Our faith is one of relationship – with God and with each other. But has Catholicism become more of your “brand” than a relationship with the Lord? Or do you find that your religious practices and experiences are primarily a way to make you feel better than other people, rather than closer to the Lord?
If that sounds like you or someone you know, then you may be dealing with spiritual narcissism. Fr. Nicholas Blackwell recently wrote an article about The Reality and Dangers of Spiritual Narcissism, and he stopped by Morning Air® to discuss what it is and how to handle it in your own life.
On what spiritual narcissism is, Fr. Blackwell explained, “All spiritual narcissism rises from a place of shame. It’s a way of avoiding shame and addressing those issues, or those things, or those events in our life that has maybe caused an undue reality of shame within us.”
“A narcissist is one who cultivates sort of a pseudo-reality in their life in which they play a certain role. Sometimes it’s the role of the hero. Sometimes it’s the role of the victim. Sometimes it can be a multitude of different roles. But they play a certain role that keeps them from dealing with the reality of their life as it is.”
If someone has crafted a false reality about themselves, then it is important that those around them buy into that reality. That can lead to lies, manipulation, and a justification of bad behavior when that reality is questioned.
“We can use our freedom as a means of not liberating ourselves from sin by the grace of God, but as a license for permitting certain behaviors,” Fr. Blackwell said. “And a full-blown narcissist wouldn’t even be able to see that they are even leaning into that license aspect, because they are so bent on not addressing points and places of shame.”
So how can we avoid the dangers of spiritual narcissism? Frequent Confession and volunteering for the poor is a great remedy for spiritual and other forms of narcissism. Fr. Blackwell pointed out that since it rises from a place of shame, we can avoid it by being vulnerable.
He advised, “Know thy self. Self knowledge. You have to know your points of vulnerability.”
And how can we manage spiritual narcissists in our own life? Fr. Blackwell offered similar advice, saying, “You have to know yourself, you have to know your buttons, you have to have your boundaries. You have to have firm boundaries in your relationship. And if there is a significant relationship there they will react to those boundaries. Hopefully in a healthy way. But you know you’re being true to yourself.”
There are a number of ways that mental health issues can have a spiritual component. Some people with obsessive compulsive disorder struggle with scrupulosity. Some people with schizophrenia have religious delusions. But not everyone who struggles with scrupulosity has OCD, and not everyone who has had a religious delusion has schizophrenia. Similarly, not everyone who struggles with spiritual narcissism has narcissistic personality disorder.
Fr. Blackwell, pointed out, “Sometimes we can wrap up true mental health issues in spiritual language, and that really doesn’t help anybody out. So you have to be careful.”
Regardless of the reasons for your struggles with shame, it is helpful to take a both/and approach to find healing and stay spiritually and mentally healthy.
“The sacrament of Confession is a healing sacrament, and people that struggle with narcissism really need that profound healing, because of their issues with shame,” Fr. Blackwell said. “But at the end of the day, have in your back pocket different forms of mental health treatment, and be prepared to know good Catholic psychiatrists and psychologists in the area.”
Listen to the full conversation below: