorder is shame – overwhelming shame. The source can vary greatly but is generally found early in childhood. It might even have a bio-neurological basis. Shame is said to be the most unbearable emotion. It is how we feel about ourselves and can be excruciating in its pain. For the narcissist the pain of shame is truly unbearable – so they refuse to acknowledge it.

I have engaged narcissists from time to time in a pastoral setting. I recall one case in which the person involved refused to accept a particularly factual description of a situation to be the case. The efforts to make me agree with them were endless, including numerous office visits, letters, and phone calls day and night. They could not be wrong.

Strangely, the ability to bear shame is essential in the experience of God. God does not try to shame us or make us feel bad about ourselves. Shame is simply an objective reality in His presence. Hence, Isaiah’s description:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.

So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts.” (Isa. 6:1-5)

Beholding God in His glory, Isaiah also sees himself in the truth of his own being. He experiences a sort of revulsion that should not be understated. Other encounters with God in Scripture describe people falling on their face, unable to look at the wonder before them. This hiding is an inherent part of the experience of shame. There are no excuses to be offered.

To this must be contrasted the description of our salvation as “beholding Him face to face.” This is an image of total transformation, in which our likeness to God is so complete that we are able to see Him “without shame, and with a good defense before His dread judgment seat.” The journey from Isaiah’s experience to this final blessing is the journey of salvation.

However, the journey to beholding Christ face to face can only begin at the point of Isaiah’s experience of shame. As an old man in A.A. once said, “The only thing you need to know about God is that you’re not Him.” It is also that which we need to know about everyone else in our life. The boundaries that rightly separate us from one another are properly marked with a healthy shame, an instinct that says, “You’re out of line and have crossed a boundary that should not be crossed.” Love requires such a recognition and respect. There can be no freedom in the coercion and compulsion that marks the boundary-lessness of the active narcissist. You cannot love me until you understand that my life is not yours and does not exist to make your life complete.

“Crossing the line” with another person should bring us up short, with a small nudge of shame (which we generally call “embarrassment”). It should provoke a small apology (or large, depending). It is a matter of respect and is utterly necessary in the life of love. We should not excuse ourselves, “Oh! She knows I don’t mean it!” These trespasses are small injuries. Some endure such injuries on a regular basis and become so accustomed to them that they simply expect them. But their souls are required to shrink in such circumstances, as they draw back from the pain of frequent injury.

I once read a book that described a certain form of narcissism as the near perfect embodiment of evil. If so, the person suffering from such should be treated as though they were possessed. For the pain inside that world is even greater than the pain outside. Imagine a life without awe or wonder, without love for the other, with no sense of anyone other than yourself. It is a form of psychological hell.

I once pondered the question of how such a person could be saved (I had a pastoral possibility confronting me). I could not think of a means of repentance that such a personality could undertake. It was, for me, one of life’s unsolvable mysteries, perhaps a salvation that can happen within the depths of a soul trapped within the confines of its own endless shame. I have seen many “hate” pieces written about narcissists. They are probably the most poisonous relationships ever encountered. It is a test of compassion, I think, to put oneself in their shoes and to imagine the agony of such an existence.

It is an act of true compassion to pray earnestly for their salvation and for our own deliverance from our refusals to love. It is also a reminder that, despite the toxic nature of some shame, there is a core of healthy shame that is utterly necessary to our existence as creatures and our ability to love. It reveals to us both what we are and what we are not. Both are equally necessary.

 

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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235 responses to “Beyond Narcissism – To Behold the Face of God”

  1. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Sorry Fr. I didn’t mean to suggest that it was a “sin” in the sense of a legal issue. I meant that it stands against, “not my will, but thine will be done”. Something I find myself afoul of frequently.

    Not something to tick off on a scorecard, but an abiding cancer that I cannot seem to shake, and something that I see all around me in a greater or lesser degree in others.

    That is all.

  2. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Am I the only person who is weary of divorce being the only acceptable answer?

    I think of divorce as a purposeful and deliberate step someone takes with the support of a stable familial and spiritual community. I just want be clear that the annoying asshole that we dont like at work isnt necessarily a narcissist nor is an overbearing spouse, or whoever. By clinical narcissism all we mean is that the person has received an actual diagnosis from a clinical psychologist not just a consensus determination by a mob of people with pitchforks and torches. So whereas I agree with you that divorce is as a rule taken as a last resort I stand by what I said. Narcissism is dangerous and I would not hesitate to support a person who decided to cut ties with the narcissistic party.

  3. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Sorry, I posted my last comments in passion.

    I attribute my addictions, my moments of rage, my frustrations – in short a lot of my failures as testaments to my distance from God, and consequently as my love for self. Self + Love = Narcissism

    Perhaps clinical narcissism could be distinguished as being so far over the line, that self awareness of the condition is completely lost. I would say though that if I were confessing sins – I would lead from my love of self and then move on to the manifestations of that selfishness in my life.

  4. Esther Avatar
    Esther

    What about the trauma and suffering inflicted on us by them? Their sinful ways have no consequence?

  5. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    I do know someone clinically diagnosed with NPD and who was actually receiving treatment for it. He was appointed to a rather high office (he’s not American) and then stopped going to appointments (that may or may not have had to do with the new responsibilities). He is married. She seems happy although I don’t know her personally. Curiously all of his life he’s benefited from a character trait of being highly oppositional, controversial. He picks fights and manages to make them political and come out on top; friends who knew him tell me he did this in high school as well. I met him once and he gave the impression that he thought himself quite beautiful. The marriage seems pretty solid, however I can’t say that his leadership was a blessing for those who depended on it (quite the opposite if people understood the destructive effects), but people find him charismatic. Thinking about it, there are things that seem rather classically evil about all of it, striking that many don’t recognize it but perhaps it should not be.

  6. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I would rather the ‘evil’ be recognized, not so much to ‘out’ the person in some sort of retributive manner, but to curtail the damage.

    Our society in the US seems to generate people without a healthy grounded ‘center’. (Which honestly can only be Christ). Someone who is extremely ‘self-centered’ by the definition of NPD, seem attractive for that reason, is my hunch.

    I too have seen the ‘charismatic’ feature in such a person. I would not hazard a guess about their marriage, though.

  7. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Esther,
    Obviously their actions have terrible consequences.

  8. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Matthew,
    I think there is a difference between self-love and narcissism (as I’m using the term here in its clinical sense). Narcissism is best understood as the inability to bear shame (whatever the cause). It is displayed as what appears to be a self-love, but it’s more like a fear of shame. That might be something of the same mechanism that underlies most self-love. But it has a different dynamic in this specific case.

  9. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee,
    American culture is deeply enmeshed in a culture of shame that is unrecognized and not acknowledged. Public shaming of others is seen by many as “strength” when it is nothing of the sort. Psychologically speaking (to say nothing of the spiritual) we are a deeply, deeply dysfunctional culture – one that is rich, armed and dangerous, to boot.

  10. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you for your clarification Fr Stephen. I appreciate the distinction you’re drawing and it’s importance.

  11. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thank-You Fr. for your thought provoking insights. I am pondering them.

  12. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Father and Dee, absoljtely agree with both of you.

    Father Stephen wrote:
    “American culture is deeply enmeshed in a culture of shame that is unrecognized and not acknowledged. Public shaming of others is seen by many as “strength” when it is nothing of the sort.” It’s exceptionally troublesome. First, it’s not what our faith teaches us. Secondly, if we’re speaking of public fihues, we have lost the public space to speak about policy rather than persons. It works two ways: either the individual becomes a personal target, or criticusm of policies is perceived as personal and offensive. In both cases the wrong outcome. It’s like everybody is at playground level. The way I understand our faith, it distinctly doesn’t matter who did what first. Projection also accompanies our own narcissism, an important component.

