I was having coffee with a friend the other day and he dropped this phrase on me that I had never heard before but identified with it as soon as I heard it. The phrase is “Spiritual Narcissism.” Talk about incoming. Dropped like a bomb in the core of my being. Took me back about forty years to the first years of my life as a Christian and how I created an image to fit in.
Mark Twain has this great quote that describes what I’m talking about: “Everybody is a moon, and he or she has a dark side which they never show to anybody.”
My fear of others and how they’d perceive me kept me hidden behind the image I had created to be loved and accepted. My shame that feared the rejection and humiliation of others, and my fear of losing control, because that is what I was doing through my manipulation of my story kept me truly unknown by others. They knew the “good” David and not the hurting, angry, sinful David.
My early life as a follower of Jesus was all about impressing others with how “religious” I was. Throwing Scriptures around like band-aids, serving so others would think highly of me, and not watching television or listening to secular music because thats how holy people prove they are legit. It was all about suffering and sacrifice so all men would think well of me. Someone should of slapped me and introduce me to grace!
But my fear of being exposed was deep. I had felt so small and insignificant most of my life and I wanted to be admired by those around me. I read somewhere that what we want is to feel loved, significant, and special. That wasn’t my experience growing up in an abusive home. I experienced a lot of shame and humiliation as a child. Why place myself in a spot where I could possibly be further shamed and humiliated? So there was no way I was going to speak openly and honestly about my life and what I was really dealing with internally.
Genesis 3:1-13 talks about the “fig leaves” that Adam and Eve used to hide from God. I had a whole wardrobe of “fig leaves.” I’m not sure I really knew who I was. And my “fear of man,” or it might have been terror, paralyzed my voice to speak the truth. So I found a “false peace” in pretending that my life was blessed! The image I bore was not that of God but of my own making. This is what many refer to as a “false self.” The peace I presented was fabricated. Inwardly I lived with a terror that someday I would be exposed for a fake. So, image was everything.
I lived in denial of my pain and true feelings. Any time someone asked “How I was doing?” I’d reply, “Fine!”My shame, pain and sin was kept hidden behind the mask I wore. I was “The Great Pretender.”
The words of King David challenge all who would hide behind this “false self.” He tells us in Psalm 51:6, “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.”
David in that place of pouring out his heart to God realizes that God intends for us to explore those inner parts so that His truth can find its way in to set us free from our deception.
This requires inviting God to “search our hearts so that He can reveal to us our anxious thoughts and our evil ways.” God will make you aware of the hidden issues within that are blocking your growth into wholeness. My “spiritual narcissism,” that image I had created to be petted and admired was exposed in this communion with God. I must confess I fought Him at first as He challenged me to confess my sin to trusted others and to repent. Everything in me wanted to flee from His Presence and the call to stand “naked and unashamed” before others.
I was committed to avoiding vulnerability with others for years. Being vulnerable meant I could no longer control my environment through my “false self.” My body started to quake as I was faced with this type of vulnerability. I believe I was on the verge of a panic attack. I needed a freedom to love and trust the Lord more deeply than ever before. This meant I could no longer trust in the image I had created.
My dear friend Andy says: “The painful acknowledgement of our brokenness is the prerequisite to wholeness.”
This is the weakness that leads to healing. This is so opposite of what we see around us. Strength is glorified, placed on magazine covers, and revealed through some computer games and movies that we watch.
I had to acknowledge my weakness to others. As I did they brought me on my stretcher into the Presence of Jesus who received me with great tenderness and grace. It was difficult at first because I found it difficult to receive. I wanted to earn or deserve His favor. Grace and tenderness were foreign to me and it took me awhile to learn how to receive it from Jesus and from others. Part of that time involved me laying down my “fig leaves” mask and other devices that I used to deceive others.
In exposing myself to others I received what I didn’t expect, grace and mercy. They didn’t shame me or humiliate me. This is what I feared and expected because that is what I received as a child. I had a bitterroot expectation that when things went wrong and others found out I’d be shamed, humiliated and punished. That is the way it worked in my family. But in the family of God, grace, mercy and forgiveness were given to me as I overcame my inner terror of being exposed.
Becoming small before others was difficult because I had found value and recognition hiding behind my “false self.” That self that I found apart from God. It was my creation and not His.
Someone once said that we have to become Shakespearean. In Hamlet, the advice of Polonius to his son rings true, “To thine own self be true and as night follows day thou can be false to no one.”
The fear of what others think about us, and the “submerged shame” connected with that, keeps us hidden and bound in a “false self.” God can help us overcome the resistance within ourselves so that we can get free from our shame, fear of man, and pain within. Living as a “Spiritual Narcissists” is hard work.