One of the things they said about Jesus was that he cost out demons. He seemed to realize that demons can stand in our way of true happiness and fulfillment. And the irony of this is the fact that some of us enjoy and protect our demons, and give them a prominent place in life. They are almost like old friends. As George Burns once put it, “Some sins are so much fun.” Demons (or devils) don’t have long tails and horns and a pitchfork as depicted in some of the darker periods of ancient history. A demon can be up-to-date, suave and ever so slick; even “cool”.
It is no surprise that evil comes from within an individual, and may be clothed in a thousand different garments. Demons don’t hide behind bushes; they hide in the human heart. They have a one-sided view of politics, religion and other matters, and they exalt and bless their own distortions. As someone said to me, with tongue in cheek, “I am not always right, but I am never wrong.” This is very close to a description of a “Narcissist”, which it seems to me is probably the “daddy of all demons”.
As highlighted by Dr. Alexander Lowen in his book “Narcissism: Denial of the True Self”, Greek mythology give us the background of Narcissus. He was said to be a handsome Thespian with whom the nymph Echo fell in love. She was rejected by him, and died of a broken heart. The gods then punished Narcissus for his reckless treatment of Echo by making him fall in love with his own image. One day while he was leaning over the waters of a fountain, Narcissus caught sight of his own reflection. He became passionately enamored of his own image, and refused to leave the spot. He died there and turned into a flower—the narcissus that grows in our gardens.
Everyone is born narcissistic, without exception. That’s just the way it is when you first see the light of day. The world is yours and the people around you are your servants. They wait upon you, get up in the middle of the night for you, feed you, change your clothes, hold you, rock you, and praise you for being the most beautiful thing in the world. At least, this is the majority of scenarios. But, lo and behold, you grow up and the world changes. You now have to do most of these wonderful things for yourself. Some of us have a heck of a hard time accepting the change as we grow older, so we hold on to the picture that the world is ours and exists solely for our comfort and pleasure. It’s hard to wean yourself from pure selfishness. Many feel entitled to all that attention and glory, so they become completely self-centered and never really away nor sensitive to other people’s feelings.
In First Corinthians 13, Paul wrote, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child: when I became an adult, I put end to childish ways.” So, a narcissist is a person who is preoccupied with him or herself to the exclusions of everyone else. He or she becomes their own world, and believes the whole world is theirs, with all of that admiration and acclaim. They don’t really like themselves; they like the image they have built about themselves. They can be ruthless towards others who fail to like the “false image” they have created. There is an absence of self-restraint in the response to people. Dr. Lowen said, “Victorian culture emphasized love without sex, whereas our present culture emphasizes sex without love. People are regarding boundaries and limits as unnecessary restrictions on the human potential.”
The Boston bombing suspects have been described as “narcissistic”. They were completely insensitive to the suffering or feelings of others. You see this demon in greed and hunger for power. Jesus reminded us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. “What’s in it for me?” is a familiar question, unexpressed verbally, but acted out in reality. Narcissism often leads to depression and suicide. In my counseling practice, I have seen many couples who still hurt from an unhappy childhood. The couple may turn to their children for the love they didn’t get from their parents. And many times, this creates friction in their personal relationship.
Narcissists behave more like machines than people. They are not in touch with their own feelings. You have to love yourself in the right way or no one else can. One man who was told he had terminal cancer discovered what life was all about. He said he had never “seen” flowers or sunshine or birds before. He said he spent his life trying to prove to his father that he was a success. For the first time as an adult, he was able to cry and reach out to his family for help. When we place the need to succeed over the need to love and be loved, that’s narcissism.
In our Sunday class recently, someone made a profound remark. If you can ask in any situation, “What is the most unselfish, loving thing to do?”, that’s healthy and Christ-like. Paul said, “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me, and the life I live now, I live by faith” (Galatians 2:20). Paul is replacing his selfish ego with the spirit of love and compassion. This remains a big challenge for all of us, but when we can do this, our angels really sing. Amen.