  13. Maria W Avatar
    Maria W

    Fr. Freeman,
    I loved the 12 points you wrote in your comment on 7/12/18. At the same time it makes me think or feel frighten, unworthy, even undeserving of all the times I have been rescued from something stupid not knowing any better.. There were times in my life were God is all I had, banked on, lived on, and believed on. I was an odd ball, a square, an outsider who held to the “first principle” as I called it. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and your neighbor as yourself. It definitely is a proven survival strategy, but if not careful, and I emphasize careful, if leaving your neighbor out of the triangle can become the pitfall for Christians into Narcissism . As I matured and lived a little more into age my faith/trust in people and neighbors waned accordingly. I found that balance is everything as we approach the pitfalls, with the best of our psychological systems at hand of health vs. excess. We live in a very dis-eased time and it is hard to not be contaminated by it. We also have to hold realistic boundaries within our self in relationship to reality with God, as God is no greater visible and present as his people are able to manifest , {or help us} though still greater and existing beyond all of us thru Nature etc. Narcissism is terrible to live with and so is shame. The world is full of it, America is full of it, taking it apart we’d have to take whole social structures apart. And so we live in it cautiously on a daily basis. We would all become undone………all I can do is pray….God have mercy.
    Thank you Fr. Freeman for the article.

  14. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    The point that narcissism can affect us, eg that someone whom you couldn’t call a narcissist in any of his dealings might exhibit 100% of the NPD behaviour only during his arguments with his wife (-in a way that you couldn’t differentiate him from the clinical -) , means that we have one more reason and angle from which to be watchful (or as the Philo kala would call it Neptic).

  15. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    The second part of the title of this article is to see the face of God. A verse that speaks of this is I John 3:2,3.
    “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”
    One of the Beatitudes says that the pure in heart shall see God. And in Hebrews is written that without holiness (purity) no one shall see the Lord. Interesting that this purity will enable us to stand before God without shame, because it is this which makes our soul luminous like His and thus to see Him as He is.

  16. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    Dean,
    I am coming into this conversation a bit late.
    It seems technical blog difficulties are the reason, I was not able to post, and both Father Stephen and Fr. John (who maintains the Ancient Faith web site and is visiting my parish this weekend – what are the odds of that?!) confirmed.

    Thank you to all for great comments, especially Simon. I may not always agree with all his opinions, but on this subject, they were spot on! I pray it’s not because he has ‘personal experience’ (as I do in this matter, having been married for 25 years to the type of person described here – and now freed from it)… May God spare others such difficulties and pain!

  17. Bonnie Donaldson, R.N. Avatar
    Bonnie Donaldson, R.N.

    As an elder RN with a long history of psychiatric experience, I am not at all sure about equating narcissism with fear of shame. I think that may be projection on our part, seeing in them what is not really there, but is in us. Shame is a higher brain function and my sense is that narcissists have a fear they are not going to survive, a lower brain function. They seem to be afraid of seeming weak and vulnerable to others, to be considered prey, as others are considered predators. Thus they are not going to acknowledge that they might be mistaken or wrong about anything since that is not, to their way of thinking, survival oriented.

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Bonnie,
    Forgive me, but if you read clinical studies, such as those by Gershen Kaufman, on the mechanism of shame, you’ll see that it is rooted in neurobiological affects, which is a very instinctive, lower function. Images and experiences get associated with producing the emotion we call shame, which has many layers, but, at its core, it is quite primitive – we can see it in infants. There is a fair amount of clinical material on the role of the shame affect in narcissism. I’m writing, having done my homework in the clinical material, and not just off the top of my head. I’ve also consulted with several clinical psychologists on the topic for the past 7 years. Actually, the fear associated with survival is a weaker instinct than shame.

    And it is not “fear of shame” that is being discussed here, but the unwillingness or inability to bear it.

  19. Esther Avatar
    Esther

    I thought you said their fear of shame caused them to reject it?

  20. Esther Avatar
    Esther

    when you say their inability…. it sounds like they are not responsible.

  21. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    I think Father Freeman’s advise to build/take part in the communal support structures of the Church is well considered. The need for a Spiritual Father that can provide loving, pastoral support and direction is central to this issue IMHO. Too often, we simply try to “make our way through it” and that is not always the best avenue in our relationships. For ourselves, whether we are in such a relationship or aware of one, confession is of great importance. Just my thoughts.

  22. Esther Avatar
    Esther

    I have been at this a long time…I have seen communal support structures last for a given time, then dissolve. A need for a spiritual father , on earth? never met one…

  23. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Agata, you cant be raised by someone like my father and not become something of a narcissist yourself. Ive been told by people I trust that Im a very manipulative person. I dont consciously plan to be manipulate anyone. I just do manipulative things. Its very nonconscious. I try to be very self-aware, but it is hard to be aware of something that operates at such a nonconscious level.

  24. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Esther,
    Esther, it sounds like you might not be familiar with the Orthodox faith, but if you are and I’ve misinterpreted your comment, please forgive me. The people in the Orthodox faith participate in parishes in which there is confession. Confession is part of the communion experience. Byron refers to the priest who is typically the parishioner’s confessor.

    As someone who participates and is in communion with my parish, I have found the confession experience and the support of the parish vital. The confessor is typically the person who is the ‘spiritual father’ that Byron describes. I’m 63 years and have had a very full and ‘eventful’ life, in humble pursuit of God in the form that I knew Him before I became Christian, about 3 years ago. And I know there are others in among the commentators in this blog who have also had an eventful life and will attest to the importance of the role of the confessor/spiritual father that Byron describes, as I do.

  25. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    Simon,
    May God give you strength, help and guide you! Just you trying to see it in yourself and work on it is more than most people do.
    I will pray for you. I have three sons and lots of guilt that they have the father that they do. I got away from him (after a long time and a lot of learning about his condition ‘after the fact’) but he is still their father and it’s more difficult for them. Thankfully they are adults now, so his grip on them is a little less. The conversations you initiated about the commandment to “honor [an abusive] parent” (and resulting comments) have given me helpful vocabulary to talk to them in more difficult situations their father puts them in…
    Of course the most heartbreaking for me is seeing those glimpses of increased selfishness and manipulating in them. I pray a lot! And that helps the most (at least me, I give them to God as His, as there is not much I can do any more)!
    Glory and thanks to Him for bringing you into the Orthodox Church! There is healing and there is Truth here. May He grant you both richly!

  26. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Thank you Agata.

    I have spent the entire second half of my life overcoming what my father did in the first half. You I’m very sensitive to the plight of women. Even in the comments in this thread I was thinking about my mother the whole time. My father broke that woman. And it wasn’t that she didn’t try to escape, but by the time she managed to build up the strength to do it the damage was done. My mother was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. And when she would get to where she didn’t think that she could take anymore she would go to the JW elders for support and those halfwits told her that God hates a divorce, she should respect theocratic headship in the family, and that her faithful example might lead him to the Truth. It ruined her mind. I hate to say this because I love my mother, but decades of abuse, unhealed wounds, and instability in her life turned her into the very thing she hates. She is a bottomless pit of need.Three times she was nearly homeless and my wife and I came through for her, but as soon as you cross her there’s hell to pay. She never thinks about anything I’ve done for her only what I haven’t done.

    We live in a world that is as ugly as it is beautiful…I haven’t been given the grace to understand it.

  27. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Simon, what a very difficult thing to bear. You have my prayers. I have had a somewhat similar experience in certain respects. Many prayers. I don’t know much about your own religious life, except that here you have indicated you have been considering Orthodoxy — I will make a perhaps unusual suggestion that you consider prayer with the Holy Mother. Father Stephen or another guide could advise you about ways to do this. Just a suggestion from my experience which may offer some help. God bless.

  28. David Robles Avatar

    I particularly liked that Fr Stephen stopped short of saying there is no hope for narcissists. Modern psychology says there is no cure. Therapists refuse to accept them as patients.
    But Fr Stephen, while realizing the seriousness of the disorder and the obstacles to repentance that are inherent to the condition; still suggests that perhaps God can find a way…
    Mrs Diane Langberg, a highly experienced councelor with great certifications, also insists that one must concede that people are free, regardless. We must respect that freedom. There is nothing impossible to God. Check this out
    https://youtu.be/4BU3pwBa0qU

    Fr Stephen used narcissistic personality disorder as an example of pathological shame.
    In any case the main point of the post is that, there is a healthy shame, that well balanced people can have, that is essential for repentance. The realization of our brokenness and sinfulness can bring us to compunction, which is, a combination of sorrow for our defilement, awareness of having turned away from the God of love, the shame of Isaiah, and the assurance that the Father wants us to return. It is a joyful sorrow.

  29. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Simon,
    I’m grateful for your participation and presence in this blog. I cannot fathom what sacrifices you’ve made to attempt to reach your mother or how miraculous your life is for your capacity to understand and reflect upon it, with the grace you have. This capacity is obviously a gift from God.

    Janine, Simon is Orthodox. But our prayers are for his God-given strength and endurance to bear these wounds. I pray for you too Janine. I believe I had read you had a similar experience of difficulty with your mother. I am also grateful for your participation and willingness to share your thoughts and heart.

  30. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Thank you so much Dee. God bless.

  31. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Thank you so much for your kindness, Dee. God bless

  32. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    PS (Sorry for the double post)

    I guess I would just like to add that in addition to help to bear our struggles (which suggestion is appreciated very much, Dee) , I really believe in healing — that our faith is therapeutic. It seems that David Robles, above, expresses that similar hope. And I think therapy is indeed part of growth, theosis. After all, Christ is our Physician. Anyway, this is part of the suggestion for prayer with the Theotokos. Peace and thank you again.

  33. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Belatedly I want to thank you so much for your kind words, Paula. That was one of the most difficult posts I’ve written. And admittedly I regretted posting it but hoped it might be helpful. What stories we share in this blog are frequently heart-rending matters. I’m grateful for your loving presence and words.

  34. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Esther,
    I do not think so much in terms of responsibility – very often it’s a non-productive way of thinking. Someone cannot/will not do something. Are they responsible? Perhaps so. But saying only means figuring out who’s to blame which doesn’t heal anyone or make anything better. The point is our healing/salvation, not figuring out where the blame lies. If someone cannot/will not bear the burden of shame, they can be hampered, bound up with all kinds of problems. But, since none of us is able to do everything we should, there is only room for mercy and kindness and prayer for their health and salvation.

    A figure in one of Dostoevsky’s novels says “Each man is guilty of the sins of everyone.” There has been much written about this and it is a profound mystery – and I think it is true. It is also the case that until we know this, we will not be able to truly love as God loves. He took upon Himself the guilt/sin of everyone, though He alone is without sin. The imitation of Christ is the only way forward in this life.

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Esther,
    I prefer not to use the term “spiritual father,” because it implies greater gifts and ministry than are true except in rare cases. I prefer “confessor.” And it is not only priests who are “Confessors” in Orthodoxy. I know of some very wise nuns who hear confessions (and then send the penitent to a priest for absolution). They are sought out for their wisdom and compassion. This is quite ancient.

  36. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Father, thanks for your comment to Esther especially regarding blame, because you mention something I wanted to ask about. It occurred to me that there hadn’t been a discussion here about a difference between shame and guilt. Could you please address this in terms of how you see it?

    I feel there is a difference between what allows for acknowledgement/confession that allows us to grow and move forward, and a kind of permanent sense that we are “horrible” that does not. Also, in terms of narcissism, is it only shame we’re talking about here, or is it also that to feel guilty is unbearable?

  37. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    My late wife struggled against her own body in many ways all of her life. Some of those physical thorns in the flesh were part of her familial DNA. Those thorns led her, tempted her toward sins, the sins of the fathers… Those things literally masked who she was and made it quite difficult to live with her.

    When she died it was shown to me by grace that those largely dropped off. I am now 100% certain of the Ressurection.

    When our transformed bodies are restored to us those thorns will no longer be there.
    Shame can be a part of that as well.

    I had a shame that went back to a single moment when I was four years old that motivated me to act in hateful, narrcissitic ways. When I faced it (only took 65 years, 30 in the Church), by the grace of God, a great healing occurred in my life. Still the shame had entered into my flesh and so I still have to work at it.

  38. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Janine,
    Many define guilt as “how I feel about what I have done,” while shame is “how I feel about who I am.” I find that there is often a very thin line there and things bleed into one another. There can certainly be a formal category of “guilt,” as in, “it is my fault that this happened, etc.” But sin is not a legal matter – it is ontological – a matter of our being. What I have done also affects who I am, whether I would like to think they are unconnected or not. Our culture, being rooted in legal thought, sees guilt in those terms, and it is very unhelpful. This article might be of use.

  39. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Simon (@July 15, 2018 at 11:44 pm),
    Yours are some deep words, and wounds, my brother. Pardon that I repeat this story once again, but it wasn’t until I heard your Christian name, Simon of Cyrene, that I realized the depth of your wounds. No one carried The Cross that day except for Christ…and Simon. Speaks volumes…
    I had remembered you from when you first came here and how you spoke of your past. But not only that, there was (and still is!) a force to be reckoned with in your presence, not to be forgotten (as others do come and go). Then you stopped commenting…only to resurface…and we learned through Father that you were baptized (oh what joy!). And it is of no minor significance that you chose your new name as Simon…of Cyrene. It is in that name that I can understand the extent of your burden, without having to know the full details, and given the bits (very significant bits) that you have shared here.

    You had to go through hell to be able to understand the plight of women. Further, you had to go through hell to understand the plight of mankind. Christ gave you that cross, Simon, a long long time ago…when He saw you in the womb…before the foundations, He knew you’d “be”. How He honors us, His creatures…made a little lower than the angels!

    May God give you the grace to understand the ugly and the beautiful. Only He can give you peace…and I believe wholeheartedly He will, and is doing so even now, hiddenly. As well, many times we find answers, in bits and pieces, in a manner most unexpected. I have in mind here that in the process of time, He is going to show you a lot more through your child.

    God’s great blessings Simon. Glad you are here…and I thank God you were led to the truth of the Orthodox Faith. Someone said this is the place you find healing…yes, indeed…I am finding that out myself. It’s a long, long road….

  40. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Al-Anon has been a great help to me in dealing with these issues. There are similar programs for co-dependents of those who suffer from diseases other than alcoholism and drug addiction. I still struggle with detachment. It does not mean that I do not love my drug addicted alcoholic. It does mean that I need to have clear boundaries between us. The experience, strength and hope shared in meetings by others in situations similar to mine continues to be of inestimable value to me.

