A Pastor Shells Soapbox Sermon
Rev Shelley Griffiths
30th October 2023
Has narcissism been normalised in our society?
First of all, let me clarify that there is a world of difference between someone who has a pathological condition known as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), and those who display narcissistic traits. For the purposes of this discussion, I am talking about the latter. What I fear we are normalising are the traits that we usually associate with people that have NPD. Understanding the distinction between the two is crucial to comprehending what I am about to discuss. If I refer to the ‘condition’ of narcissism, I am not suggesting it is a pathological and potentially incurable disorder. I am attempting to bring hope to the table not grim conclusions that some people are beyond help.
By asking if someone is being narcissistic, it should not imply that they suffer from the disorder, but rather that they are behaving like someone that has the disorder. Challenging the behaviour and investigating why someone chooses to be a certain way is the key to understanding them. It’s a tricky catch 22 because to heal from the condition requires connection and forgiveness yet the narcissistic outsider is generally only accepted if they pretend they are not narcissistic.
Is it possible we may have demonised the condition and written people off to the extent that the only way they can receive validation and love is to manipulate and charm their way in? I can’t help wondering if there could be a different approach to healing our society of this sickness? Because it is a sickness. A sickness that is causing us such harm, it may well be devolving us. By allowing our battered egos to rule us, I can’t help wondering if we have allowed the sickness to rewire our brains into a species that no longer cares that it is destroying itself.
It is well known and scientifically proven that trauma rewires the brain. What is less known is that healing also rewires the brain so what I would like to examine is the idea that if narcissism is a trauma based disorder, then by healing the trauma, it should stand to reason that you can cure the narcissistic traits. This is widely rejected by majority and the only advice I have been able to find on how to respond to someone narcissistic is to exclude, block and ignore. The general mantra in narcissistic survivor groups is that they will never change; or that if they do it’s an act and they will not be able to maintain it for long. This seems terribly ableist to me. Just because it's more challenging to some who have been affected by trauma does not mean issues cannot be resolved.
There is a lot of information widely available regarding NPD, but if we can step away from the pathological condition and instead consider trauma rewiring to include Cluster B personalty types then we could should also include other conditions such as borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and co-morbid conditions such as anxiety and OCD. For people interested in becoming truly educated in matters of cognitive behaviour and psychology, the information is out there.
There are many books, essays, documentaries, medical journals, first hand accounts from people with the above mentioned conditions, and so many social media platforms where people can share experiences and debate important issues that there is really no excuse for not learning why people are the way they are. We have the tools literally at our fingertips to gain a greater understanding so why are so few using these free resources and in doing so, increasing empathy for our fellow beings? Why does connectivity and inclusivity matter so little to the majority? It is this question that then leads me to wonder what is preventing us from being so kind to one another we could eradicate racism, ableism, misogyny and even war in just one generation if we wanted to? In short, I guess what I am asking is what is wrong with us?
In trying to understand each other, we may well discover one of the key reasons why our society is collapsing. The demise of our species can’t be entirely down to billionaire sociopaths and world leaders can it? It is my firm suspicion that apathy and cognitive dissonance might be preventing us from evolving into a more empathic species intent on saving our planet so instead we are hurtling towards mass extinction and caring very little about it. Why don’t more people care? For those of us banner wielding activists it’s been an unsettling experience to see how many people simply don’t want to hear the truth or consider the consequences of their choices.
It looks a lot like a mass hypnosis to those who have woken from the sleepwalking existence of only serving ourselves and our immediate kin to seeing the bigger picture. Could the reason why we aren’t all doing everything we possibly can to unify in our attempts to save our species is because we have been programmed not to? Is it possible we have been so utterly brainwashed into thinking our own personal happiness trumps all other issues that we only need concern ourselves with our own wellbeing and as a result, we are now devolving as this sickness takes hold? Are we devolving into extinction?
