Narcissism is indeed the “stain of the old man”. The “old man” is Adam; to those who are familiar, or at least acquainted with John of the Cross, know exactly what I am referring to when using that expression. To those of you who are less familiar with this term, or perhaps have never even heard of it, I will explain it as best I can in “short terms”.
Saint John of the Cross states: “The reason [for this purification- removal of the old man stain- of the dark night of the spirit] is that all the imperfections and disorders of the sensory part are rooted in the spirit and from it receive their strength. All good and evil habits reside in the spirit and until these habits are purged the senses cannot be completely purified of their rebellions and vices” (The Dark Night Book II, Chapter 3).
The stain of the old man is essentially found at the very center of the soul, and in order for Christ to take the place in that focal point, the soul’s greatest defect MUST be rooted up. Our Holy Father, in his famous work Dark Night of the Soul, explains how few souls make it to the purification of the spirit (removing the stain of the old man) because it is a painful process; in fact, a scanty amount of souls have the strength to endure this passive purification, from the Hand of God, without turning back. The saints themselves have called the pains of this purification the same felt in the fires of hell. I firmly believe, though each soul has a different “greatest defect” found at the center, if all had to share the same “greatest flaw” I would only guess that that answer is narcissism (thanks to Adam and Eve). Sounds cliche; I have often rolled my eyes at the word narcissism, mainly because it is used far too much in a secular way, when in reality… it is a real sickness, especially in the spiritual life. Psychologists talk left and right about narcissism and so, the average person, rolls their eyes and does not dig deeper. Today, in secular terms, everyone and their mother is a narcissist!
However, two priests recently discussed REAL narcissism with me, and I was astounded in what they had to reveal on the subject, especially in regards to the spiritual life. The first priest sent me video after video depicting “signs” of narcissism in souls and the dangerous ramifications they can have on the people around them. The second member of the clergy, upon my bringing the subject up, was so bold as to say that “narcissism is a real sickness, it typically is found in one who was seriously hurt somewhere in their childhood, where they were made to feel as though they were not loved. Two things can happen as a result of this- they love others around them with a selfless love, so no one will experience the loss of love they felt, or they can become narcissists. Narcissism is actually rooted in a very deep insecurity.” This really was an unforgettable conversation I had with this zealous member of the clergy. Every single one of us, because of Adam and Eve, struggle with the tendency in desiring to be the center of attention.
It is simply the result of the fall; however, every child of God struggles with this in greater or lesser degrees, and I believe immovably that one will never reach transforming union unless they allow Our Lord to come into their hearts, “clean house” as John of the Cross says, and let God passively purify this great defect: narcissism. As each and every one of us is born with orginal sin, there is a little bit of this sickness to be found in all of us; the great exception being the Immaculate Conception, the Good Saint Joseph (to be sure) and the Son of God. The rest of us are expected to fight the battle against self (the stain), before TRULY batteling powers and principalities. Father also made another profound remark when he said that, those with actual narcissism, need to have their ego fed in some way or another. This is exceedingly dangerous and makes sense when John of the Cross speaks about “the appetites needed to be fed”.
I added the above moving clip to make light of the situation (if you cannot see it, click on the title of this blog and you will be taken to my website where you can view it). We allow Our Lord to remove this stain of orginal sin by accepting every humiliation- which reveals our pride- He sends us and in turn examine the fault with Him, rather than avoid His proddings. Psychologists are right about one thing: narcissism is genetic, but not necessarily in the way they think. It is genetic because it does in fact come from our “original parents” and has been passed down to us whether we like it or not. This is where I always comically say, “Thanks, Eve!”
Signs of Narcissism (“stains of the old man”):
-Exaggerated sense of self-importance
-Very competitive; have to be the best
-Do not listen when another is speaking
-Does not know how to love God, themselves or others in a ordered fashion
-Have a secret satisfaction when they see others fall short
-Express a secret sadness when others do well (especially in growing in perfection with God)
-Feeling superior to others and that one deserves special treatment (especially in the prayer life)
-Feelings are often accompanied by fantasies of unlimited success, brilliance, power, beauty, or love ( this does sound like Satan, but also the promise he ensured to Eve, “you will be like gods”.)
Excessive need for admiration (need to be seen praying or appearing as holy)
-Must be the center of attention (perhaps need to be seen praying, which will provide to the soul a sort of satisfaction that they were noticed etc.)
-Often monopolize conversations
-Must be in control
-deflect and never admit their faults (especially before God)
-Patience feels slighted, mistreated, depleted, and enraged when ignored
Superficial and exploitative relationships
-Relationships are based on surface attributes and not the unique qualities of others
-People are valued only to the extent they are viewed as beneficial
-Are brought up to think they are the best; sometimes this is a result of bad parenting- never correcting their child and instead puffing them up into making them think they are the “golden child”. This is VERY dangerous, because then the stain is more painful to remove because it has been imbedded into the soul based on the envirornment they were brought up in.
Lack of empathy (only talking about what Our Lord has done for you, rather than allowing others a chance to speak)
-Severely limited or totally lacking ability to care about the emotional needs or experiences of others, even loved ones
-Sense of self is highly superficial, extremely rigid, and often fragile
-Self-stability depends on maintaining the view that one is exceptional
-Grandiose sense of self is easily threatened
-Retreat from or deny realities that challenge grandiosity
Difficulty with attachment and dependency
-Relies on feedback from creatures (need to be affirmed from other Catholics that they are holy as well)
-Relationships only exist to shore up positive self-image
-Interactions are superficial
-Have a hard time keeping friendships; often lose friends over time
-Intimacy is avoided
Feelings of emptiness and boredom
-When attention and praise are not available, they feel empty, bored, depressed, or restless
Vulnerability to life transitions
-Difficulty maintaining reality-based personal and professional goals over time
-Compromises required by school, jobs, and relationships may feel unbearable
-Young adults may have a “failure to launch”
Depending on how big the “stain is”, some souls think about suicide and suicidal attempts (this one is actually far truer than people realize- when one speaks about taking their own life, it is because they gave into the temptations Satan used, in ultimately giving into that “sadness” that they fell short in the eyes of man.
If we want to reach the top of the mountain of perfection, John’s path of NADA, NADA, NADA, we must embrace our nothingness, admit our faults and understand that true perfection is found in these words found at the top of the mount: