Question: "What does the Bible say about narcissism?"
Answer: Narcissism is the term used in psychology to describe a preoccupation with self. It is a Greek term taken from the name of the mythological Narcissus, who fell in love with his own image and was doomed to die because he would not turn away from it. A narcissist is a person who displays a high level of selfishness, vanity, and pride. He sees everything from a “how does this affect me?” perspective. Empathy is impossible for the narcissist because his only perspective is the one centered on self. In psychology, narcissism is seen as a broad spectrum of conditions ranging from normal to pathological.
The Bible says that we are born sinful since the fall (Romans 5:12). This means that we are born with only sinful tendencies and no ability to be “good” or righteous on our own. What we call “human nature” the Bible calls “the flesh” (Galatians 5:19-21). Part of our sin nature is a total focus on self. This focus, also called “egocentrism,” is how babies see and experience the world. Narcissism is like egocentrism in that the adult still relates to the world like an infant, a perspective that impedes personal growth and relationships.
Psychological theories about narcissism suggest that the narcissistic person uses defense mechanisms to idealize self so that he does not have to face his own mistakes (sin) or flaws (fallen state). The diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder outlines the behavior patterns of a narcissistic person as being haughty, non-empathetic, manipulative, and envious; he also possesses a sense of entitlement and grandiosity. From a biblical perspective, it is clear that these heart conditions are due to pride, which is sin (Proverbs 16:18). The Bible tells us to “look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). The narcissist routinely disobeys this command.
Pride is a reason people do not feel they need a savior or forgiveness. Pride tells them they are “good” people or have a “good” heart. Pride also blinds people to their own personal responsibility and accountability for sin. Narcissism (pride) masks sin, whereas the gospel reveals the truth that leads to remorse for sin. Narcissistic traits can be dangerous because, at their worst, they will lead a person to destroy others to satisfy the lust of the flesh (2 Timothy 3:2-8).
The Bible addresses the issues related to narcissism as part of our sinful natural self (Romans 7:5). We are slaves to the flesh until we place our faith in Jesus, who sets the captives free (Romans 7:14-25; John 8:34-36). Believers are then slaves to righteousness as the Holy Spirit begins the transforming work of sanctification in their lives. However, believers must surrender to the Lord and humble themselves in order to have God’s perspective rather than a selfish one (Mark 8:34). The process of sanctification is turning away from self (narcissism) and turning toward Jesus.
All people are narcissists until they either learn how to cover it and get along in the world or until they recognize their own flesh and repent of their sin. The Lord helps people to grow out of narcissism when they receive Jesus as their savior (Romans 3:19-26). The believer is empowered to begin loving others as himself (Mark 12:31).