Propaganda and false advertising designed to keep us in our own bubbles of survival and believing anyone that is different is not to be trusted is not helping in what I (and others like me) are calling the Era of the Self. It’s looks a lot like a giant cult where those that question it are labelled conspiracy theorists or disruptors and are outcast. Doomscrolling on mobile devices has replaced self-awareness and real life education and experiences are replaced with addictions to online dopamine hits. Not only might the virtual world be preventing us from connecting with each other in real life, it might also be a contributing factor to our dwindling ability to think critically.
Critical thinking and the ability to question the status quo are crucial to our development as a species that is able to adapt to our now rapidly changing environment. We live in an age of abundance yet the system we currently have is failing the majority by allowing psychopathic leaders and billionaires to control everything so that the gap between those who have and those who have not grows ever larger. The more we increase in population size the more the need to control and subdue us by the powers that be. We are a threateningly large number if we collaborated.
It could be argued that recent events in our historical timeline are enough to put the majority of humans into a form of survival mode which is instinctively narcissistic in nature. There is no room for empathy, compassion, or even reflective thinking in the mind of someone who is operating in a trigger-happy fight-or-flight survival mode, so therefore I have to ask: is it time we start asking important questions about why we are the way we are and what it is we can do about it?
Whilst it is rare to meet someone who has so many narcissistic traits they could well be diagnosed as having NPD, there are a large number of people who display enough traits to have me worried. Since when did we adopt the mantra that it isn’t selfish to put yourself first? (there was a meme doing the rounds not long ago that literally said this!) or that we no longer need to examine our motives when it comes to our daily choices? We are all mostly just ‘getting by’ and surviving instead of thriving but this should be totally unacceptable! The cost of living crisis coupled with rent trap dynamics where the only way to survive is to work full time to live in a house you are never in because you are always working to pay for it is also unacceptable and in terms of mental health, entirely unsustainable. A revolution in thinking is long overdue!
When one begins to break down the motives behind every choice, whether that be deciding what to eat, what to wear or how to treat someone demanding your attention, only then will we start to see just how much we have normalised narcissistic intention. When you realise you are choosing tastebuds over integrity, convenience over effort, or that Eastenders matters more than supporting a friend in need you start to overcome the cognitive dissonance that comes with accepting you might be the problem here.
If we can begin to accept we now live in a dystopian nightmare foretold by the likes of Aldous Huxley and Margaret Atwood, we can start to understand that our psychological responses are actually trauma based reactions. Only then can start to forgive ourselves for meandering off the path of kindness and into an amygdala prompted fight-or-flight existence where survival of the ego becomes the priority.
We have been brainwashed into competing with each other instead of lifting each other up, brainwashed into thinking it’s normal to consume death and torture when we just don’t need to, brainwashed into thinking our own personal happiness and comfort are all that matters. Brainwashed into thinking there can be peace without understanding what causes conflict. When you strip it all away and question what our parents and forefathers taught us and start again, we find we have a choice on how we can be. We can completely reinvent ourselves into healed beings where the prime directive is to evolve, become kinder and more empathic. The only obstacle is the ego and its addiction to being rewarded.
Narcissistic traits such as self-importance and a preoccupation with looks, beauty and success are considered entirely normal now. Selfies are normal. Lip fillers, botox, fake hair, fake nails, fake tans are all normal. Cosmetics tested on animals normal. Eyelashes that once belonged to a mink normal.
The celebrity worshipping masses care more about what they will be wearing on Saturday night than concerning themselves with melting ice caps. In fact, if you reject any of the beauty ‘norms’ and choose instead to try and save the planet, you will be branded as not normal. The exploitation of each other as well as animals for either pleasure or ‘advancement’ is normal now. The desire to be admired perfectly normal. The ability to shift blame onto others and avoid accountability at all costs also normal. Toxic positivity and shying away from any conversation that might be uncomfortable is now normal. ‘Only good vibes here’ people are often the most shallow and narcissistic of all because they avoid anything too deep or gritty. It’s all very well looking on the bright side, but if we ignore the darkness seeping into our souls we can’t address it.
