Resisting the Plague of Narcissism


Narcissus by Caravaggio

Narcissism has been much in the news during this past week. I heard about it from the media in full detail three times.

Narcissus was a mythological figure known for his beauty who, it is said, looked into a pool, saw a reflection of himself, and fell in love with what he saw.

So Narcissism is the term used of people who are self-absorbed and pre-occupied with their own imagined superiority. They may come across as strong and self-assured but when that self assurance isn’t honored as they expect they are likely to react in a surge of punishing anger or even violence. The so-called big ego turns out to be amazingly fragile.

Narcissism has been on the rise in western youth in recent years. It often is manifested by a strong sense of entitlement. “I’m special and I deserve special treatment.” “I’ll not take just any job.” So why is this in the news especially this week?

A study on Narcissism has been released that gives a fresh understanding of the cause of this dominating state of mind. Co-authored by Brad Bushman of Ohio State University, the study surveyed 565 children ages 7 through 11 and 415 mothers and 290 fathers.

Narcissism, the study shows, can be traced to parents who “overvalue” their children during the developmental stage of their lives. Children between 6 and 8 are especially sensitive to parental influence. This inflated self-image of the Narcissist can be buried deep in the psyche.

If during those years children are told in one way or another they are superior, they are more than special, they do things better than others, and they are thus put on a pedestal, they internalize an undeserved view of their superiority. And other people come not to matter.

It used to be believed that Narcissism shows itself in children who are shown little parental warmth. The new insight from this study pointing to “overvaluing” supplants that understanding.

One might assume from the findings of the study that the condition is planted by parents who have a need to reach some personal star achievement of their own in their children. “My child can do no wrong; my child is unusual in every respect; my child deserves special attention from kindergarten on.” These can be damaging assumptions.

The felt need to foster self-esteem in their child is an entirely different matter. Self-esteem develops when children are helped to internalize within themselves the sense that they are valuable individuals but not superior to the extent that they can do no wrong. In the raising of them they will get the appropriate amount of teaching, correcting, disciplining, and such otherwise character-shaping treatment as needed, all within the context of warm adult parental love. It is “overvaluing” that does the damage.

Christian parents may foster Narcissism in their children if they adopt certain cultural modes of parenting rather than taking their teaching from the Scriptures and Judeo-Christian understandings of humanity.

Christian parents believe that children are not a possession; they are a trust from God and must be raised with that in mind. Valuable as we are to God and one another we are all flawed and that fact should be kept in sight as we raise children.

We should not be surprised when we catch a child in the first lie, or see the first tantrum, or discover the first amazing deception. Dealing with these with love and firmness is important.

Christian parents will affirm their children’s achievements to a degree appropriate to their ages and commensurate with the actual achievement. When a four-year-old makes his bed or a seven-year-old sets the table they are thanked, but not raved over as if that was the most amazing thing anyone had ever done. And when they do wrong, the call to account should be real.

Christian parents pray daily with their children and in this setting where the Christian view of human nature is shared children can be helped to face their failures as well as their successes. The early teaching of a developing child to worship God who is majestic and holy and far above them, is a first line against the development of Narcissism.


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3 thoughts on “Resisting the Plague of Narcissism

  1. Seeing the subject of this week’s blog I recalled my university days.Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ was on our required reading list and the story of Echo and Narcissus, from Book 3 stood out as a highlight of that classic book. about chang.

    The story of Narcissus occurs after the story of Tiresias.Tiresias is given knowledge of the future by Jupiter,in exchange for his lost sight.Tiresias then becomes consulted by those seeking answers to the future.

    A lovely nymph consults Tiresias,asking whether her beautiful son Narcissus will live a long life.’If he does not discover himself’ the seer said.The augur’s words prove true.By the age of 16 Narcissus’ good looks attract many young girls. But proud Narcissus scorns them all.

    One day a nymph called Echo spies him and becomes inflamed with infatuation at his looks..Echo has a peculiar trait.She cannot be silent when others speak nor can she initiate conversation herself. She can only repeat the last words of others.

    Echo longed to speak to Narcissus but her nature prevented her.

