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Shattering the Idol of Narcissism: Series INTRO - Hiding in Plain Sight

Updated: Jul 5

I have a very beautiful, semi-celebrity acquaintance. Though gorgeous by any standard, she’s always had a penchant for filters. This gal recently posted a new AI picture of herself, which is so artificially accurate it's creepy. You know, the kind of image that not only fine-tunes your facial features and figure but also styles your wardrobe according to carefully researched parameters.

"Here," it says without saying, "this is the best version of you for this purpose."

At 57, with all that entails, I get it. The one-click wonderful is so tempting; the “plastic surgery” I cannot afford.

However good the likeness, like bad movie dubbing, AI is a touch or way off. Like those fictional images a few months back of Presidents Biden and Trump as unlikely chums. It's too good to be true, but it could fool you. Regardless of how good it is, the fact remains: The natural, flawed person is still there. God can see through the veneer. Some people can, too. The disconnect between fact and fiction is dangerous. We can fool ourselves. We can fool others. We cannot fool God.

Where AI will lead us is a foreboding mystery, but we can be sure there are all sorts of dangers when our insides don't match our outsides and when our outsides don't match reality. Yet, a fine-tuned or fake picture may be the least of our problems. It's a mild variant of the ancient ailment of narcissism that's killing us, collectively and individually. Many of our world's problems boil down to this disconnect—hypocrisy of the most toxic variety: narcissism.

Narcissus, by Caravaggio, painted circa 1597–1599.

An Instructive Epidemic

I’ve endured a conspicuous and intensifying succession of toxic encounters with narcissists over the last few years and a lifetime—including, most distressingly—of the religious sort. Both my faith and my recovery prompted me to check myself.

Nerdy, agonized, ever-seeking Isabella has been looking for God’s hand in all this. I’ve intensely debriefed, asking God to show me what he was teaching me. Nothing is wasted in God's economy and nothing he gives is for us alone. We heal and redeem our suffering by sharing our hard-won lessons to help others.

God allowed these experiences not only to reveal, refine, and yes, rebuke me personally but also to underscore a growing yet ageless threat of this toxic, rampant variety of ego-driven faking. He’s also reminded me of the ego-leveling yet lovingly liberating remedy that is the free fix for all of us.

In this series, I’ll unpack this topic further, as usual, sharing my experience, strength, and hope, along with a full suite of resources for all the players in this dastardly drama we’re living out.

The medicine can be hard to take but is liberating and lifesaving.

Defining Narcissism

These days, there are countless experts on the subject of narcissism. I've listed a few below. My take is for a different perspective and purpose. I also want to note that this is neither a victim pity party nor a narc-bashing witch-hunt—well, maybe a little—but not really. You’ll see.

The term "narcissism" is everywhere these days, and like any other buzzword, it's easy to question whether it's a real thing. Yet, more than just trending vocabulary to describe the headline-grabbing demagog or abusive celebrity, narcissism is a far more pervasive and increasing condition that's elusive and contagious, just like an actual virus.  

It's no surprise that scientists say it’s most prevalent among corporate moguls, politicians, and religious leaders. It’s also common in entertainment, law enforcement, academia, sports, and their institutions, including families. Addicts of any kind score high. The gaslighting beau, entitled teen, saccharine frenemy, manipulative mom, revered pastor, or grandiose boss all qualify. That covers a lot of territory.

Narcissism is indeed a global epidemic, with a recent paper citing dozens of studies highlighting the rise in self-importance[i]. One study reports that American adolescents' response to the question “I am an important person” increased from 12% in 1963 to 77–80% in 1992. WOW! Another found a 30% increase in grandiose narcissism indicators.

Those caught in the crosshairs in any setting are subject to incredibly destructive forces, and it takes a lot to heal.

Renowned clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani (Ramani Durvasula), a popular authority on narcissism, calls “exposure to toxic and narcissistic relationships the public health crisis of our time.”

What is it? The short answer is extreme selfishness and self-centered pride that can range from the mildish form common to humans (original sin), all the way to sociopaths and psychopaths. I love how Twelve Step programs describe the ego as edging God out. Indeed, when any of us go our own way, we're effectively making ourselves demi-gods.

