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Spirituality

How to Deal—Spiritually—With a Narcissist

David Langness | Updated Jun 1, 2021

PART 4 IN SERIES Growing Past Self-Love and Narcissism

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | Dec 4, 2015

PART 4 IN SERIES Growing Past Self-Love and Narcissism

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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.

Signs Someone Is a Narcissist

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.

RELATED: Stitching the Wounds of Abuse and Violence

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, the Baha’i Writings say that 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.”

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.”

How to Spiritually Deal With a Narcissist

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.”

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.

RELATED: Idealist or Realist—Which One are You?

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.

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Comments

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  • Andrea Vento
    Jul 6, 2021
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    Excellent article! Thank you so much!
  • Karl Heinz
    May 31, 2021
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    How do these ideas apply to people who have addiction problems? These people don't seem to fit the definition of self lovers you illustrated.
  • Leesie Mappes
    Oct 16, 2018
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    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.
    Read more...
    • Karl Heinz
      May 31, 2021
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      Well written!
  • Rachel Donovan
    Mar 29, 2018
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    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
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    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.
    Read more...
    • Karl Heinz
      May 31, 2021
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      I definitely see your angle and his premise confused me.
  • Rohini C
    May 22, 2016
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    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.
    Read more...
    • Alice Haxton
      Jun 5, 2016
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      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 9, 2016
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    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.
    Read more...
  • Vivian
    Dec 23, 2015
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    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.
    Read more...
  • Dec 8, 2015
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    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.
    Read more...
  • Dec 8, 2015
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    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?"
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