    One day Narcissus becomse separated fron his companions and calls out ‘Is anyone there’.Echo ,following him to gaze on him as always ,repeats his words.Surprised, Narcissus says ‘come here’ which Echo repeats. Ecstatic at his invitation ,Echo puts her arms round Narcissus. him.The proud vain boy shouts ‘get your arms off me,I’d rather die than let you have what’s mine’

    Scorned Echo hides herself away in shame.Her love endures but her sadness at rejection increases.Rejected and forlorn she wasted away til her body disappeares into thin air and only her echoing voice remains.

    Narcissus’ pride increases and he scorns all who admire him.mocking them as his inferiors .One scorned admirer cries out in anguish ‘may Narcissus himself fall in love and be unrequited’. Nemesis hears this just request and leads Narcissus’s footsteps to a pool.

    Tired and thirsty Narcissus bends to drink and sees his reflection in the pool.He falls in love with his reflection.But every time he tries to kiss the lips of his inamorata,his own reflection,he splashes the water and the image fades

    Forever gazing at his reflection ,Narcissus pines away with unrequited love,his pain of rejection ever increasing.Burning with unrequited love Narcissus melts with self love ,into the house of shadows ,as hell was then called.His body,left behind , is metamorphosed into a flower of white petals surrounding a yellow heart.This flower we call a narcissus to this day.

    One who loves themselves above all others, scorning others as unworthy,we call a Narcissist.

    Pastor,your blog shows how a great writer,Ovid, from the time of worship of the pagan pantheon of anthropomorphic Greek and Roman gods with human traits.These old fables can inform Christians who know and love the one true Triune God.Because Ovid knew human foibles and understood something of the virtue and justice with which Christianity is concerned.

    The inflated self image of the Narcissist is the opposite of the contrition and humility the Bible teaches.Loving self above others and scorning others as lesser is the opposite of the second great Law of Jesus – to love our neighbour as ourself.The Narcissist loves self above all others,

    On every page the Bible,especially the New Testament ,teaches the opposite of Narcissism.Jesus Himself,God incarnate ,took the form of a servant.At the last supper Jesus washed the feet of his followers.He opened His arms in love upon the Cross for all ,embracing the lowly death of a criminal out of love for others.

    Jesus,the incarnation, born in a lowly manger,lived as a servant and died a lowly criminal’s death in love for all.Jesus is raised to Glory.Proud Narcissus,,as told by Ovid,was proud and vain ,scorning all others as inferior.He is faded to shadows and all that is left of him is a pale flower in ghostly subdued yellow and white.

    Christian parents can love their children by raising them in Christian humility and service ,leading them away from the temptation of sinking into the oblivion of Narcissism.

    • Dear Francis: You were obviously raised on the classics in a way I was not, or scarcely. Before writing I checked some references to the myth of Narcissus but found a variety of tales in essential agreement only about his seeing his visage in the pool. Your fuller elaboration of what’s behind that moment is excellent. Thanks for filling me in on the background of the myth, Don Bastian

  2. Thankyou Pastor Don.I learned some Latin at school and a very very little Greek.I wish I’d learned more Greek to help me read the New Testament.

    We studied just a few bits of Latin literature. Just the paragraph or two of Tacitus’s ‘Agricola’ which outlined the Roman invasion of Britain, and a few small parts of the work of the 3 giants of Latin poetry : Horace,Virgil and Ovid..

    We read a few lyric poems of Horace , a few sections of Virgil’s epic poem ‘The Aenid’,and a few stories of Ovid’s huge 15 book continuos epic poem ‘The Metamororphoses’,containing mythological narratives on change.

    The Metamorphoses fascinated and delighted me, so later,to help with my English literature studies, I read the whole of Ovid’s Metarmorhoses in the Penguin English translation and it’s in Book 3 the story of Echo and Narcissus is told.All I learned of Echo and Narcissus comes from this.

    It’s intresting that Ovid lived when Jesus was born and that Ovid’s poetry is known as Augustan and Augustus was the Caesar when Jesus was born.As I read your blog,Pastor,this struck me and it came to mind how Jesus, who came in the form of a servant,is the very opposite of Narcissus.

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