  41. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    Simon,

    Thank you for your reply. I will pray for your Mom too.

    Could I ask you one final question? With your experience and wisdom, what would you advise me on the subject of dealing with my sons?
    When should I apply strictness (in pointing out their mistakes or perceived manipulations) and when to stick to forgiveness and silence? I tend to err on forgiveness and generosity, but that then from time to time it backfires, and my own suppressed emotions and resentments (at them, for not caring for me more, helping me more) ‘boil over’ and I explode… I throw a few ‘expletives’ doing the things I asked them to do myself – they come to – help, resentfully… I always regret loosing my temper and apologize, but is done. I don’t think I am a ‘bottomless pit of need’, just a small pit wanting some help here and there, because there are three of them, and one of me, and I am their servant and housekeeper and cook… But what you wrote resonated with me, as the other day my son said “You only ever see the negative…”

    Any thoughts on this?
    (I hope you will see this and are willing to answer, it’s important to me and feel you may have wise advise. Thank you.)

  42. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Christ gave you that cross, Simon, a long long time ago…when He saw you in the womb…before the foundations, He knew you’d “be”. How He honors us, His creatures…made a little lower than the angels!

    Paula, that might be the single best thing that anyone has ever said to me. Thank you for saying so.

  43. Lisa Garrett Avatar

    I love the picture you have for this post. That little boy is now 6 years old and serves in the altar with his daddy, Deacon Matthew Garrett (who is the iconographer that painted that Pantocrator icon). We have been amazed how often that picture makes the rounds of the internet. I pray that little boy will grow to love God and keep the sweetness of his soul. -Lisa Garrett

  44. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Agata, Thank you for your prayers.

    I’m not sure that there’s much I can say. But I’ll tell you what I hear you saying and you can judge for yourself whether my response has any value.

    When should I apply strictness (in pointing out their mistakes or perceived manipulations) and when to stick to forgiveness and silence?

    I hear you saying: How do I get through to these knuckleheads?
    People are notoriously bad listeners and narcissists are the worst. Trying to communicate with someone with NPD about their mistakes and manipulations is a complete waste of time. There are a couple of challenges for people in relationships with the narcissists. First, you think that the narcissist sees their behavior as you do and would be willing to admit to their faults and change, as you are, if only they could see them. Second, you think that if you could only get them to see how their behaviors are hurting you then maybe the relationship can improve. And both of those are wrong. The problem with the first point is that you aren’t living in the same reality as the narcissist. When they do something that is obviously hurtful and that anyone could see is hurtful…they will not own it. Nope. Not at all. The problem with the second point is that its a trap. The trap you fall into is your own desire to reach them. In your desire to have a good relationship with your boys you think “If only they could see…” and so you try telling them how it is and then you try patience and forgiveness. But the whole time you’re going through these mental gymnastics trying to figure out what you can say or do to get through to them…they’re not even thinking about you. As a result it just ends up being an exercise in futility that leaves you frustrated. Now, I’m answering your question from the perspective of someone with children who have strong tendencies towards NPD. To the extent that they only exhibit situational narcissism, then to that extent you will see that my observations do not apply.

    my own suppressed emotions and resentments (at them, for not caring for me more, helping me more) ‘boil over’ and I explode… I throw a few ‘expletives’ doing the things I asked them to do myself

    I hear you saying: I am trapped in a cycle with my sons that in the end leaves me frustrated and angry.
    Usually this behavior occurs at the end of a cycle of many failed attempts at trying to communicate then a period of patience and forgiveness and when you’re finally fed up with being treated like you don’t matter and then ‘boom goes the dynamite.’ The only way to prevent the dynamite phase is to understand the cycle and not get into it.

    Here are a few final thoughts. Feel the burn. Accept that being in a relationship with anyone with narcissistic traits means that you are going to get hurt. Just accept it. And understand that acceptance doesn’t mean approval. To minimize the hurt you must set and enforce healthy boundaries, where “healthy” means “good for Agata.” Boundaries are necessary when dealing with any degree of narcissism. They put control that the narcissist wants back into your court. Break the cycle. When you speak to your sons and you can feel the NPD cycle kicking in, then you need to find a way to break the cycle–for your benefit. Do not address the narcissistic behavior or any of their behaviors. They won’t know what you’re talking about any way. You’re only setting yourself up for frustration by thinking that ‘maybe this time they’ll listen.’ Its not about you. When there’s something wrong in a narcissist’s life, then it’s your fault. Even if you weren’t there it’s still your fault. The narcissist will convince you–if you let them–that if you had acted differently then things would be better. Its just not true. How do you deal with that? One way is to invite them to get the hell out *ahem* I mean to ask them politely to leave. You don’t need to hear that, so ask them to leave. OR…you could mess with them just a little bit. Hear me out on this one. Let’s say in true narcissist fashion your sons being less than respectful. Right then say “Excuse me” and smile real big and hold it for a count of three and then abruptly get up and go into another room and say just loud enough to where they can hear you “Lord I know you said that trials would beset me, but why O Lord did you bring these miserable wretches into my life? Do you hate me Lord? Because I’m beginning to think you hate me.” Then real calmly go back into the room smiling from ear to ear and say “Okay, now where were we? Oh, yes, I remember. You were telling me how everything wrong in your life is my fault. Please, by all means continue!” I say that in jest, but it might help you to develop a sense of humor about their behavior–if it isn’t too egregious.

    I hope this helps. And my prayers are with you also.

  45. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Simon – I thought your last comment to Agata was very helpful – until the end. I would not recommend doing anything to intentionally provoke someone with NPD or similar problems. It will not improve their behavior but it will provoke a potentially violent response.

  46. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I would have thought that “I say that in jest” would have been understood as “Of course I’m joking.” I felt like I was coming off as a know-it-all and that the subject matter was…heavy. I apologize if the humor was inappropriate. It seems to me that a healthy sense of humor can ameliorate many of the negative effects from stress. Again I apologize for any misunderstanding I may have created.

  47. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    Simon,
    Thank you, I LOVE your comment… will write more tomorrow…
    I just want to ask Fr. Stephen not to “touch” your comment, it’s precoius (to me at least). Your humor was wonderful….
    Agata

  48. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Oh Simon…Bravo to your response to Agata!! That comment is a keeper!
    And brother, I truly laughed out loud at your “jest” example…now that was good!
    God bless! And Agata….oh, you have your work cut out for you! Prayers to all!

  49. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Agata, there was something that was nagging me last night when I went to bed and this morning I realized what it was. It was this they come to – help, resentfully. Here is what I struck me. Every time I reread your comment I read “resentfully” as “but they do it out of guilt.” At the very least that tells me that your children are do not have NPD because a clinical narcissist doesn’t do anything that they don’t want to do. Which means that the narcissism that you are experiencing with your sons stems from wounds they bear from their father–if I have correctly understood what you have said previously. Clinical narcissists are never motivated by guilt or resentment. So that’s the good news. However, be aware that your own wounds from having experienced an abusive partner may have festered into its own kind of narcissism in yourself. That’s a very real possibility. Our wounds when left unattended can be disfiguring and take on a narcissistic quality. Just a thought.

  50. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    Simon,

    Thank you again for all you wrote. You have no idea how much I appreciate it and how helpful it is!

    I laughed (to tears!) reading your suggestion. I am sure my boys would find it funny too (and true to the character they attribute to me, of a “overly religious nut”). However when I thought about what it would have been like if I had tried it with my ex, shivers went down my spine… It would have sent him into a rage (at my “manipulative’ness”, as did any of my honest tears of sorrow, hurt and frustration – which in time, I learnt to suppress, and accept the blame for everything…).

