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Narcissism or the joy of unselfish living?

A Christian Science perspective.

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A former presidential hopeful, scheduled to undergo trial in the near future, names it as the cause of the behavior that ruined his career. And on the basis of it, borrowers took out loans for houses that they couldn't afford, loans provided by lenders who desired materialistic gain to such an extent that the results were one cause of the global financial crisis still being experienced today. According to observers of contemporary thought trends, the name for the constellation of traits that defines these behaviors is narcissism. The examples mentioned above are among those included in the book “The Narcissism Epidemic,” by Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell (see pp. 2-3).

Narcissism is characterized by self-love, overconfidence, materialism, excessive risk-taking, vanity, or lack of care and concern for others. The term is derived from the Greek myth of Narcissus, the handsome youth who fell in love with his own image.

In the view of many who map and monitor such trends, narcissism is not only on the rise, but it has become a pervasive and damaging characteristic of modern life. If contemporary research is a reliable guide, there may be a narcissist near you.

Is there anything you can do about it? I believe that Christian Science provides ideas that are helpful in countering narcissism and in healing its effects on individuals and society.

For a start, the Bible indicates that caring and concern for others is fundamental to the well-being of every individual, as it is impossible to achieve genuine happiness while focused exclusively on oneself. “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3). The practice of expressing unselfish love is an antidote to narcissism.  

A proper sense of our own self-worth as the beloved children of God is a priceless truth that provides the true foundation for unselfish living. The basic biblical axiom, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:39), requires a right appreciation of ourselves and of others. In contrast to narcissism, this biblical standard represents a balanced approach to life.  

We gain a capacity to understand and live this verity of being when we glimpse our true relationship to God as His reflection, including all the qualities of good which God Himself expresses. We then understand that there is nothing to lose and everything to gain by being unselfish.

If we find ourselves in a relationship with a relative, a boss, or a spouse who exhibits narcissistic qualities, our expression of the God-like quality of selfless love and a prayerful effort to see the other individual as God’s child, too, can help transform the situation. 

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This perspective includes a powerful sense of real confidence that ultimately outshines egotism and self-love and helps produce a mental environment where we’ll find lasting achievement, genuine caring relationships, and joy in our lives.

Mary Baker Eddy, the discover and founder of Christian Science, believed that selfishness and self-love are limiting character traits that need to be overcome in order to obtain lasting happiness. She provided important insight into how to heal these tendencies: “Self-love is more opaque than a solid body. In patient obedience to a patient God, let us labor to dissolve with the universal solvent of Love the adamant of error, – self-will, self-justification, and self-love, – which wars against spirituality and is the law of sin and death” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 242).

Some believe that narcissism has become so pervasive and obdurate a trend because many regard a focus on oneself as necessary to obtain success in the modern world. Such thinking claims that unless an individual puts his or her own needs and desires first, excessively engages in self-promotion, and is willing to sacrifice others for his or her own sake, career progress may prove elusive.

But the Bible indicates that self-serving behavior is ultimately self-defeating. And contemporary research shows that although narcissism may seem to bring some short-term benefit, it almost always fails in the long-term. The Bible story of Absalom, who is shown to be vain and self-serving, illustrates this truth (see II Samuel, Chaps. 13-19).

An open-eyed willingness to mentally confront the trend toward narcissism is a good first step in healing it, whether we have the courage to recognize it in ourselves or whether we are willing to counter it with prayer for society as a whole. The healing of narcissism will come when the God-impelled recognition dawns that the selfish approach to living is self-defeating, and genuine love for others is the path that empowers, inspires, and rewards.
 
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