Driven by ego, narcs can be extremely perfectionistic, high-performing, and very successful, partly fueled by their ability to secure and exploit others’ talents and devotion. Often charismatic with Svengali-type qualities some attribute to witchcraft, narcs can have large, dedicated, cultish followings that either conform or suffer abuse.

  1. “Have a grandiose sense of self-importance.

  2. Are preoccupied with unlimited success, power, beauty, or ideal love.

  3. Believe they are special and unique and can only be understood by or associated with other high-status people.

  4. Require excessive admiration.

  5. Have a high sense of entitlement, which comes through as unreasonable expectations or demands automatic compliance with their expectations.

  6. Exploit people. They take advantage of others to achieve their own ends.

  7. Lack of empathy.

  8. Are unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.

  9. They envy others and believe that others are envious of them.

  10. Have arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.”

Overt Narcissism

The overt, grandiose variety is easier to spot. These folks don’t try to disguise their traits, and they wield their weapons in obvious ways. They can be brutal dictators, pandering demagogs, corrupt empire-builders, rich religious charlatans, demanding divas, or the like.

A few of these folks are in the headlines right now, some of whom comically or demonically persist in their destructive delusions, only to face more humiliating exposure and graver consequences for their actions if they persist in lying.

Even though overt narcissists are more obvious, their drama conceals a painfully fragile ego and deep insecurity.

Covert Narcissism – Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

The covert variety is scarier and more destructive because they hide. Covert narcs can present a convincing façade of goodness, pseudo-humility, piety, and altruism to mask their inner darkness and void. The malignant varieties are extremely toxic.

If exposed, on purpose or by accident, they will go to extraordinary and even aggressively evil lengths to protect their persona and avenge their egos.

Icky, increasing religious narcissism can be either overt or covert. More on that later, because it’s a critical enough topic to warrant its own coverage.

Why is it Getting Worse?

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” 2 Timothy 3:1-3

God predicted this long before scientists, pundits, and influencers dug into the trend.

Countless studies on the subject report all kinds of contributing causes. I’m going to focus on just a few.

Money, power, and prestige are the critical seeds of danger…for any of us. Relaxed moral standards, expunging God, ever-increasing overnight affluence, and an exponential increase in social media that rewards curated facades are all risk factors. Anyone can fall prey.

Moreover, once you’ve achieved dazzling success in one domain, especially if it’s rapid and extreme, we humans tend to become overly confident and generalize our prowess to all domains. We’ll likely develop other unsavory traits and habits and become increasingly less receptive to criticism or consequences.

Thanks to social media, it’s easier to witness the arc. Regular folks who achieve such heights they eventually seem to believe they’re above the law. Many are crashing and burning before our eyes. It seems almost demonic. Well...Let’s put a bookmark there for now. There are unseen forces at work we’ll discuss more later.

Celebrities aside, it’s a short hop from garden-variety hypocrisy to the more toxic variety.

The Making of a Narcissist

Whatever the exacerbating environmental factors, narcs are often hatched at birth. Aside from genetics and the notion of original sin some say we’re all born with, narcs can themselves be victims of narcissists and suffer terrible neglect and abuse. These injuries can force them to develop a false persona to cope, secure love, and stay safe, leaving all sorts of deficits and distortions that play out over a lifetime.

Conversely, they can suffer from excessive privilege and indulgence, unearned wealth, and being continuously told they’re superior and gifted, even if they’re not. Worst yet, they can be subject to both extremes, as I have, with some of the unfortunate results, only years of therapy, spiritual healing, and recovery have tempered.

You see how this can be a problem for anyone, with all the implications. Egads!

Toxic Hypocrisy

The systems narcs create for themselves to sustain their false selves with knowingly complicit or bamboozled devotees—increasingly enabled by a world gone mad—only deepens the disconnect. Influence and power grow, mushrooming their delusions and the risk of exposure.

Moreover, it’s exhausting and exponentially anxious being a narc because their egos are entirely dependent on externals, outside achievements, and “supply,” the adoring fans and dependent minions who buy into the façade or are pressed into compliance.

This disconnect between reality and fiction is toxic, and the fear of exposure and rejection is crippling. Also, deep down, the narc knows that God sees it all, and they will one day be held to account. Talk about terror. Yes, those who don’t fess up have reason to worry. Jesus and others warned hardcore hypocrites over and over. See Matthew 23 to start.

