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The main condition for the achievement of love is the overcoming of one’s narcissism. The narcissistic orientation is one in which one experiences as real only that which exists within oneself, while the phenomena in the outside world have no reality in themselves, but are experienced only from the viewpoint of their being useful or dangerous to one. The opposite pole to narcissism is objectivity; it is the faculty to see other people and things as they are, objectively, and to be able to separate this objective picture from a picture which is formed by one’s desires and fears. – Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving

Narcissists, it turns out, have a hard time loving someone else. No surprise there. Excessive self-love prohibits us from loving others, erecting an internal barrier that stops our understanding and empathy from functioning. The narcissist’s most deeply-held conviction—“I am special”—makes it very difficult to recognize the unique, special and outstanding qualities of others. As a result, narcissists often have severe problems sustaining satisfying, mutually supportive relationships. Narcissism causes a lack of psychological awareness and empathy. But even worse than all these difficulties, narcissists tend to use others for their own ends.

Have you ever tried to sustain a relationship with someone who has narcissistic tendencies? If so, you probably had the same troubles that many others do—dealing with the narcissist’s inability to truly love, an unquenchable need for attention, a tendency to lie and emotionally manipulate, and the constant desire to charm and attract others. These character traits, so destructive to so many relationships, prevent people with strong narcissistic behavior patterns from ever fully giving love to others.

Of course, every person struggles, to some degree, with these issues. If you plotted out a spectrum of narcissism, it would go from completely selfless on one end, to pathologically and clinically narcissistic and selfish on the other. Few people would qualify for the extremes on either end—which means most of us would fall somewhere in between. Since some amount of naturally-occurring narcissism exists in everyone, love and relationships continually pose this question: me or you? Should I endeavor to meet my own needs, or yours? Should I give more or get more? That balance, so tricky to maintain, faces us daily. In order to love one another, each of us has to fight the spiritual battle of our innate self-interest:

I shall ask you a question: Did God create us for love or for enmity? Did He create us for peace or discord? Surely He has created us for love; therefore, we should live in accordance with His will. Do not listen to anything that is prejudiced, for self-interest prompts men to be prejudiced. They are thoughtful only of their own will and purposes. They live and move in darkness. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 42.

We are, the Baha’i teachings say, created for love, not darkness. To grow and develop that capacity for love in our souls and hearts, we have to learn how to selflessly give love. This occurs best in the context of true faith:

Sincerity is the foundation-stone of faith. That is, a religious individual must disregard his personal desires and seek in whatever way he can wholeheartedly to serve the public interest; and it is impossible for a human being to turn aside from his own selfish advantages and sacrifice his own good for the good of the community except through true religious faith. For self-love is kneaded into the very clay of man, and it is not possible that, without any hope of a substantial reward, he should neglect his own present material good. That individual, however, who puts his faith in God and believes in the words of God — because he is promised and certain of a plentiful reward in the next life, and because worldly benefits as compared to the abiding joy and glory of future planes of existence are nothing to him — will for the sake of God abandon his own peace and profit and will freely consecrate his heart and soul to the common good. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, pp. 96-97.

What happens, though, when we encounter those who don’t view the world this way—who think first of themselves, and have little or no empathy for anyone else? What’s our spiritual responsibility toward those with severe narcissistic tendencies? We’ve all encountered the pathological liar, the deeply narcissistic, the self-loving. How do we deal with such a syndrome? How can we protect ourselves without enabling the pathology of others? The Baha’i teachings have some advice that may surprise you:

The Kingdom of God is founded upon equity and justice, and also upon mercy, compassion, and kindness to every living soul. Strive ye then with all your heart to treat compassionately all humankind — except for those who have some selfish, private motive, or some disease of the soul. Kindness cannot be shown the tyrant, the deceiver, or the thief, because, far from awakening them to the error of their ways, it maketh them to continue in their perversity as before. No matter how much kindliness ye may expend upon the liar, he will but lie the more, for he believeth you to be deceived, while ye understand him but too well, and only remain silent out of your extreme compassion. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 158.

