What are the dangers of focusing too much on yourself?
According to Psychology Today, narcissism can range from an annoying tendency to a serious clinical disorder. We aren’t talking just about people who imitate the character Narcissus, the handsome young man of Greek mythology who withdrew from the world, content to gaze forever at his own reflection in a pool of water. People with this kind of focus on self are pathetic but basically harmless.
No, real-life narcissists desperately need other people to validate their own worth. “It’s not so much being liked,” says Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University. “It’s much more important to be admired. Studies have shown narcissists are willing to sacrifice being liked if they think it’s necessary to be admired.”
This craving for admiration is a red flag, one of the clearest warning signs of narcissism. So how can we spot this tendency in ourselves, and what can we do about it? We can take instruction from the writer of Psalm 39, who says to God, “my lifetime is like nothing in your eyes. Yes, a human life is nothing but a puff of air!” (Psalm 39:5). The psalmist knows that people “wander around like shadows” and that only God should be admired (verse 6). Serenity cannot be found in a focus on self and in a craving for admiration.
The Psalm encourages people to focus on God instead of on the things of this world. Conquering narcissism begins when people discover that they cannot find self-worth in the “hustle and bustle” of daily life, or in “the wealth they’ve amassed” (verse 6). Instead, a life of peace and serenity comes from establishing life-giving relationships.
Jesus teaches us that God — not ourselves — should be at the center of our lives, and that the greatest of commandments is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). He goes on to say that a second commandment is like it: “You must love your neighbor as you love yourself” (verse 39).
The solution to narcissism is healthy relationships with God, with neighbors, and with self. Notice that Jesus does not want us to hate ourselves or diminish ourselves — no, we are to love ourselves. We can do this without becoming narcissists.
“So now, Lord, what should I be waiting for?” asks the writer of Psalm 39. Not for the admiration of others or the accumulation of wealth. Instead, the psalmist’s answer should be ours: “My hope is set on you” (verse 7). Admiring God is the key to a life of personal peace.
Help me to admire you, God, and to find peace in my love of you, my neighbor, and my self. Amen.