How to Get Rid of Narcissism the Catholic Way
Note: This week's homily is from Monsignor Gerard O'Connor, in residence at Christ the King, and Director of the Office of Divine Worship for the Archdiocese of Portland.
Narcissism is an inordinate love of oneself, and it's something that we all suffer from. The problem is that this inordinate love of self prevents us from orienting our lives properly toward God. But the Catholic faith and the teachings of the Church have a powerful antidote for the narcissist in each of us - the Eucharist and Confession.
Looking at several narcissistic behaviors, we begin to see how our own tendencies toward narcissism prevent our growth in the spiritual life.
We must honestly examine our own narcissistic traits, because narcissism is dangerous. Pride (the source of narcissism) is saying no to God and saying yes to ourselves instead.
The Catholic faith and the teachings of the Church have a powerful antidote for the narcissist in each of us - the Eucharist and Confession.
Full Audio Transcript
00:02 The theme of today's Sacred scripture is quite clear, I think. We start with [inaudible] famous lamentation, vanity of vanities, all things are vanity. And then St. Paul reminds us that we must think of what is above not what is on this earth. We must think about the supernatural things, not the natural things of this world. And then of course in our Gospel, the Lord makes the same point that our lives are not about possessions. It's not about things. It's not about stuff on this earth. It's about eternal life. And this life, no matter how short or how long it may be, is a preparation for eternal life. So the Gospel is quite clear and in fact the thing that runs through sacred scripture, today is this sort of idea of vanity by putting our trust and uh, having an inordinate desire for the things of this world.
01:01 Vanity is part of pride. Pride of course we know is that improper appreciation of our own worth and us projecting that worth on the things of this earth. Pride is listed firstly as one of the most serious sins. In fact, uh, some of the saints, St. Thomas would call it the queen of all vices is pride because all sins come from pride because pride ultimately is a saying no to God and saying a yes to ourselves and therefore all sin would derive from that pride. The catechism defines pride as an inordinate self esteem or self love, which seeks attention and honor and sets oneself against God; sets one's self up in competition with God. There are many different definitions of pride. Of course it's a complicated subject, but it is so, because as I say, it is the mother of all sins.
02:01 And as part of pride, one of the things that is manifested in, in us is an idea called narcissism, which comes from our pride, which comes from an inordinate self love of oneself. Um, narcissism is named after narcissism basically as is an inappropriate love of oneself, uh, inordinate love of self.
02:24 Narcissus was a figure in Greek mythology. Some of you will know. Narcissus was a particularly handsome young man. And there were a couple of stories about Narcissus. You ought to love the Greeks because they, they made up stories. They made up gods and characters to explain things they saw in human life. So they made up this character called Narcissus to explain these people that love themselves, they are all about themselves, the egotists in life. So this is nothing new. It didn't start in the 70s. This has been going on since recorded time, that there are people that just have an inordinate love of themselves. So they invented Narcissus. Narcissus is a particularly handsome young man.
03:06 One story is that, uh, a water nymph named Echo followed narcissists around hoping that she would become his girlfriend. And Narcissus knew that there's someone following. So he turned around and said, who was there an Echo? Because she was frightened. She didn't know what to say to him. She repeated what he said and she said, who's there? So this kept happening. So Narcissus would turn around and say who was there? And she would hide and she'd show who's there. And this is where they get the idea of an echo. Because what happened was she, Narcissus would not be her boyfriend. And so she got all upset and she run off into the desert and was never seen again. And that's how the Greeks explained what an echo was. It's this water nymph who was following narcissus around and she was spurned in love and therefore she lives in the wilderness. And whenever you hear an echo, that's the water nymph. Anyway, Narcissus so good looking because of this, the gods decided to punish narcissist because of Echo was sent out into the desert by myself. So the punishment was this: one day when he was in the walking in the woods, he came across a pool, a pond, and he went down to drink from the pond. Then he saw his own reflection in the pond. And guess what? He fell in love with himself.
04:31 Yeah, it's true. He fell in love with himself and, but this love could never be reciprocated because that's not a real person. But he didn't know that. So he went mad and eventually killed himself because of this unrequited love that he had of himself. That's Narcissus. So we get the term narcissistic or narcissism, which describes the traits of someone that loves themselves. Now this can be now, by the way, some very bad news for you all is that you are all narcissists. All of you, including me, I would do, I know this, go online and go into Google and type in narcissistic personality test. One of the universities has got a psychometric test that you can take online. It's 14 questions really quick and I will guarantee you - every one of you is on that spectrum of narcissist, right? You are. It's just the fact we're all narcissist and to a certain extent it's sort of natural cause we do like ourselves or we should like ourselves because we are wonderfully made by God. So there is that part of it.