This advice, roughly comparable to the “tough love” philosophy of many twelve-step recovery programs, focuses on treating others with love and respect—but also asks us to deal forthrightly and without excessive compassion toward narcissists, egotists and tyrants, refusing to countenance, support or buy into their self-destructive behaviors.

This kind of spiritual tough love requires a clear eye and an open, honest ability to spot the manipulation and exploitation narcissists typically exhibit. Identifying and naming this sort of behavior isn’t always easy, but one clue can help: a short fuse leading to a state of rage. Because narcissists have a need to control others, they can suddenly and abruptly turn from charming to alarming when something upsets, threatens or destabilizes their carefully-constructed world. Such “two-faced,” Jekyll-and-Hyde behavior should shout “Narcissist alert!” to everyone nearby.

The Baha’i teachings ask everyone to focus on the good qualities of the people around them, and ignore the bad qualities. In people like these, however—those who have “a selfish, private motive, or some disease of the soul”—we owe it to ourselves, and to them, not to fall victim to their pathology. If we follow this sage spiritual advice, perhaps we can help identify and stop the next narcissistic outburst of rage before it becomes toxic, violent and murderous.

21 Comments

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  • Leesie Mappes
    Oct 16, 2018
    A rarely talked-about narcissistic quality is the thought distortion of duality of the self, creator, and creation. As pointed out, the common theory is that narcissism cannot be cured and that the root of narcissism is self-loathing. There is also evolution when and if someone can reach a state of awareness/consciousness that is close to the Oneness principle. When one sees the One consciousness is real, not a theory, then one can see that whatever one does to others, they do to themselves, and vice versa. If a someone with narcissistic tendencies becomes interested in spiritual growth, although it might ...be initially fuelled by wanting to be 'special' if a miracle occurs, they will achieve a state of Unity with Creator/Creation. Love.
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  • Rachel Donovan
    Mar 29, 2018
    I have several x’s who were prone to rage, but mostly it was because they were stressed and pushed to the limit by work. They had huge hearts and were very kind and generous. I think someone lacking empathy would be the biggest sign. I believe myself to have met my very first narcissist and it seems his is hereditary. He also does lose his temper, but it’s distinctly different. Also, I would say never admitting one is wrong is another sign bigger than rage.
  • Anoushka V H Kellett
    May 29, 2017
    Please research narcissism properly before writing such an article as this is a very serious topic, to write about it with a lack of factual knowledge is dangerous to anyone suffering from narcissistic abuse who may read this. Narcissism is not characterized by overwhelming self love but in fact the opposite. Deep self loathing and shame that is so acute it causes npd's to construct a false self based on false self aggrandisement. A shell if you will. Therefore the premise of your article is flawed from the get go, yet your almost there. The question is not how ...can someone who loves themselves love others, but rather, how can someone who loathes themselves love others. please do your research before espousing apparent wisdom.
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  • Rohini C
    May 22, 2016
    I found this article while researching on how to recover from a marriage that is currently ending and my spouse is a Bahai but a narcissist. I am not a Bahai, however my soon to be ex is. I have always enjoyed being a part of the Faith and learning. We have an 8 year old daughter. I am in the middle of a very costly divorce, brought on my him. He assaulted me and I was sick before I finally got the courage to leave. I have worked throughout our marriage and provided financial support to my family while ...he was at home, lost in video games. He is seeking therapy now, however, he is still trying to control everything I do, and is dragging me through the court system, seeking alimony and child support in exorbitant amounts. He is an educated, intelligent man, however, at this point, he is choosing to follow this path. My fear is that I see he is doing the same to our daughter, even attempting to control what clothes she can wear to his house, and what she cannot. This is confusing to her, since she is only 8, but she is torn trying to do what Daddy wants. I am desperate and seeking all help I can get on learning how to disengage, yet still coparent successfully to raise our daughter. I went to the local Assembly and I believe they spoke with him, but he has stopped going to the Sunday classes and not taking our daughter to the children's classes. Of course, telling him he is suffering from this is guaranteed to get me pushed against a wall, so I am afraid and will not do so. I am simply trying to step back, yet continue to raise my child. Please help.
