In the past few years, we have all heard the word narcissist and gaslighting being thrown around in everyday conversation. I have often overheard comments about a particular person, “Oh he/she is a narcissist!” Suddenly, overnight it seems everyone is an expert on narcissism.
In this blog I want clear up some things by addressing some of these issues and misconceptions about narcissism. Now, believe me, I have encountered my fair share of narcissists and have had numerous clients who were victimized by narcissists. They do exist and I have worked with many to begin the process of healing and release trauma they endured.
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So let me start with the DSM-5 description. But for those who might not be aware of what that is, let me explain what the DSM-5 is first. It is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders which is used for making clinical diagnoses.
What is a diagnosis based on? A diagnosis is based on a set of symptoms or traits and when a person manifests a certain number of these traits, a clinician will make a diagnosis based on those traits or symptoms.
There is also controversy on the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the diagnosis and many feel it should have subcategories. Nonetheless, here are the current criteria for a Narcissist Personality Disorder (NPD) diagnosis:
In order to be diagnosed with NPD, a client must present at least five of criteria in the list above. They will also struggle in at least two of the following areas:
One of the issues is that true NPD will only go to counseling when forced because they lack self-awareness as they are never the ones with the problem. They also are good at presenting well. Most NPD also have comorbid issues of substance abuse or addiction or bipolar disorder.
Now this blog is not about narcissism, it’s supposed to be about healthy narcissism. First, we must stop diagnosing and calling people a narcissist just because we are in a fight with them or don’t like their personality or if they may occasionally manifest one of these qualities. Then secondly, we must stop judging and criminalizing others to an extreme.
Believe me, I know all too well the reality that most spouses of actual narcissists are abused and they are fighting to be heard because the narcissist is so good at convincing others they are not the ones with the problems.
A rule of thumb to remember is that when someone always blames others and never takes responsibility, they are showing one trait of NPD. Never fall for someone who is always the victim, but I digress that is a for an entirely different blog post.
In Matthew 22:40 Jesus said, I am paraphrasing here:
“The whole law could be summed up to: Love God, love others as yourself.”
In other words, you have to love yourself in order to love others. With that being said, my understanding is that if I love God and receive His love (which is unconditional) and upon this basis I love myself.
Now let’s dive in and discuss what healthy narcissism is by comparing the differences between unhealthy textbook narcissism and healthy narcissism. The word narcissism should not only be associated with a negative connotation. From a positive standpoint we could also refer to it as healthy self-esteem.
I am unique and was put on this earth for a specific purpose designed just for me. I can do something great and so can you.
I can dream, do vision boards and attract a successful future because God says I’m His kid and He will give me the desires of my heart. I can do all things through Christ who is my strength.
Like attracts like. I feel more comfortable with close friends who also have healthy self-esteem and believe they are uniquely put here to do something important. If my close friends are not at the same vibration as me, we don’t really align and the relationship may become codependent. It is not a superiority, it is a comfort and commonality at a heart level.
It feels good to be admired and desired but my whole identity is not based on your opinion of me and I won’t abuse or lash out at you if you don’t admire me. Healthy people get their needs met from multiple sources both inside and outside of themselves. I don’t need you to like me in order to feel ok about myself but I am certainly happy to be seen as a role model and inspire others. With great power comes great responsibility.
I am a child of God, He loves me. Because I am His, I can ask Him for blessings in my life without having to earn them. This is not performance, it’s grace. The difference is that NPD don’t acknowledge blessings as a gift from God but rather they just deserve them because they are superior and entitled to them. True-Bible-believing-soul-submitted Christians know that the price of favor is complete surrender to Jesus – it costs them their life to be a son or a daughter of the Most High God. Quantum Physics says, I attract what I believe. I can attract favor and abundance because I believe I can. The difference is why NPD believe they deserve it. They created this belief. Their grandiosity has no basis in reality but they may have a strong belief which results in them attracting favor. In most cases though, it’s a thin veil over a deep seated sense of unworthiness in their subconscious so no one else is fooled for very long.
A healthy self-esteem does not walk on eggshells. They do not appease or avoid conflict out of fear of rejection. They have good boundaries and will let you know if you have crossed or violated them. The difference is they do seek deep and intimate relationships and connections. They seek to understand the other and accept differences and disagreements. They don’t seek to dominate or control. Sometimes their confidence can be intimidating. But hopefully their encouragement overrides this. NPDs have to be right at any expense. Healthy people can be humble and admit wrong.
One of the key traits of NPD is an inability to really connect emotionally and an inability to truly apologize or admit wrong or even apologize for hurting another person’s feelings even unintentionally. If I can’t even apologize for miscommunication or care about another’s feelings, I cannot truly be in a relationship.
To the contrary, healthy people are able to relate and connect on a feeling level without being intimidated by others. Over empathy leads to rescuing and placating. I can be both empathetic and allow you to have negative emotions without having to rescue or fix you. I can do this because I recognize emotions are just energy that can be released and not the end of the world and that the struggle is part of what produces healthy self-esteem.
Healthy self-esteem says I can admire you for your strengths and have grace for your weaknesses. I can be a beloved son and daughter without having to be more beloved than you or worrying you resent me because I may have more apparent success. If I believe we can all be beloved children of God, then I am going to point you to the beloved Father who doesn’t play favorites and has enough love for all of us to feel it.
We have to be careful not to mistake confidence for arrogance. Confident people don’t need to toot their own horn all the time like NPDs will. They don’t need constant affirmation so they can be confident without having to draw extra attention to themselves out of need. But being proud of your accomplishments is ok, you do not have to hide or share your accomplishments with others. It’s perfectly fine to want affirmation for an accomplishment, just as you would give it to others, receiving it feels good and there is nothing wrong with that at all. The difference, again, is how much you need the praise to be happy – this quality goes along with the need for affirmation. NPDs need people to think they are amazing or they will feel worthless.
As believers, I cannot reiterate enough that it is imperative that we stop labeling people, especially when we don’t have all the facts. In most of my experience, the qualities that set off alarms have been:
These are the qualities of NPD that make any relationship impossible.
Before you call someone a narcissist, you must be able to prove it and know the difference between healthy narcissism and a personality disorder. You, yourself may be the narcissist calling out someone else to cast blame away from you!
Gaslighting…See how crazy that made you feel?
We all are called to be sons and daughters of God. Healthy self-esteem is a quality of sonship. I am called to help people learn how thrive within the framework of understanding and knowing the freedom that comes from walking in the fullness of His image in which He intricately created us to be His very own children.
If you would like to go more in depth on the subject of sonship, I highly encourage you to read my book Thrive.
Robin Perry Braun, MPsy, is one of the leading pioneers of integrated wellness in the Christian community, teaching individuals how to become the healthiest versions of themselves possible.
She is an ordained minister and certified Integrated Life Process Practitioner. She has developed her own certified modality and is training others globally to practice this model. Over the last 25 years Robin has been educating herself in techniques that work to bring healing to body, soul and spirit She is passionate about educating people in holistic wellness by teaching how to understand ourselves from a quantum energy perspective and learning how to live a life that’s thriving not just surviving. Which is our God-given destiny.