05:39 But when it starts going off the spectrum, it becomes something called narcissistic personality disorder. And that's a psychiatric disorder. And that could be problematic. Most of us are not at that level. I am, but I'm seeing someone about that. So it's not an issue, no. But it's take the test. It's interesting because we're all a bit narcissistic. We are. I mean that's, that's it. We don't have a disease, but you'll find it. So what I thought this is interesting because today's, you know, is the scripture is all about pride and loving ourselves and loving things to the world and not loving God first. Right? So, um, I looked at some of the traits of a narcissist and I compare them with how we treat our faith. So how does the narcissism come into our religious life? How does it manifest itself in the practice about faith?
06:30 So I thought I'd look at a few traits of the narcissist, right? And what I'm talking about these things, just have a little think yourself and see if you see any of this in yourself in any way. I know I do. One of the big traits of a narcissist is obviously the self-focus, the self-focus on interpersonal exchanges that basically it's all about them. And it's all about how they feel and it's all about their emotions. This happens to a lot of us in prayer and in the practice of our faith because it's all about me. It's all about how I feel. It's all about my emotions. I don't pray because I don't get anything out of it. I don't go to Mass because I don't like it. It doesn't do anything for me. I don't like the homily. I don't like the music. No.
07:23 No offense, I do. I don't like, I don't like the priests with a funny accent and I don't like, you know, I don't like that. It's got nothing that is so narcissistic. It's got nothing to do with it. It is your duty to worship Almighty God and we do it in the practice of our Catholic faith by attending the Holy Eucharist, by coming to mass. It's not about I feel or I'm not going to pray because I don't get anything out of it. God chooses to give you consolation or desolation in your prayer. He does not give you a choice not to pray, but the narcissist will say, Nah, I don't like it. It's not about me. I come across all this time in the work that I do for the Archdiocese. Oh, we do it our way. We do it differently. We're special. We don't do what the church says about celebrating mass.
08:09 We, we have our own creed, we have our own, this, that, and the other. You know, no. So narcissistic. The narcissist has difficulty with empathy. They cannot see someone else's suffering. They cannot put themselves in other people's shoes. And we know that's part of the Gospel, right? But they don't have this ability to understand another person's situation. This is a sin against charity. And we see it manifested in all sorts of ways by as judging others, especially those less fortunate than us, the poor. Those on the side of the streets that are begging or sleeping rough, intense. We cannot empathize with them. The true narcissist has got no time for those less fortunate than himself. And that manifest itself in our life. In that way.
08:56 The narcissist has problems distinguishing the self from others. This is a trait which is common, which is, and unfortunately I remember my mother as a young kid saying this to me, "you're never wrong, are you". This a very narcissistic trait when you're always right, my opinion is the right opinion. Everybody else is wrong. Why can't everybody else think like me? If everybody thought like me, the world would be a better place. That's true. That is true, actually. But we can't distinguish ourselves from the others. We want everybody to be like us. We can't accept them for being different from us.
09:37 Here's one trait. The narcissist is hypersensitive to criticism. Think about this in your own life. How do you take criticism? I use sort of like one of those who says, yeah, I could learn. I'm of a certain age now, but I can still learn things. I like to learn things. I like to read a lot. I like to sort of, uh, you know, like B, I like people that know more than I do that tell me stuff. Um, but a lot of people don't, they're hypersensitive to this and they get upset when people criticize them cause they can't, you know, their ego is so bashed by criticism and thus, they never change.
10:14 And again, I see this in the work that I do for the archdiocese. You make any sort of criticism about liturgy to people and so well that this is the way it should be done. [inaudible] nope, we do it our way here, but this is the correct way. Nope, we don't and I don't like to be told either. I don't like to be criticized and this is a problem in the Church and it always probably has been, but most so in today's that there's no docility to the teaching of the Church. The narcissist says, no, I don't know. I don't care what the church says. I know best and I'm going to live my life like this. I'm not going to be humble to the church. Listen to the church. I'm not going to say the church is the mystical body of Christ. The church has the authority to tell me what is a good life, how to lead a good life, how to get to heaven. No, I do it my way and anyone that challenges that position we get very upset with and we walk away from because we're hypersensitive i
11:11 Here is a trait of the narcissist, which I see often the vulnerability to shame rather than guilt. What that means is that the narcissist gets very ashamed of certain actions, say sins, but doesn't see the guilt side of it. They just feel it's bound to the emotions. Again, they feel the shame, but they don't see the justice in the guilt that comes along with that, and that manifests itself in the inability to go to confession because we're so ashamed of the sins. It's more important that our emotions override the guilt that is necessary. That must be resolved by a sacramental confession. So our shame keeps us away from confession. Our shame is greater than the guilt that we recognize. That's a very common narcissistic trade. And in Catholicism it results in the inability to go to confession because we're so ashamed, but we don't realize that that guilt needs to be taken away.
