The practice of mysticism is inextricably linked with narcissism, both within the inner world and externally. Narcissists serve as the enemy, the opponent, the often unwitting vessels for evil. They are loud mirrors, messengers, invitations for integration, and wonderful sparring partners for the journey. They bring out all of what does not want to be seen nor acknowledged, operating always by intricate divine design.
Understanding narcissism (though not necessarily the narcissist’s mind) is understanding the ego and many of its goals and functions. Coming completely out of idealizations and denials, brings one face to face often with the horrific sadism, exploitation, manipulations, and psychopathy in its more malignant expressions, forcing a complicated reconciliation process, not just with the unbounded existence of evil, but also with all the suffering it causes.
Learning how to engage narcissists correctly externally, while taking in their messages and reflections to work through internally is of paramount importance to growth and cultivation of virtue.
Please don’t misunderstand my intent. I do not mean here to glorify them, nor condone their destructive behaviors. There is no value in merely enduring the great suffering they cause. I also don’t suggest mindlessly hating them, raging at them, fighting them, or trying to avenge what they’ve done. None of that leads anywhere meaningful nor productive. But there is a middle ground in there. A middle ground that offers incredible opportunities for spiritual growth. This means I do not hold them in the same regard as I did years ago, one that is primed to fear them, avoid them, tiptoe around them, or even condescend to them as though they are children, which are all positions I once believed and exercised.
We must find instead the courage to see their evil, to recognize and admit it fully, to then admit our real feelings about it, to own our powerlessness in trying to combat it, to rectify the grave intolerable injustices of their existence and immunity from punishment, and to figure out how to use what they offer us for the highest good.
At the same time, we must recognize all of what we perceive about them within ourselves, in the depths of our unconscious selves, which is stuff that doesn’t want to come to the surface. We must let go of our sense of moral superiority (often our unearned sense of goodness and self-righteousness), and find how we are quite often just like the one we perceive (though perhaps exercising greater self control and repression of our destructive impulses.).
Though we might not treat another person the way they do, our conscience perhaps recoiling at the idea of harming, manipulating, or abusing another, our egos certainly treat our authentic selves precisely the way the narcissist represents symbolically for us on the outside. We bulldoze our still small voice of the feelings, our inner child and her pains, our intuitive guidance and gut feelings, regularly, all in an effort to fit in, to belong, and to find societal acceptance. We don’t say no when we want to say no. We don’t say yes when we want to say yes. We adhere to how we ought to be, rather than how we actually are inside. We are afraid to voice our hurt feelings and vulnerabilities. We are afraid to stand up for what we believe in when there are costs to bear. All of these things require significant internal violence, that is precisely the kind of violence narcissists inflict on the outside.
Showing us what we are doing to ourselves is one of the narcissists primary functions (among several others). Where we are weak, they will knock us down. Where we are unassertive, they will shamelessly intrude. Where we are too sacrificing, too generous, too willing to give underserved chances, they will exploit. Where we refuse to become aware and take responsibility, they will display, reveal, taunt and domineer. Where we fear to confront, they will take advantage and get away with all kinds of horrors. Where we try to serve our egos in covert ways, they will deny us that kind of supply, so that we may see the truth of our beliefs and behaviors. When we attempt to dominate others to extinguish the threat they represent, they will outdo us in spades. When we begin trying to fight them (a form of assertive confrontation), with conscious awareness, they reveal to us our prides, our own gradiosities, our vengeful desires, our own hidden cowardice and violence, our tyrannical childish self-will, our own self-silencing, etc. There is a lot there to see…
They serve us in myriad ways, causing pain and hardship and tremendous suffering, all in an effort to help us learn and grow. In this more responsible interactive experience with them, they will unconsciously fill in the gaps to reveal where our gaps exist, and where work must be done to strengthen our characters. Better understanding that process eases the way forward, bringing not just a sense of meaning to suffering, but a workable empowering path to growth.