    I think you are very right, my sons are not NDP, they are just a bit selfish and a lazy teenagers, trying to get away with things…on many occasions they manage to comply with my requests. It’s my own frustrations (and lack of skills and solid resolve in dealing with them), compounded by the fact that there are three of them (each actually of very different personality) and one of me (to do everything in the house, yard, dog care, etc, etc, on top of a full time demanding and draining professional job [which I have for the benefit of all of us, lacking any other financial support]) is the issue. I have been trained to please (by the narcissist), to consider everything my fault, but deep inside resisting those feelings (without the skills to deal with it). If I only learnt to be more calm, assured, amicable and undemanding [as the holy people who entrust themselves and everything in their life to God fully, to tie this to other recent conversations on this blog], and then learnt to communicate my wishes and follow through on consequences when necessary, it would help all of us… I do agree that I have wounds that “festered into its own kind of narcissism”… May God grant me healing from those, and then may all around me heal too… I ask your prayers for that, as I will pray for the same for you..

    Simon, really, thank you so much for taking the time and thinking it through with me… I really appreciate it so so much, your time and sincerity. I would hug you if I could (may God grant me that some day!!)

    I think Father Stephen should award you the “comment of the year” for this!!! Somebody else got that award recently (based on his reply to me), so I think should be allowed to ask that for you! 😉

  51. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    Simon,
    Thanks for your responses to Agata. There is an exercise place here called, “Break the Barriers.” Your answers did just that…great!

  52. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Simon – I apologize.

  53. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    David Waite,
    Your comment was very accurate, your warning about doing that little “experiment” with a true NPD. I meant to add this comment to you in my reply to Simon, very true and valid warning to be careful…

  54. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I thought you sons were older. Being teenagers changes everything. First, it would be easier to split the red sea and walk across on dry ground than get a teenager to do anything let alone sons. Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to fly over Jerusalem, than get teenage sons to listen for five minutes.” They’re out of their minds. They think they know it all, but they don’t know s#$t. It’s horrible. That’s why it’s open season on teenage sons. You should be messing with them ALL the time. Like before you go to bed at night you should sit down like Wile E. Coyote and draw up some plans, order some dynamite from ACME corporation, draw a fake tunnel on the wall, etc. That’s how you let boys know you love ’em–you take the time to mess with them. Put a rubber spider in their favorite cereal.

  55. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I order all of my rubber spiders from ACME. They’re indestructible!

  56. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    Oh Simon,
    I wish I was that creative!
    Sometimes I think they do what you describe to me, make up new ways to mess with me… 🙂
    Thanks again for your help and encouragement, it came at a really needed time.
    May God grant you patience and fortitude in raising your little one. Your family is in my prayers.

  57. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Father, Simon….LOL!!!!

  58. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I wish I could share pictures of Micah with you. He’s my heart and soul.

  59. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    Father,
    Could you give Simon my email?
    I’d love to see the photo of Micah and send him one of my ‘three trouble makers’… but only with your blessing…

  60. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Father Stephen,
    I can’t remember whether it was in the comments in this post or another, but I asked you earlier about any difference between guilt and shame, and you did reply.

    But following up on that, I was thinking that there is a difference between having shame placed upon you, and a kind of guilt or shame that comes from actually having done wrong or hurt someone (accidentally or not), that stems from an action one has taken. That is, a difference between a situation in which one has done nothing but rather has had something done to oneself, and one in which we have committed some act associated with guilt or shame. The example I’m thinking of is bullying, where bullying contracts a shame upon its victim that is hard to face; e.g. many abused children use denial to avoid the shame of victimization and the message that comes from it within the family circle. This may happen within wider circles of school or society. A person can feel shame for simply being a nominal member of a hated minority group. I think the same could be said of other types of abuse as well, even state violence. In these cases of victimization, so much of the sense of self depends on the presence or lack of it of other messages a person receives in their lifetime about themselves . Could you please give me your thoughts about this?

    I can give you a brief example. I was once shopping in a department store and another woman purchasing something at the counter while I waited was a rather charming woman with a French accent. This was many years ago. She wore multiple bracelets stacked on her arm as was a kind of fashion then. But the jangling bracelets parted as she reached to pay the saleswoman, and I saw a number tattooed on the arm underneath that had been covered up by the bracelets. That number could only have meant she had been a child in a Nazi concentration camp. She looked up and saw what I suppose was a stricken look of recognition on my face (my grandparents were child survivors of genocide) and I immediately understood I had violated some boundary, although unwittingly. She left quickly. It all happened in silence and in a few moments. We didn’t even have any conversation, but I never forgot it.

    The other example that comes to mind is a funny one — about pet dogs. Just hearing a tone of voice that sounds like the one that scolds can get a reaction from the dog that looks remarkably like shame of hanging its head and avoiding eye contact, when the dog has done nothing that it has been taught is a violation of rules.

    In these cases, there is nothing to confess, but the shame exists as a burden nevertheless.

  61. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Shame is a very large category. It is as simple as a neurobiological trigger that we indeed share with some animals. It’s just that primary. It can be as healthy as the recognition that I should not violate the “space” of others. It can be as toxic as the complete abolition of another’s personality and sense of well-being.

    When we actively “shame” someone else – it is largely toxic in its effect. Shame, in this sense, is “how I feel about who I am.” Guilt is “how I feel about what I’ve done.” The first can be deeply related to toxic shame. The second is related to healthy shame.

    If I say, “Don’t do that!” there can be a recognition of “guilt,” or that I have violated a boundary of some sort. It can be rectified with something as simple as an apology. No harm done.

    If I say, “What’s wrong with you? What are you thinking? How dare you do that!” This is toxic shaming. I am not just declaring a boundary to have violated, I have suggested that the other has something wrong with them and that they do not think correctly and that they have no respect for me.

    You can apologize in that setting, but you walk away feeling bad about yourself – or, more like, angry at the one who scolded you or sad and depressed and enduring the beginning of an inner voice that will keep scolding you for some time to come.

    But all of these have the same psycho/physical biology beneath them. There’s nothing wrong with the biology – only what is being done to it. Healthy growth, emotionally, spiritually, relationally, depends on a healthy relationship with healthy shame. That requires safety and a sense of security and love, and the confidence and knowledge that even if you make mistakes you are not, in yourself, a worthless piece of existence.

  62. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Thank you for your helpful reply, Father. In the context of the Cross, what would you advise for a person in this category of the unhealthy shame and nothing to confess? Let us face it, that is Christ on the Cross. But in terms of other human beings, what is the dynamic for healing in our context of Orthodox Christian faith?

    I appreciate your taking the time with me to answer these questions. Thank you.

  63. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Janine,
    Of course the injury of toxic shame is not our fault. There is nothing in it that needs forgiveness (which is why we often don’t think of speaking of these things in confession). But the injury is deep and needs healing. In psychological terms, shame can really only be healed through exposure of some sort and a slow process of working through it (there are a variety of approaches). That exposure can only happen in a setting that feels safe (and is safe). Confession can be one of those settings – though probably with a wise confessor and ample time. I have spent private one on one time with my confessor and just described things that happened to me, as well as things that I have done in this vein. But I was only able to do that after some therapeutic work in a counseling setting. Toxic shame is powerful stuff.