Our super-polite and fake society means we’re far more likely to avoid negativity and close our eyes to the suffering of those within our communities. We’re even less likely to exercise empathy to people across the other side of the world that might be suffering. Forget that we voted in the government that is now funding a war we pretend isn’t happening because those people don’t matter to us. They simply don’t matter, and should someone point out that perhaps our choices have consequences that might be ugly when looked at, the truly toxic traits of narcissism become apparent. Gaslighting, transference, defensiveness, stonewalling, ridiculing and mimicking all used to belittle and undermine the truth-tellers.
Often when a mirror is held up, the person doing the reflecting is hailed as dramatic or over-sensitive. Opportunities to talk dismissed because no-one wants those uncomfortable conversations anymore. All the those memes online telling you that no-one has the right to judge you or make you feel bad about your choices have led us here - to a place of such abject entitlement and sociopathic avoidance of the real self, I often fear we may be doomed.
Extinction Rebellion tell us it is time to tell the truth and whilst they may well be talking about fossil fuels, animal agriculture, aviation and such like, I would urge everyone to take that a step further and start to tell the truth about your true motives for ALL your choices. It’s time to psychoanalyse the shIt out of everything! Abandon this toxic notion that overthinking is even a thing and start thinking about everything!
Of course, I would recommend periods of frivolity, rest and self-nurturing to provide balance and regeneration but for those of you who think there is not work to be done to evolve I ask you to reconsider your position. The moment that you find yourself comfortable and settled is when you’ve stopped evolving. Like the lobster that experiences discomfort on such a pressing existential level that the only way to survive is to shed his old self and become soft and vulnerable, so too must we be willing to be vulnerable. To ditch people-pleasing peace in favour of justice and righteousness. And maybe also be prepared to be wrong. We have demonised being wrong and hailed being successful as the height of achievement but I would suggest that the most impressive human achievement I ever saw was someone prepared to be held accountable and be willing to change. And to stick with it. Change must be constant if we are to heal and evolve.
Instead of avoiding those awkward truths such as how many animals die for you everyday for you to live, start recognising the darker side of your choices and seeing who you have become so that you can do better. Be better. It’s called shadow work in psychological terms, and meeting your toxic inner-tribe members can help you recognise that they are only trying to protect you. When you understand that, you start to self-parent and thank the triggered persona that would have you behaving appallingly if you allowed them to have control. When you understand why you choose and react the way you do, you can spot where narcissism has snuck in and put your ego in charge. Killing the ego is how we will evolve.
It’s time to drag those less than ideal choices out into the light and ask yourself if you have the arrogance of a narcissist to think that others should suffer so that your existence can be easier or more convenient? What makes you so special others should be killed, tortured, exploited and harmed so you can look pretty, or so that you can eat turkey at Thanksgiving because your forefathers did? What makes it okay for you to treat someone broken with contempt? Or decide that someone isn’t welcome or included because they act weird? Ask yourself why don’t the needs of others matter to you?
If we find we are focussing our energies on people who love a false version of ourselves, we will never really know true self-acceptance because everything is an act. If you feel a yearning for deeper connections and would be keen to grow spiritually and emotionally if only it wasn’t so time consuming and painful, let me tell you it's like ripping off a bandaid - the first look is ugly but when you also see how hard you have tried to be good and how much you have been brainwashed you also find a level of self-forgiveness that - ironically - leads to real self-love. Obviously it’s a more enlightened self-love that has broken away from the narcissist trap of modern survival. The more that self-awareness overrides the ego and becomes altruistic in nature, the closer we are to healing. With each step away from the normalisation of narcissism comes the collective evolution of our species.
Having found myself to be quite the narcissist magnet with my guileless neurodiversity making me easy prey, I have had to learn how to spot the more Machiavellian narcissist and separate them from those that want to heal. I am in a number of narcissistic abuse survivor type groups and if ever I pose the question on whether people with multiple narcissistic traits can heal from their trauma and cease to be narcissistic in nature, there is an overwhelming response of ‘hell, no, they will never change’. Despite this, I still believe change is not only possible, it’s crucial to our evolution. We ALL have narcissistic traits to overcome. We all have to kill our egos to be born again as someone new.
