Friday, February 16, 2007

Pathological Narcissism is a Spiritual Disorder

In the following description of the NPD syndrome, I use the pronoun "she" to refer to the narcissist, for the sake of avoiding the cumbersome "he/she" and " his/her."

A fifth-century theologian who called himself Dionysius the Aereopagite once wrote in The Divine Names that, "The denial of the true Self is a declension from Truth."iiIn the last analysis, in constructing and clinging to their false selves, the entire persona of the NPD is a big lie. That being so, I have come to believe that NPD is not a psychological disorder at all, but a moral and spiritual disorder. Allow me to explain. An intrinsic attribute of the NPD syndrome is deception--of oneself and of others--in the service of maintaining the grandiose false self. Philosopher René Descartes wrote that "willful deception evinces maliciousness and weakness."A person does not deceive without thinking about and willing it. One does not lie unless one intends to hide the truth, which means that one knows that one is being deceptive. Nor can the NPD put together and maintain the elaborate and intricate NPD syndrome of attributes (e.g., using others for self-aggrandisement, attractive social mask, secrecy, evasion, lying, scapegoating, etc.) without conscious effort.

Psychologists say that, in their quiet moments, NPDs know that they are not really as grandiose as they pretend:

When NPDs cynically use others to "feed" their false self, they know it.

When they overreact to perceived criticisms, they know what the truth is.

When they lie to conceal their inadequacies, they have chosen to deceive.

When they scapegoat others, they do so with deliberation.

When they refuse to apologize, they know they are in the wrong.

All of which means that free will is fully engaged in this so-called "disorder."

In effect, the NPD is more than a mental sickness. Pathological narcissism is not some noxious virus or bacteria that overtakes a person. Whatever the early childhood experiences, free will is still operative here. Rather, NPD is a moral disorder, because it is immoral to lie and to use, exploit, blame, and hurt others.

More than immoral, NPD is, at its foundation, a spiritual blight. Since the false self of the narcissist is extremely grandiose, she excludes herself from the moral norms that govern "lesser" beings: "rules don’t apply to me." That makes NPDs their own gods. In so doing, they are in denial of the fundamentally flawed nature of all human beings.

The malignant narcissist is more than immoral, she is evil.

In his book, People of the Lie, Peck proposed to the psychological profession a new diagnostic category of the "evil personality disorder" (EPD) as a sub-type of NPD. As he put it, "The evil are ‘the people of the lie,’ deceiving others as they also build layer upon layer of self-deception." And when the narcissist intentionally hurts another, she has crossed the line from being an NPD to being an EPD. In Peck’s words, "evil individuals will flee self-examination and guilt by blaming and attempting to destroy whatever or whoever highlights their deficiencies.". Except for atheists (who must be very grandiose because they claim to know a negative, i.e., that God does not exist),viall of us--the religious as well as agnostics--believe in the existence of some supreme moral being or force in the universe.

Recognizing that, most of us harken to these words of Descartes: "I have been so constituted as to be some kind of middle ground between God and nothing .

I am not the supreme being, I lack quite a few things.

Dionysius the Areopagite concluded that being self-centered is "inherently wrong" because we have "no right to be the centre of things" as only God is the rightful center of all things.

Not only is vanity and pride the first of the Seven Deadly Sins, I believe that narcissism is the root of all evil. Decrying the ills that he saw rampant in modern society--the relativization of all moral norms and the reduction of life to the immediate pursuit of material gain without regard to its general consequences--VaÇlav Havel observed that "Given its fatal incorrigibility, humanity will have to go through many more Rwandas and Chernobyls before it understands how unbelievably short-sighted a human being can be who has forgotten that he is not God."

It is the misdiagnosis of pathological narcissism as a "personality disorder" instead of a moral-spiritual condition which accounts for psychiatrists’ characterization of it as "one of the most . . . difficult-to-treat conditions in the lexicon of mental illness.

Dr. Maria Hsia Chang