    What I have come to hold dear is the knowledge that Christ has united Himself to my shame – both of my own making and that which was done to me. I am not alone and I am not hated or despised. In His Cross He has taken all of our shame upon Himself without a word of condemnation.

    The exposure that comes in those safe settings has a way of allowing light to shine in darkness. My experience has largely been that the very exposure itself, in the presence of Christ, can be tremendously healing. It really requires, however, another human being (priest, therapist, etc.). That’s simply the dynamic of healing shame.

    That safe setting needs to be utterly without judgment and filled with love and acceptance. The lack of judgment as well as love and acceptance are keys to a good Confessor. We don’t need a Confessor who adds to our shame. That is worse than useless – it is harmful.

    There is much, much more to be said.

  64. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Thank you again Father.

    I think the idea of confession being a “safe space” in which to discuss everything that goes on with a person, not simply a kind of list of sins we have committed, is exceptionally important. If you think about it, it also goes hand in hand with the concept of theosis. Even if we harbor a shame that was imposed upon us, and is an unfair burden of suffering, it is still a responsibility that sits with us to address it and to find ways of healing it beholding the face of Christ and God’s guidance for it and how we handle it in our lives. It is part of knowing ourselves in truth and emptying before God. May I say, as well, that the All-Holy (Panaghia) comes in here too. She is the one who stood by in the midst of the shame too with love for her Son. So many simply have experienced that healing strength and compassion.

  65. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Father – Does John 15:18, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you,” relate to this discussion? My intuition says that is does, but I do not understand how it does.

  66. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    David Waite, I am intruding and can’t answer for Father Stephen, but I agree with your intuition. If toxic shame can do so much harm, think about our responsibility to heal in the light of Christ. How many deal with toxic shame through projected anger or self-harm? This is not the way that Christ teaches us to live even when others hate us without a cause (John 15:25).

  67. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    PS I have another question in the same context of this discussion:
    Do we have a saint against bullying? Any suggestions? (Maybe all of them??)

  68. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    Janine,
    St. Matrona of Moscow has been bullied all her life…
    She is a great helper in everything, as is St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco for us in the States.

  69. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Thank you Agata. I will read about St. Matrona of Moscow.

  70. Sophia Avatar
    Sophia

    I feel as though there should be an applicable book list. Suggestions? Even fiction?

  71. Elizabeth Avatar
    Elizabeth

    Hello Father,

    My younger brother was diagnosed with NPD about a decade ago. We have at least one older family member on either side whose behavior his resembles–we both spent a great deal of time around one from a young age, and virtually none at all with the other–so the nature vs. nurture question has sort of been a perpetual one for my parents and myself. I got into the mental health field partly to try and understand myself and my family members more on some level.

    My husband also has a sociopath and a narcissist on the branches of his family tree. We have talked before about the fact that “a narcissist isn’t really full of themselves,” that the appearance of overwhelming self-love really seems to be a mask for deep insecurity and self-loathing, leading to an impulse to project outward an image of whatever that person believes that others will find valuable in order to sort of feed vicariously on tidbits of others’ acceptance or approval.

    I still find it difficult to know how to relate to my narcissistic family members. It took a long time and a lot of pain to reconcile myself to the fact that: a) there is no coercing or reasoning someone into reality; b) close, loving relationships require equal work on both parts over time to be healthy and there is no maintaining the level of closeness that I might want with that person without them dwelling in reality and being willing to compromise to some degree also; and c) that I could find peace in still loving and accepting that person without expecting anything back or being in the kind of relationship that I wanted with them. It remains a learning process and a difficult line to walk.

    With love in Christ,
    Elizabeth

  72. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Elizabeth,
    Thank you for your note. I hope in my article that concern for the Narcissist came out. People in those relationships endure a lot of suffering, no doubt, and it is easy to hear and sympathize with their wounds. I think it is important to see that true NPD is not a choice – it is an injury of some sort (nature/nurture/who knows) that makes a certain kind of choice impossible. It is our prayers that they need and a hope that God will heal all wounds.

    But, as you note, it is also important for those in relationship with them to understand that, in all likelihood, they will not be able to change them or make things better. Creating good, healthy, strong boundaries is necessary for sanity and well-being (and are constantly under assault if you’re in such a relationship). Sometimes those boundaries include getting out of the relationship – and a person needs to be supported in order to do that.

    I have a strong suspicion that there is a “nature” thing that makes up one component in NPD. I would suggest that it represents an “over-active” shame affect – far more sensitive than is normal – that nurtures this personality development. I discussed this with a therapist friend recently who thought this to be a likely scenario. But, I’ve not seen any such research.

  73. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    Sophia,
    I highly recommend books by William Glasser, MD. One is “Reality Therapy” and the other “Choice Theory”, they were very helpful for me.

    And here is a link to a similar discussion on this blog from 3 years ago. It includes some great comments which may help you. May God bless and help you!

    https://glory2godforallthings.com/2015/05/05/marriage-as-a-lifetime-of-suffering/#comment-85617

  74. Sophia Avatar
    Sophia

    Agata,

    Thank you so much! And that blog post is a favorite and one I often come back to.

  75. Jamie Avatar
    Jamie

    Fr. Stephen,

    May I email you privately? I’m dealing with a person who fits the description in this article. The last week was especially intense. I’m not doing very well, physically or emotionally.

  76. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Agata and Sophia,

    https://glory2godforallthings.com/2015/05/05/marriage-as-a-lifetime-of-suffering/ is also one of favorites. I have re-read it several times. I gave a copy to my wife and have sent it to friends.

    It always reminds me of the following verse from the wonderful Paul Simon song, “You’re Kind”

    So goodbye, goodbye
    I’m gonna leave you now
    And here’s the reason why
    I like to sleep with the window open
    And you keep the window closed
    So goodbye, goodbye, goodbye

    So much for suffering.

  77. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    David,

    Yes, very much so.

    I don’t know if your ‘re-reading’ includes the comments, there is pure gold in those also…

    Sometimes I am embarrassed to mention it, as it contains my life story (in my questions and in my comments), but it was one of the most therapeutic ‘conversations’ and a great consolation for the sufferings I was going through then. Now, 3 years later, things are so much better, and I do sleep with my windows open…. 😉

    Leaving an abusive relationship can be hard (I did not make even that decision, it was made for me after I stood up for a few ‘non-negotiables’); but there is great relief and healing now – for me the most valuable aspect was saving and restoring the relationship with my sons…. Everything else was secondary but fell into places eventually (as I tried to practice patience, acceptance and obedience to what was needed on my part).

    I pray for all women and men in such impossible marriages. But God can use our mistakes and our wrongly used freedom – and most especially our suffering – for His providential purpose, to draw us close to Himself. We just have to remain in His Church, close to Him, to experience it…

    I thank Him every day for that work in my life and pray for others to see it in theirs.

  78. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    Beautifully stated, Agata. 🙏💗

  79. tess Avatar
    tess

    Father Stephen, I’m wondering what you might make of a thought that I’ve had.

    In Fr. Meletios Weber’s book on the Twelve Steps, he describes how AA views alcoholism as a physical symptom/manifestation of a spiritual disease– namely, the problem of “terminal uniqueness;” that no one is quite as unique in their suffering as I, and therefore my behaviors are justified, even if it kills me. The point being that alcoholism is a real physical disease, but one that cannot in the end be separated from its spiritual causes.