Every single person who thinks their existence is more important than another’s - whether that is a neighbour, maybe a refugee, a partner and of course those that see animals as food sources has the chance to wake up, reinvent themselves and choose kindness over personal comfort or convenience. Until we overcome the narcissistic sociopathy that has infected our civilisation, we will continue to be as arrogant, entitled and self-important as those who actually have the full pathological disorder and really can’t help being the way they are.
There’s a myth that if you ask yourself if you’re a narcissist, then you aren’t one because a narcissist can’t self-reflect or accept criticism - but this is not entirely accurate. Narcissism is a bit like a spectrum and one does not need to meet the entire qualifying criteria of having NPD to have narcissistic tendencies.
Recognising you have narcissistic traits and being willing to be held accountable for them is a sign of emotional maturity and as such, a cultural shift towards the celebration of ‘owning your shit and working on it’ should be how we now measure success on personal levels, not how stable you are emotionally. Being willing to admit you were wrong and are now committed to changing should be normalised, not this glossy fake world so many people currently pretend to fit into where talking about your issues is seen as 'washing your dirty laundry in public' or 'oversharing'.
One of the many outcomes of being prepared to look at your choices, past, present and future means that you will see yourself in your truest form. It might not be easy to see if you have made poor choices, and like the twelve step programme practiced by self-confessed addicts wishing to heal, you might have to make amends with people you have hurt. You might have to suffer a period of grieving when you realise the full extent of the suffering you have inflicted on others. How many animals have had to die. How many people you have used then ghosted or been unkind to. It takes courage to see how narcissistic your behaviour might have been, but you can take comfort on knowing it is unlikely you have full NPD if you are willing to work on those toxic traits and that you can heal if you want it enough.
When you see who you have become, it becomes easier to work out why. For those not ready to be held accountable for their actions, this can lead to the ego stepping in and supplying endless scapegoats to blame everything on. But here’s the thing: blaming how you are on an abusive childhood, or being raped, or cheated on, or lied to is very different to understanding where a trauma came from. Apportioning blame is not a healing act and you give away your power to evolve away by transferring accountability. Terrible things may have happened to you, but recognising that they no longer need to define you is a great first step on healing and rewiring your brain. What they did is on them, not you.
What they did is on them, not you.
Being angry with those that have harmed you is part of the healing process but until you can get to a place of compassion for those that may or may not have intended to harm you, you will always be a product of their actions and their influence.
To break free of all generational curses, whether that be a predisposition to a mental health disorder or the normalising of abuse that may well have been handed down in family traditions, we must have compassion for ourselves too. We are all a product of our environment to some degree, so whilst a prayer for courage to change what we can, accept what we can’t and have the the wisdom to know the difference seems apt, know this: you can’t possibly know what you can change until you start trying to change it. You simply can’t count on wisdom to guide you in every case. Only those prepared to look deeply will be able to even ask the question about whether something that evokes a strong reaction is down to the wisdom of gut instinct and experience or trauma triggering a fear response. Suspending disbelief and being open to miracles is the only way to embrace all possibilities.
Being open to being wrong is very important when one considers that there are other reasons for people to behave like narcissists other than being narcissistic. Autism, ADHD and other neurodiversities often have many and varying traits that mimic narcissism so it’s important to recognise that whilst some are able to heal and rewire their brains, there are also people who are born with a condition that cannot be cured. Invisible disabilities make it hard to know if someone is either masking to hide their autism or faking being nice in attempt to groom you, so I prefer to assume that everyone is fundamentally a good person and not out to get you. That said, there are times when the red flags are raised and I can feel myself shutting down. It's those occasions when I fear I may have overshared and weaponised a covert narcissist who just filed away my personal confessions to be used against me later.
