Inflation of self. Preoccupation with self. Self absorption. Selfishness.
Apparently, the word “narcissistic” is being thrown around as a common label these days.
When I was growing up, it was not a common label. I heard the term first in graduate school when I had to familiarize myself with Narcissistic Personality Disorder for an exam.
Until recently, I would call a narcissist an “egomaniac” ... a person who is completely into himself; totally self-focused.
As I type this, I must say that I am baffled by the epidemic of self-absorption.
I see it every single day ... even in Christian circles.
We want what we want when we want it.
We want what makes us happy. What makes us feel good. What provides comfort.
We are selfish with our time, our money and our relationships.
As an only child, I have battled self-absorption for years. Most of my adult life has been spent undoing the “only child syndrome.”
Though my parents did not mean to instill selfishness in me, I was the center of their world and I was quite accustomed to having what I wanted when I wanted it.
Now that I have a little girl, I can see how parents can very innocently instill this self-absorption in their children because, quite honestly, the world does revolve around my little girl at this point in time.
Until she has siblings or begins spending time with friends or classmates, she will not know what it means to have to share and sacrifice as some children must.
We will try to teach her these valuable lessons early, but until she experiences them firsthand, she will not completely understand what it means to give of herself.
The same is true for us, as adults.
If we do not put ourselves in situations where we are forced to consider others, we can become very self-absorbed.
I’ve told numerous clients that they get so caught up in their own lives and struggles they stop considering others.
Though it is not intentional, they become completely preoccupied with their own circumstances. Some folks are solely focused on their health. Others focus on their spouse or children. Still others will focus on their jobs, money or their lack thereof.
In the past, I have had several precious friends who have fallen into this trap.
It seems more often than not that they spent the majority of our conversations talking about themselves.
Of course, I cared and I wanted to know what was going on with them, but it did not feel like a mutual friendship and I often felt taken for granted.
Have you ever had this type of friend?
Now, I am far from perfect.
I’m sure I’ve made people feel the same way over the years. I can talk with the best of them, and I know I did burden my friends with a lot of my own junk when I was younger.
Today, I try not to do this. I try to take my struggles to God and then share with a few friends if they ask and I feel I can trust them with the information.
Sadly, many people do not stop to think about the load they put on the other person when they unload their stresses. They find someone who will listen, and they just take advantage of having a sounding board.
In my opinion, true friends offer mutual sharing. They do not selfishly monopolize conversations or fail to consider another’s circumstances before they unload.
The pattern I usually see with people who tend to demonstrate self-absorption is that they are somewhat lonely ... even if they have people all around them.
Most of the time, they are not extremely involved ministry or investing in the lives of others. For this reason, I always encourage them to began to focus beyond themselves.
It is amazing to see depression lift quickly and attitudes become more positive when people realize how blessed they really are.
When we help others, we stop focusing on ourselves. We stop obsessing about our problems. We stop worrying about numerous hypothetical situations. We stop monopolizing conversations. And, we stop viewing our glass as “half empty”.
Suddenly, we become much less preoccupied with our lives and more occupied with loving and serving God’s people.
We begin to ask more questions of others, offer to serve them and share our time and money with them.
We become grateful for what God has given us instead of taking for granted the gifts God has provided.
We begin to count of blessings instead of grumble because of discontentment.
We become more appreciative and less bitter when things do not go our way.
All of this said, I believe the ultimate “cure” for narcissism is service.
This is why parents send youth on mission trips...so they better appreciate how much they do have instead of complaining about what their parents will not give them.
Maybe this is what God wants his children to practice as well. Maybe our Heavenly Father wants our life to be a mission trip that helps us look beyond our own self-focus.
As Luke declares in Acts 20:35, “And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (NKJV)
I wonder if we would feel more blessed if we were giving more. I wonder if we would complain less if we felt more blessed. I wonder if we would be less self-focused if we had less to complain about.
Personally, I am praying that I am more content every day. I pray that I will speak less and listen more. I pray I will care more for God’s people than I do about my own comforts. I pray I will put others before myself in my heart so that I am able to live out unselfish behavior.
Lord, please make all of us less narcissistic and more sacrificial ... giving of ourselves to others, and in so doing, giving of ourselves to you.
Misty Shultz holds master’s degrees in marriage and family counseling and Christian education. She can be reached at email@example.com.