12:19 The narcissist loves to flatter people who admire them, which sort of common sense in that we like people that we liked. Sorry. We like people that like us. Don't we? That makes a lot of sense. We tend not to like people that don't like us. We certainly don't like people that hate us. But what did the Lord say? Love thine enemies. The narcissist doesn't, and narcissist only likes those people in the load. And the Gospel tells us what use is. That if you're just good to your own family and your friends, we need to be the good Samaritans in life. The narcissist couldn't be a good Samaritan.
13:00 The narcissist uses people for their own ends. So think about this. The narcissist is so in love with himself that everything is about them. Everything is got to be giving them some sort of pleasure. Got to be giving them some sort of emotional lift. So all the things that are really plagues on society are down to narcissism because there's no, uh, there's no self-giving at all in the narcissist. It's all about taking. So things like understanding the innate dignity of human life. It doesn't really matter to the narcissist. So things like abortion, things like euthanasia, things like assisted suicide, all the sexual perversions that persist today, pornography, all these things the narcissist uses and encourages and promotes because it's all too self serving end. It's all about pleasure or their comfort or their convenience. The narcissist uses others for their own ends.
14:11 The narcissist pretends to be more important than they actually are. Just remember today's Gospel. You fool tonight, your life will be demanded from you. Do not think you are important in this world, in the sight of God. You are the creature. He is the creator. A few years ago when I was a young priest, I was sent to the Vatican to work and a, I know what you're thinking. No one works in the Vatican. That's sort of true as well. Um, but I thought I was really important. I was a young, official working the Holy, See, I would walk through St Peter's Basilica and the Swiss guard would salute me and I got to work with and things like this.
14:52 And in my first week in the Vatican, my Irish colleague who was much wiser than I said to me working at the Vatican is nothing special. Don't ever forget that. And he says, listen, he says, put your hand in a bucket of water. Put it in as far as your wrist, pull it out, and the hole that remains is a measure of how you'll be missed. And that is very true. I left there seven years later. I'd never heard from any of them since. But it's true. Let us not be narcissistic in thinking that we're more important than we are. We are not. We've got to remember our relationship between creature and creator. And when we think of that, like St. Paul says, when thinking about above, when we think about supernatural things, then we're insignificant to the whole thing.
15:42 Finally, this is the most dangerous trait of a narcissist, I think. A narcissist has a denial of remorse and gratitude. What's that mean? The real narcissist never say sorry. And the real narcissist never says thank you. We all know people like this who are ungrateful, that never say thank you. And they'll never say sorry either. Why? Just narcissistic. That's why. Now, how does that manifest itself in the Catholic faith? Quite simply, we have two sacraments that counteract this. We have the holy Eucharist, which is Thanksgiving itself, and we have the sacrament of reconciliation, which is that remorse. It's that saying, I'm sorry.
16:39 These two sacraments help us overcome this narcissistic trait of the denial of remorse and Thanksgiving or gratitude, the Eucharist, the source and summit of the Christian life. It is an act of thanksgiving. It is saying thank you to God and by receiving that Eucharist, it allows us to overcome these traits where we're tempted to not give thanks. By receiving the Eucharist we give thanks to the Lord, but on the other hand, we can give thanks to the rest of our community, the rest of our families, our friends, etc.
17:15 Remorse. The narcissist never admits that he's done something wrong. He never says, I'm sorry. We have this beautiful sacrament of reconciliation to go to the Lord to say I'm sorry, and to be reconciled to him through that beautiful sacrament of grace.
17:35 So the narcissist doesn't want to say thank you, doesn't want to say sorry. The Catholic, on the other hand says thank you all the time to God, primarily by the celebration of the Eucharist and says, sorry to the Lord by admitting our mistakes and going to the sacrament of confession. So I leave you with those thoughts. As I say, you can go in line and test how narcissistic you are, but have a think about how that, if you are got some of these traits and we all have, by the way, if you've got some of these traits, let them not come into the practice of your faith. Think about these things, how they work, and especially those two things about saying thank you in the Eucharist and saying, I'm sorry in reconciliation.