    I wonder if narcissism, both the clinically diagnosed and the lay-person suspected, could be viewed in such terms? A real psychological dysfunction (in this case, a malfunctioning of shame and personality scaffolding) that cannot be separated from its spiritual causes. One could even word it in terms of terminal uniqueness– “I am who I am and no one could possibly understand and bear it”– which would then manifest as a tower of isolation, an ego fortified for constant war.

    In dealing with an NPD diagnosed family member, I have found AA’s literature to be exceptionally helpful. I even see parallels between the problems that families of alcoholics had prior to AA and Al-Anon and the problems that families of narcissists have. They love someone who has terrible problems, and they are trying to navigate their own health in the midst of their loved one’s challenges. Meanwhile the only response society has at its disposal is “get away from the leper!”

    AA gave us the great gift of being able to see our alcoholics as suffering people, and not just inhuman monsters, untouchable abominations. (Of course, they also helped spouses save themselves from trainwreck marriages that threatened themselves and their children.) I keep hoping that something similar happens for the suffers and families of NPD.

  80. T Avatar
    T

    It feels like the shame you are describing is self awareness before God. Why it is shame I’m not sure. Awareness of your own fragility and littleness should not bring shame but comfort, a relief from the bonds of selfhood. I think shame is an addiction we love to feel. God said to Adam who said you are naked? We are loved.

    I agree we hurt others and should be sorry but do we need to wallow in shame. Why did He say to Cain when he was down and out “Not so!”

    Maybe if we understand our innocence we will be more understanding of others and our selves.

  81. Jamie Avatar
    Jamie

    Fr. Stephen,

    After you kindly said I could email you privately, I realized I didn’t know what address to use. I sent emails to both of the addresses listed for you on your church’s website. Was that not the right way to go about it?

  82. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Jamie
    It was the right way. I’ve not been able to respond yet in that I was out of town at a conference this week, then driving back home. It may take me a few days to catch up on correspondence.

  83. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Tess – AA’s generally agree they are narcissists. That is their insanity. People who attend Al-Anon Family Group meetings learn that alcoholism (a particular form of narcissism) is a family disease. Their insanity is believing that they have caused, or that they can cure or control, their loved one’s alcoholism (narcissism). Both groups teach that only a power greater than themselves can relieve them from their insanity. For many people, those are important first steps in coming to know God.

  84. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    David,
    Just to make a technical comment… Alcoholism is not narcissism, even if active drinking can make for narcissistic behavior in some. The codependency involved is certainly kin to the codependency involved in relationships with a narcissist. But, alcoholism is a distinctly different thing from true NPD. It is treatable in a way that NPD is not. I did not want anyone dealing with an alcoholic in the family to think that reading stuff on narcissism would be helpful – it might or might not.

    However, understanding codependency is useful in both regards. In both cases, those in relationship have to learn how to have healthy boundaries.

  85. Evangelia Avatar
    Evangelia

    Fr Stephen,

    Fr Stephen,

    I’m so grateful to have found this post and have read all the responses by everyone on this thread. You are all such brave souls looking for deeper answers.
    Please forgive me for my lengthy post, but I may have some personal information that may be helpful to some.

    I know first hand what a narcissist is, what it feels like to be raised by one, what it’s like to date one, and the dynamics in the family as well as the distress and distortion it causes to the enabling parent.

    My father is one, and by the Grace of God I was able to escape his clutches while I had become a mere former shadow of myself over 20 years ago when I was only 18.

    Back then, there weren’t the same resources available as there are now. I didn’t have a name to describe this crippling disorder. Moreover, most of the time I thought I was the problem, that’s what you are conditioned to believe-I was after all the scapegoat. I knew something was wrong, but the wounds were so deep and invisible I didn’t know how to describe to someone the crippling abuse I had endured from my parent. To someone on the outside looking in my father would seem to be the most charming and charismatic creature, a really good father and provider.

    At 26, I checked into therapy, my father was still in and out of my life, but I had gotten away at least. I was diagnosed with severe depression and was on my way to healing, or so I thought.

    Time, and removing myself from the family environment helped a great deal.

    Throughout the years, intuitively I could pick up when someone had these traits right away, or maybe I had a sensitive radar, I don’t know exactly. In relationships and friendships when someone displayed these same characteristics, I felt ill, and I usually knew how the relationship would play out because I was so well trained in the narcissists cycle. I knew from experience that I should end such relationships, and simply love these people from afar.

    I’m sharing my story to gain your insights, and to give hope to others, that years later, Im now in my forties and Married with children, but I have attained freedom, and confidence and joy that would’ve been unimaginable 20 years ago. Glory to God for this.

    We are visiting with my parents now, and as per standard my father is giving us the silent treatment now. I know not to react, I know how this will play out. Sometimes me not reacting, creates more chaos. He will come around after he has treated everyone miserly, but never apologize, it will be blamed on me. The other day at the feast for the holy Theotokos, after we had all received holy communion,he started to rage at me in a parking lot for a perceived slight to his ego, and in the end managed to point the finger at me, that I had ruined everyone’s day, that it was such a beautiful day after receiving communion- and I, had once again managed to ruin it.

    I don’t react. I know this behavior, I’m only here on holiday, soon, Ill be gone, but my poor mother won’t. I try and speak with her later, but she also, is a brainwashed version of her former self. Mother has shut down in order to survive.

    I’m also sharing my story
    because There is a lot written about Narcissism and NDP these days. There is a lot written about how they can’t love, but not enough about how to love them.

    This is a shame because there is another side to the story and there is not much literature written about it unfortunately.

    I feel that this disorder is a handicap of ones character. And that The ‘disease’ of narcissism is mainly spiritual. NDP has existed in the psychological realm for the last century but over a thousand years ago, our spiritual fathers and saints in the orthodox faith knew well of this spiritual disease or passion. I believe that Persons suffering with this disorder, and yes they do suffer, have a burdened soul and are constantly in battle. They know that because of their character people will want to distance themselves, they know how the story will always end. There is hope for them though, I have seen it with my own eyes.

    If you have encountered such a person in your life it wasn’t by chance. If you have had to remove yourselves from their life for your own safety and sanity this is understandable. But you must always pray for them, for their soul is oppressed. Always pray for your protection and for their enlightenment.

    I wish there were more people and personal stories of narcissists recovering spiritually, because they are actually miracles.

    They say there is no cure for Narcissists, That they are a lost cause. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

    “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”
    Luke 18:27
    Never lose hope.

    Thank you for listening to me, I hope this was of some help, I’m praying for all of you, please pray for me too. Peace be to you.

  86. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Evangelia,
    I would love to read an account of someone being healed of NPD. I think it is a severe case of shame – of experiencing shame in its most unbearable form – and therefore an inability to accept any at all. Thus, it’s a protective stance. It becomes easier to love such a person if we understand that they are held imprisoned within that inability. My thoughts on this are based in conversations with therapist friends.

  87. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Evangelia, may God bless you and your family. Many thanks for sharing!

  88. Evangelia Avatar
    Evangelia

    A nun at the monastery of Souroti once gave me a metaphor that greatly helped me. She described how a crochet framed image faces upwards towards the sky, and God sees the beautiful finished image, whereas we mere mortals simply see the threads dangling.

    My take on it is that God has a plan that does not always make sense to us.

    It is difficult to wrap our heads around someone with NPD as being someone who has a handicap because they are high functioning individuals in Society, let’s say compared to someone with dementia or alzheimer’s. Furthermore their disorder can cause much turmoil and deep rooted depression to those closest to them.

    This is where it takes wisdom and discernment to realize that someone who hurts people can only be injured themselves.