It's been a sharp learning curve to discover that many of the 'gentle hippies' I have encountered who have often chosen kindness to animals turn out to be rather cruel to their fellow humans. I suspect animals haven't traumatised them the way humans have and so they gather around campfires, sing songs and offer sycophantic rewards to all that 'play along'. Being 'nice' and being 'calm' confused with being kind or stable. Whilst they claim to want deeper connections to each other, gong therapy replaces deep reflection and clutching a piece of rose quartz is considered more likely to bring a new love rather than working on yourself. Dare to suggest taking ayahuasca is a form of spiritual bypassing, you're likely to get the same cognitive dissonance and avoidance of being held accountable as the Christian waiting for a saviour to come and rescue us or who thinks ten Hail Marys is all you need to do to gain forgiveness for being wicked.
The narcissistic type usually has a hidden agenda behind the fake smiles, so it became quite difficult to me to tell who was genuinely supportive of our altruistic projects and who was just looking to feather their own nests with the promise of cheap land and a community that grew food together. Being autistic, I struggled with many aspects of pioneering the visions into reality; my tone considered rude, my tendency to take people literally a liability and of course the fact that my mere presence makes many people feel existentially uncomfortable meant that my inner angels often aggravated their inner demons. My goodness considered pious, my attempt to inspire seen as preachy and even my offers to share my good fortune was triggering to those not prepared to share their own sweeties.
Autistic people rarely intend to cause harm and are so greatly misunderstood they are often accused of being narcissistic when in fact they have a social disability that is not widely recognised. In authentically expressing how I feel, I have been accused of having ulterior motives: either being passive aggressive or that my goal is to make people feel bad, but I simply don't work that way. I'm rather guileless when it comes down to it. I might sit on my hands so that I don't stim or hold in a thought in case I'm being inappropriate so I might appear to be neurotypical to most but I struggle socially. Terms like ‘high functioning’ are not helpful as so many autistic people are forced to mask to be accepted into society and then experience debilitating burnouts or have their meltdowns at home where no-one sees the struggle. Isn’t it time we accepted and welcomed everyone regardless of their mental health or neurodiversity? I have to ask: does it actually matter whether someone's issues are because of nature or nurture? True inclusivity is to not judge, but to give people a chance.
A key factor in assessing whether someone is narcissistic is to look at their levels of empathy. Despite the myth that autistic people lack empathy, the majority have an abundance of empathy; so much in fact that it can become overwhelming and can lead to shutting down. The neurodiverse overwhelm can all too easily trigger PTSD and when on the edge of a meltdown, the autistic person becomes unable to consider how their actions affect those around them. It can look like controlling behaviour when everything is too loud or too bright, and it’s hard to switch from amygdala based fight-or-flight to operating from the part of the brain that deals with compassion for how others might be receiving the autistic request to have their needs met. The thing about the hyper-sensitivity of neurodiverse people is that we could be seen as wonderful barometres of society if people were willing to listen, as we readily sound the alarm of sociopathy within our communities and highlight the narcissism of our age. Perhaps not with the aplomb of a charismatic leader, but until we start measuring success with how real we are allowed to be, we will continue to shun the truth teller and dismiss them as burdens not gifts.
It is also worth noting that there are different types of empathy. What many autistic and neurodiverse people lack is not emotional empathy (which often presents as a form of hyper-empathy in autistic females) but rather possessing the skill of cognitive empathy which is the ability to predict how someone is going to react to your words or actions. Cognitive empathy can be used to make kinder choices, but it is also something that narcissistic personality types will use to control and manipulate an outcome. If you know how someone is likely to react, that knowledge can be used just as easily for nefarious reasons as well-intentioned ones. When I was school, we had an art teacher that would ditch all tasks and spend the whole lesson talking about the war if someone asked him about it. None of us were really that interested in the war at all, but we knew how he would react to being asked about it and used that knowledge to do as little as possible. Narcissistic abusers will use their often extensive cognitive empathy skills to gaslight and destabilise their victims with a mixture of love bombing, grooming and charm followed by ghosting, stonewalling, ridiculing and abuse - whether physical or psychological, it forms part of a pattern that treats people as supplies and not people.
