Can You Love a Narcissist?

Dear Christian Counselor,

 

I’ve read a few blogs and been told by a counselor to cut off the narcissist in my life because it’s too difficult to maintain a relationship with someone who thinks about themself all the time. I admit I’ve been hurt in the past, but I’m not sure I’m ready to take such a big step. What do you think about black-and-white advice like this?

 

Wondering How to Love a Narcissist

 


Dear Wondering,

 

I’d need a lot more information to give you my best advice, but, in general, I think it’s unwise to make black-and-white rules about a whole category of people based on a subjective diagnosis. It would be rather like saying you should never pet large dogs. While that decision might keep you safe, it would also limit your life in a way which might not be necessary and might not be God’s best for you.

 

We all start life as narcissists. We all come into this world seeing ourselves as the center of it, possessing little or no empathy for others, manipulating those around us and believing in our own hyperbolic specialness. Most of us are able to grow past that stage, but for reasons no one understands, a few people never do. Yet even for adults diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, there is a continuum; all personality disorders are variable and subjective in their diagnosis, presentation and degree. Most narcissists are not serial killers, though an extreme few are. Some are quite good at their jobs. Some maintain marriages and families and friendships. A few even manage to improve over time.

 

For the reasons stated above, I don’t think you can lump all narcissists and their loved-ones together and make blanket statements about how to deal with them. Are we talking about a lover, an employer, a sibling, a friend? We have more responsibility toward some than others. And what of the person asking the question – what are they strong enough to do? What are they being called to do? You might need to separate from a narcissist, either temporarily or permanently, because your heart has been so damaged that you can no longer relate to that person at all, in any helpful way. But that is not always how Jesus dealt with difficult, unsafe people (Judas and even Peter, for example). In many cases there is probably some middle ground between being consumed and ending all contact. The mistake generally comes in believing that love means allowing yourself to be consumed.

 

I am not sure we can say God has the exact same ‘no-contact’ plan for every person who is afraid of large dogs – nor for everyone who knows a narcissist.

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