| Written By: Dewey Wilson, Ph.D.|
The terms “narcissism” and “narcissistic” appear to be getting a lot of attention these days. Much of the awareness seems to be attributed to the behavior of individuals known as Millennial’s, who essentially are people born between 1980 and 2000. Some of the more obvious characteristics of narcissism include a deep self-centeredness, a strong sense of entitlement, high craving for admiration, exaggerations of abilities, and a lack of empathy for others.
It’s commonly believed that in teenagers and young adults, narcissism is often associated with helicopter parenting styles, such as constantly overemphasizing to children how wonderful and gifted they are, despite the presence of consistent bad behavior and poor decision making. Narcissism can also result from individuals consistently receiving awards and benefits, even though the effort put forth doesn’t warrant such accolades or recognitions. Social media also tends to play a significant role by allowing individuals to create and maintain an unrealistic façade, which, frankly, makes it easier for individuals to mask low levels of self-esteem or other damaging viewpoints of oneself.
In adults, narcissism shares most of the same characteristics as mentioned earlier. Yet here, the impact of narcissistic behavior can be more severe and widespread, mainly due to the length of time the individual has exhibited his or her behavior to others in their environments. In its extremity, this level of narcissism is often evidenced by outbursts of anger, becoming highly defensive when criticized, or demanding compliance to expectations without question.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a legitimate, clinically recognized personality disorder. While more people today are seemingly diagnosed with NPD, not all narcissistic attitudes and behaviors should be tagged with this label. Frankly, everyone possesses some level of narcissism, characterized by pride and demonstrated through selfishness. Even though the diagnosis and treatment strategy might not be as complex as with full blown NPD, what’s needed to overcome these types of narcissistic tendencies can be just as difficult when the individual refuses to accept responsibility.
Whether you’re gathering information about narcissism or directly dealing with conflict manifested by narcissistic behaviors, here are three things to consider:
* Narcissism involves a misguided belief of identity. When we receive Christ as Savior, we take on a new identity as God’s child (John 1:12) (2 Corinthians 5:17). Unlike exhibiting narcissism, performance can no longer determine identity. It’s only who we are in Christ that accurately determines our true identity and value.
* Empathy is a destination. Serving and giving to others make up the highway that leads to empathy. Empathy is seeking to understand the needs of others before thinking of oneself (Philippians 2:4-5). While this concept can be completely foreign to those with narcissistic behaviors, just committing to do small things for others will eventually result in higher levels of empathy.
* Narcissistic attitudes and behaviors don’t appear overnight. Effective change won’t either. Perseverance, patience and practice are three very powerful principles when it comes to overcoming narcissistic behaviors. Extending grace and mercy when the narcissist struggles will also make the journey to change much more effective.
Real change in this area involves so much more than what is listed here. If you or someone close seems to struggle with narcissism, we suggest you take time to become educated. The staff at Mayo Clinic put together information you can find here. Should professional help be needed, we suggest you seek out a respected Christian counselor in your area.