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    • Alice Haxton
      Jun 05, 2016
      Rohini,
      You may find some inspiration for a solution by reading some of the information on the following sites: www.narcissismfree.com; susangammage.com (look at the articles under 'Abuse and Violence'); and this article, "How to Protect Kids from a Borderline/Narcissist Parent" on the website www.pscyhologytoday.com/stop-walking-eggshells/201603/how-protect-kids-borderlinenarcissitic-parent. I hope these help you and of course, pray for the spiritual healing of all involved. I will pray for you and your daughter. May God lead you and your daughter to emotional and spiritual health and happiness. Peace.
  • Jan 09, 2016
    The only person we can ever change is ourselves. As the article says...we all have to watch out for our own narcissistic tendencies and outgrowing that is the job of every human being. I believe it can only be done by walking a spiritual path...in other words, finding God. We cannot overcome narcissism alone...no one can...we can only do it with God\'s help which is love. God is love and we can only know God by overcoming self. Everyone has feelings, everyone hurts, everyone has had something in their lives...maybe that is where we start ...is by recognizing our own humanness and that of other. I don\'t think we can worry about them,,,atleast for me...it is challenging enough to work on our own selves.
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  • Vivian
    Dec 23, 2015
    David, thank you so much for this well-written piece and such excellent accompanying quotes.
    In response to some of those who had question re how to deal with narcissistic individuals with whom we cannot easily disengage: as a practitioner of meridian tapping (aka EFT), I have found this especially useful in dealing with persistent problems of an emotional nature. The subconscious mind is programmed between ages 0-6/7 with how we should respond to the world. It is supposed to be a support to the conscious mind, but oftentimes we experience cognitive dissonance when the two are incongruent. For instance, ...if during early childhood one or both parents told their bright, sensitive child s/he was worthless, then the message the subconscious mind absorbs is "I'm not worthy." As an adult that same child may have excelled in their studies and graduated with honors, but they struggle with making their mark in the world. Perhaps that adult child cannot hold a job or constantly chooses positions unsuitable to their talents and skills, even though on a conscious level they know they are quite gifted, yet the subconscious mind countermands the conscious mind and continues to create unsuitable work environments.
    Our minds are very powerful and attract people and circumstances to them. In order to break negative cycles we must address the subconscious mind as well as the conscious. Meditation and prayer help greatly with this. Meridian tapping is a simple tool that can also help individuals reprogram the subconscious mind. It has truly helped me over the years along with prayer, meditation, and a focus on gratitude. Here's a link to a youtube video if you're interested in learning more: https://youtu.be/ZfZBHWSbrsg.
    May you be blessed with God's grace.
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  • Dec 08, 2015
    I have been praying all morning to be free of the control and dominance of my narcisstic mother who is probably the most negative person on the face of this earth. If I focus on her and the terrible impact I have allowed her to have on my life...I get sick too. I cannot break free of the psychological controls by myself and pray for release knowing that a relationship with God, which is love, is the only thing that will free me from her tyranny. At the same time...I know I cannot have negativity and hostility ...in me or I become just as sick as her. I am hoping that I will find help, support and understanding in this organization. I really pray for it.
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  • Dec 08, 2015
    Thank you, so much. That was a root cause of my Baha'i divorce after twenty six years of marriage, twenty three as a Foreign Pioneer, three successful sons, and now 5 grandchildren. I did a twenty eight day, tough love, 12 Step Treatment, where I was hammered by the group when we did "Role Playing Sculptures." What helped me was being handed the DSMIV open to the fifteen characteristics and being asked which ones "do you identify with?"
  • MM MM
    Dec 08, 2015