    Only then can one can begin to have compassion and love for this particular neighbor and what has been truly cathartic and healing in my case.

    A book called, Humanizing the Narcissistic Style and and old forum which is still online called heal from NPD helped me to gain tremendous insight into the disorder. The forum is still online bbbboy.com and was started by someone who suffered from NPD, Tony Brown. It is quite interesting because you get to read posts from many who have an awareness of their NPD and how great the struggle is for them to deal with the defensive structure of the disorder keeping vulnerabilities, shame, and love at bay.
    Of course reading about the lives of the saints has helped immensely as well as many orthodox books about how to love ones enemy. We should also remember that Love is something that can and should sometimes be done from afar.

    I know that many narcissists have crossed the path of my life over and over again. Have I ever seen someone do a 360 change, have I seen healing Father Stephen? Well not exactly, but I have seen glimpses, I have seen cracks of light shine through an otherwise impermeable surface. These instances have usually happened when I have chosen to understand, rather than judge. When I have chosen to accept rather than tolerate. And when I have prayed to teach me how to love these people.
    (just a side note: loving does not mean living with these people, sometimes one has to remove themselves from a situation).

    So as I stand under the canvas gazing upwards to the sky at the long strands of thread dangling towards me, all along I have prayed for the healing of these people who feel no love, The Natcissists. But maybe, just maybe it’s not like that at all. Maybe my human perception of things is all wrong, maybe this was the ultimate test to see if I could love the most disfigured and vile souls of all. God sent them my way to teach me how to love.

    But I say to you that hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you . . . If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrateful and selfish (Lk 6.27–35).

  89. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    You have been a great help to me, Evangelia. Thank you. And God bless.

  90. J Avatar
    J

    I think living around one or several narcissists while growing up, and being the token scapegoat, directly contributes to psychological/spiritual illnesses of all sorts. Spiritually it makes one not believe in God at a young age– particularly when the narcissist(s) cherry-pick lines from the Bible to justify their actions. The children of narcissists cling to the easiest toxic relationship they can find in order to “move out and be free”, unwittingly ending up in a situation just as bad as the one they were born into.
    As for me, I felt I had to leave the situation after waiting far too long and thinking for years that it would “get better if I did or said A B or C”. I realized my young child was becoming The 2nd Scapegoat. It seems that children developing normal healthy independence sets narcissistic rage off.
    Staying around to be the target of a narcissist or borderline person is like handing drugs to an addict. They get pleasure off the pain they cause, they “need” someone to use as an emotional dumpster, and they enjoy the sense of superiority they get from putting others “in their place”, and relish in delight in maligning the scapegoat to the entire extended family. They want to be worshipped as if they were God.
    I waited too long to leave, and now I have virtually no family at all.
    Oddly, now, I feel more of a hunger to know God now that I’m “safe”.
    I’m in awe of anyone who can maintain sanity in that kind of environment, but when I’m in the middle of the crossfire of a narcissist-infected family, I become a skittish animal hiding in the corner, believing in nothing and no one, just barely surviving.

  91. Evangelia Avatar
    Evangelia

    Dearest J,

    I can relate to so many things in your post.

    I often believed that the depression and anxiety that I’ve battled throughout my life was genetic but it’s most likely aftershocks from my toxic childhood and being raised by a a father with NPD.

    “narcissists cherry pick lines from the bible to justify their actions”

    Most definitely. Mine always drilled the line to honor and respect thy mother and father in order to project and dump the blame on me.

    “they want to be worshipped as if they were God”

    At 16 my father told me that I needed to kiss his hand and ask for his blessing. This was odd for me because I was never taught this, so when I questioned him, naturally he became offended and enraged. It was an order, a command done out of anger in order to instill domination, not done out of love and respect.

    “relish in maligning the scapegoat to the entire extended family”

    He would go off about how I was a nobody, and how he would ruin all of my dreams, say the most horrible things of how I would be dependent on him my whole life and he would be beating me into my thirties.

    Thankfully God had different plans for me. He gave me the courage to leave, not into the arms of another malignant abuser, but on my own at the tender age of 18. A therapist who treated me for my depression many years ago said that I was the only one who stood up to him, neither his mother, nor his sister, nor his wife had ever done this. We don’t do the narcissist any favors by jumping through hoops and catering to their every need, and I understand completely how very hard it is to think and see clearly in these situations.

    I wasn’t a crumby nobody like he so very well drilled into me, but I became successful, travelled the world and have a family of my own.

    I now have the luxury to know God at this time in my life, and looking back, I can see that he never left me. Reading the scriptures, prayer and partaking in holy communion, confession and holy unction have helped to heal the psychic wounds.

    I also pray for all of those afflicted with this disorder, but also have the wisdom to keep a distance. It’s the only way.

    Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us.

  92. Dan Avatar
    Dan

    Wow. What a beautiful article. I broke down as I read it, thinking of the rivers of love that God keeps pouring into my heart even when I deserve the deepest, darkest part of hell. As someone who has so deeply hurt others through looking at pornography and lived through that hell of shame and self hatred you described, and been rightly been labeled a narcissist, I so appreciate what you said here. It needs to be said more.
    I keep praying that God would let me feel and know in my heart the pain that I have caused others so I can have compassion and heal them. I want His compassion more fully, because if I have His, I’ll do everything to protect others and not hurt them.

    The beautiful thing is that I actually came across your article while Googling something like “God doesn’t label people narcissists.” In fact God, Who Himself is pure love, is the only Person in all of creation Who could possibly bear the full extent of the hell of shame and total, complete guilt we truly deserved. Jesus, as both fully God and fully man, absorbed every bit of it into His body on the cross and put it to death, so that we can now look into the burning eyes of His everlasting fiery love for us. He died as the last Adam, and rose again to everlasting life as the firstborn among many brothers.
    God freely gave us what we never deserved and that is true love.

    Thank you so much for writing this.

  93. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thank you, Dan. May God give you grace in your struggles.

  94. Kris Avatar
    Kris

    So what is a wife to do. I have lived with a narcissist husband for almost 30 years. Do I stay in a lonely loveless relationship and pray for him and seek God’s love. Or leave, pray for him and seek God’s love. Living with a morally evil person is hell.

  95. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Kris,
    I’ll keep you in my prayers. Speak with someone you trust, get support and good counsel. Don’t do this alone.

  96. Gbrownie Avatar
    Gbrownie

    Thank you for your writing on this topic. It gives me a better understanding of someone I love dearly.😇

  97. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    Kris,
    I only saw your comment today. If you are interested in talking to someone who experienced what you are describing and moved past it, please reach out to me (my gmail is “agatamcc”). As Father said, you cannot do it alone, you cannot even approach the decision alone… I had a blessing of great help from the most wonderful people in the American Orthodox Church. I can share it with you. Agata

  98. Maryam Avatar
    Maryam

    Father I am struggling with this issue currently. I married a man not too long ago and intended to stay with him for life. I love him with all my heart and pray for him always that God will touch his heart and mold him into the person He wants him to be. The problem is I had to separate myself from him after his constant insults about my looks, intelligence, and he expressed a desire to slap me because of a perceived insult towards his family. I have prayed endlessly and sought advice from my pastors in church and a bishop. He refuses counseling and blames me for all the problems. Ultimately I have filed for divorce and I am truly heartbroken yet I still pray deep down for a miracle.

  99. Kurt Graves Avatar
    Kurt Graves

    There is an incredible poverty of resources on the theology and pastoral care of narcissism. Your post is helpful to me. Keep it coming.

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