I often get asked if a narcissist can be healed. My answer is sometimes hard for people to accept. When I say that narcissists don’t change, I generally mean it. The pushback I often get is that with God all things are possible, even a narcissist being healed. So in this post, I want to both qualify my answer about whether narcissists change and what God can or is willing to do about it.
But before we talk about anyone being healed, I first have to define a few things. Narcissistic behavior is different from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. We all have had times where we blame others for that which we ourselves are responsible. We have all been filled with pride and tried to get our own way. And mental illnesses such as addiction and depression have a way of emphasizing that narcissism. Our miseries clog our perception of reality with endless pictures of ourselves. Everyone has been overly self-absorbed at one time or another.
But Narcissistic Personality Disorder is another matter altogether.
Here is a brief list of common symptoms:
Low levels of empathy
High levels of insecurity
An inflated sense of self-importance
A sense of entitlement
A tendency to exaggerate
Arrogance and boastfulness
Prone to belittling others
An expectation of special treatment, followed by an angry reaction if it’s not received
According to the vast majority of psychologists, a narcissistic personality disorder is not curable, but it is treatable. The main problem in treating it is that those with narcissistic personality disorder are unwilling to acknowledge any perceived weakness
and, thus, rarely seek treatment on their own. Read here for more.
I have read journal after scientific journal and the recurrent theme is that no one has successfully documented a person with true NPD of being cured. I have looked high and low. No one has successfully cured a psychopath either. So if you find evidence, please send it my way.
Except there is one documented case of a narcissist being healed.
Now he didn’t seek treatment, but rather, he underwent a divine intervention. Nebuchadnezzar certainly checked all the boxes above. He is the one who, outraged by Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego’s refusal to bend the knee to the golden monstrosity of a god he mad, sent them into the fiery furnace. Lack of empathy, check. This is what he actually said after having been warned that God was going to humble him:
Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty? Daniel 4:30
Certainly one can sense the enormous grandiosity of his statement. To build a kingdom for the honor of one’s own majesty is to tempt God indeed. Nebuchadnezzar became convinced of his invincibility. Narcissism barely covers it.
But God. The two words that can change everything. God forces the wayward king to change by giving him just the treatment he needs to become a real person again. Nebuchadnezzar has to live outside with the beasts, eating grass and the ability to communicate is taken from him for seven years. Think about it this way. God healed a narcissist by making him live in the lowliest conditions for seven whole years. If that is what it took for the Babylonian king to see reason, then we need to ask ourselves whether it is likely that the narcissists in our lives will be healed given the treatments available through modern methods.
God’s intervention worked, of course. Nebuchadnezzar, after his time is up, says:
And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honored him that lives forever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he does according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say to him, What doest thou? At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honor and brightness returned unto me; and my counselors and my lords sought me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me. Now, I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.
God seems to force the king’s hand in this. I don’t know how often this happens. One of the issues with this story is that God seemingly overcomes the free will of Nebuchadnezzar. He doesn’t often do that that I have noticed. Perhaps that is why so few narcissists change. They will not use their free will to enter into the intense humbling that being healed would require.
Though perhaps that is not the whole story. God removes just enough of the king’s capacity to function and gives him just enough time for him to surrender his will, is perhaps more accurate. At any rate, a lesson should be noted. If it takes God seven years of all-encompassing treatment to bring a narcissist to his knees, should we wonder at all if the narcissists in our lives do not change merely at our request?
I will admit that I had a bit of a laugh at the idea of God suddenly reducing all the narcissists into cow-like creatures. But the truth of the matter is, as one psychologist put it, narcissists have no tolerance for shame. If one begins to confront the enormous well of shame underneath the grandiosity, the result is often suicide. Ironically, narcissists are the weakest among us.
But that God healed a narcissist as flagrant as a Babylonian king is hopeful as much as it is a warning. In the words of Nebuchadnezzar, those that walk in pride, He is able to abase. I know the day is coming when every knee shall bow and every tongue confesses His lordship. I imagine that will be harder for some than for others.
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