    Is there any cure for such a condition? For those who suffer from this disease in an extreme sense, there can be very destructive and dangerous consequences to those among us who are vulnerable- namely children, poor people.
    While we are not to show kindness to the tyrant and the deceiver, what is there we can do to protect ourselves when the narcissist has decided to prey on us and we are tied to them in a way that is not possible to disengage fully? I find it so hard that there seems to be no spiritual healing ...for souls suffering from this terrible condition, and so they are able to impart their harm not just on their own selves but on the lives of others as well. I can't seem to understand the justice of this, and I have prayed deeply to find some solace and comfort.
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    • Kara C.
      Jan 09, 2016
      At 57 yrs old and a Baha'i' I'm now on my 4th divorce. Why? Because I have been involved with narcissists my entire life. That's all I've known. This last time (17 yrs married) was the worst. He came to me as a wolf in sheep's clothing and long story short, I almost died, but I didn't and here I am. The passage written above was one that I read but still I engaged until I realized I was hurting myself and he did not care. What was even harder was no one in my 'Bahai community would believe me ...because of how he presented himself. I lost everything ...materially speaking. But in the midst of it all I found God. I never stopped praying and stayed close to God and slowly He gave me a new life. I would suggest to all the are suffering from Narcissistic Abuse understand one thing. The narcissist will not change. It's a severe personality disorder and lodged deep in their thinking. The best thing is No Contact. Stay away as much as possible and minimal contact if you must. Pray for them from a distant and if there is ever healing to be had its between them and God. There is nothing you can do EXCEPT ... See them as a messenger in your life to dig deep, mine your gems and be what God created you to be. For in-depth healing from this hell on earth you've been living thru I strongly suggest you look up www.melanietoniaevans.com and look into her NARP program. 'Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program.' Its amazing, it works IF you really want to get better and heal and become whole.
      Love to you all,
      Kara
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    • J V
      Dec 11, 2015
      I'm curious about this too - why is it that narcissism seems to be incurable?
      Is it something like language? Is there a window of opportunity to develop a recognition and identification with others enough to form a conscience and if it is neglected past a certain developmental stage it will never be fully functional?
      Or is it the consequence of a shrewd rationality subjected to Ayn Rand style individualism, so that the narcissist is not sick, but just erroneous? As an example, imagine you are in a virtual reality simulation that is so advanced ...it is indistinguishable from reality (or a vision or hallucination that you can control). If one is convinced of this, then don't others become like characters in a video game? Boredom might lead to "reprehensible" behavior out of nothing more than curiosity about how the game is programmed. This seems to be how narcissists live their lives.
      Morality concerns itself with relationships and so it cannot come from the individual. (I think this is what is meant by the "knowledge of good and evil" in the Genesis story - to arrogate to oneself the knowledge of good and evil is the original sin). The solution is submission to an external authority or value system (God). Narcissism is the rejection of this, so that the ego becomes one's God. I think this is why atheists are not trusted. Infidel = in + fidere (not + to trust) or not trustworthy. Why? Because it is impossible to know the psychological motivations of a person who has no declared value system, and that is the condition from which manipulators and liars spring.
      There is a tacit assumption that each individual is striving for good or has incorporated some basic common values, but this assumption comes from a history of strong religious association and practice. As science convinces people they are just animals and existence is meaningless, narcissism, nihilism and hedonism would seem to be the consequences.
      So to take this back to the question of curing narcissists, is a genuine religious epiphany and subsequent incorporation of an external value system a cure? How could that manifest absent something like the 2nd coming?
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    • Dec 09, 2015
      What's important though and what we need to focus on is our relationship to God since the only person we can change is ourselves
  • Gary Scott
    Dec 06, 2015
    Excellent article and applicable to situations I have encountered. Thanks David!