Until we all start questioning our motives on every level, we don’t really know how much our ego might be steering our ship. For those firmly ensconced in the grip of their ego, they may be largely unaware that they are using their cognitive empathy skills to make sure a situation goes their way. There is an innate sneakiness that may not appear to be part of a cognitive decision-making process in those that are most determined not to face themselves. The greater the denial of less-than-desirable motives, the more likely it is that the person in denial will refute any possibility they may be narcissistic and so they will never heal or know true self-love. They switch their focus to a form of shallow self-worship with the words of cosmetic advertising ringing loud in their ears ‘because you’re worth it’ and ignore their starved conscience. The more the conscience is ignored the greater the cognitive dissonance when challenged over it. But here’s the thing that everyone needs to take on board to embrace true inclusivity and heal this sickness: narcissists can still be good people. They might be ‘morally-challenged’ and it take a lot more self reflection and honesty than those who have not been shaped by trauma but it’s still achievable to heal and be held accountable. Practicing radical honesty is key to this.
When we start to forgive people for their ‘faulty wiring’ we can start to help them. This does not mean allowing them to manipulate or gaslight us. Strong boundaries and a keen ability to recognise the red flags of narcissism can enable us to ‘let them back in’ to some degree but we must remain vigilant. New or relived trauma can trigger even the most evolved human back into a state of narcissistic egotism.
Instead of demonising narcissism, let’s reframe the narrative into opportunities to see where more healing work is required. Starting to recognise your own toxic traits is the best way to overcome narcissistic habits. It’s never nice to have someone else point them out, but if we can start seeing feedback (both good and bad) as an act of love so that we can evolve, we will start to welcome the opportunity to see how other people receive us. So many misunderstandings and ended relationships could be avoided if we were simply able to talk about what’s going on beneath the surface.
We should be able to tell people openly and without shame that we might be struggling with empathy today as an old trauma has put us back into angry teenager narcissistic mode. Wouldn’t it be great if that became as normal as saying we might struggling with speaking as we have had a throat infection? Neither should have shame attached to it but we do have a habit of ditching people with illnesses or conditions that require us to accommodate them by altering our own behaviour. The ‘why should I’ entitlement bouncing off each other in a sociopathic spiral into total spiritual detachment from each other. We have internalised this unempathic position for too long.
Next time you find yourself worrying about how you look or thinking that you need to pretend to like someone to get ahead, ask yourself if you are normalising your internalised narcissism? Are you trying to schmooze and groom people’s view of you? What might be driving this? Have you been brainwashed into thinking that skills that help you to ‘win friends and influence people’ will lead to true understanding and deeper connections?
Let me ask you what would happen if, instead of wearing a glib mask of charisma you were to be authentic and told the truth? Could you ever be brave enough to consider confessing those less-than-honourable thoughts because you feel triggered? Would you find you’d lose friends or promotions at work? Would it mean people would start to dislike you? If it does, then I would like to pose the question of whether you are living the way you are meant to, because if the only way you can be what you’ve been programmed to believe as successful is to be a fake then the brainwashing is complete. To wake up you need to get real. Even if the real you is ugly to look at because without facing the facts, you can’t alter them and become beautiful on the inside as well as out.
I grew up in the 70s and 80s and certain things that we now consider culturally unacceptable were considered pretty normal back then. Hitting your kids for example. Smoking. Drink driving. Misogyny. I’ve watched our attitude collectively change towards people who did these things. We can make narcissism culturally unacceptable too if we want to, but it starts with recognising the sickness within ourselves and working on ourselves to overcome it.
As those with the worst narc traits are the most unlikely to want to change and will, in fact be deeply offended by the accusation, it’s up to us to either help them see what’s occurring with kindness and love, or simply stop giving them power over us. Instead of thinking love bombing is romantic, let's see it as an indication of unhealed trauma.
The more we educate ourselves to recognise the reg flags and know when we are being gaslighted, groomed, love bombed, manipulated and abused, the more we can strengthen our boundaries, lessen our own traumas and not become narcissistic abusers like the ones who made us this way. In short, we must stop passing on our traumas by normalising it.
We must break the cycle where we can. It starts with ourselves and our own family members. Once we become intolerant to narcissistic abuse in our own circles, we will start to see the traits in leaders we keep putting in charge of us. The revolution starts at home.