Tragically, for the narc and all of us, performance-based love or getting love based on a false self always leaves us empty, anxious, and wanting more to anchor us. God wants our security anchored in him alone. That's freedom.

With all that proven nature and nurture to account for this plague, most folks overlook the critical spiritual aspect, which I’ll unpack when I’ve warmed you up to the woo-woo that awaits. It’s essential to understand the metaphysical causes to understand the fix.

Many experts believe narcissism can’t be effectively treated. I disagree. God can fix anything. But as with any condition, accurate diagnosis determines the effective cure. And the reality is, the effective cure for narcissism in all of us is anathema to narcs: ego-deflation.

Narcs & Codependents

All this can elicit real compassion and if we’re honest, some identification since who isn't selfish and self-centered to some degree? But with true narcissists, compassion is dangerous because their fragile egos can lead to outright evil. For this reason, narcs are especially attracted to codependents, who tend to be highly empathic, tolerate abuse and neglect, and are vulnerable, often drawn to narcs as surrogates for their narcissistic caregivers. We’ll explore this more later.

Two ends of a continuum, both narcissists and codependents, are shaped by similar forces but differ in some significant ways.  Narcs will not acknowledge their failings and have a serious lack of empathy while codependents are over-responsible and compassionate, enabling the narc’s destructive traits. (Fellow codependents/empaths: I’ll share more affirming and empowering insight soon!)

Niccolò Machiavelli

Machiavellian Methods

Niccolò Machiavelli was a 15th-century diplomat, author, philosopher, and historian most famous for his work The Prince, which advised all sorts of deception and treachery to advance political agendas. His name became synonymous with nasty manipulations, which are the narc’s stock and trade.

Drawing on contemporary and historical accounts, Robert Green’s multi-million-copy New York Times bestseller The 48 Laws of Power describes how such strategies have been employed to amass power and wealth for millennia.

Narcs, particularly of the covert variety, employ an arsenal of such weaponry to lure, capture, and control prey:

  • Manipulate, bully, and control by alternating rewards and punishments, fostering emotional or financial dependence, granting (love-bombing) and withholding (bread-crumbing) extreme love, attention, gifts, financial rewards, accolades, status, “inner-circle” access, acceptance, privileges, etc.

  • Knowingly and maliciously employ information, slander and gossip to discredit and pit people against one another for their own purposes.

  • Seek and exploit talented, exceptional people with gifts and qualities they lack.

  • Eventually devalue and discard people who aren’t meeting their needs.

  • Demand and reward cultish loyalty and punish perceived disloyalty, compelling others to circle the wagons and ostracize the non-compliant.

  • Abuse and hoard power, elevating themselves and oppressing others.

  • Often have secrets or double lives.

  • Gaslight their prey with outrageous, elaborate, or childish lies, crazy-making, conflicting behavior, vehement denials, or scapegoating when confronted.

  • Narcs seldom apologize sincerely. The covert kind may apologize for a lesser crime in a pseudo-humble, blame-minimizing, or deflecting way. Or, as common, they may apologize but persist in the same behaviors.

  • The covert kind is often two-faced, showering people with conspicuous kindness while being envious, hateful, or critical behind their backs.

  • Paint themselves as victims even if the power balance is ridiculously skewed in their favor.

  • When challenged, narcs will often rage explosively. Covert narcs may scheme behind the scenes, fixated on revenge.

  • Coverts will often employ their minions to maintain their curated appearance and tend to cower in the face of confrontation.

This toxic combo of characteristics can lead to trauma bonding, a type of Stockholm Syndrome that makes it difficult to break free. It’s incredibly harmful, leaving non-conforming victims broken and bewildered, and can cause a lifetime of scars without Divine intervention.

Indeed, Divine intervention can work to heal both expressions of idolatry…because that’s what it is. We’ll dig deep into the spiritual angle and biblical perspective later. But not too much later because…

More Exposure is Coming

 "The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all." Jesus, speaking to the hypocrites, Luke 12:2 (NLT)

Hypocrisy of any variety inflamed Jesus more than anything because of its deceitfulness, destructiveness, divisiveness, and rivalry with God. Thus, during this crazy time in history, God is enlightening us as only God can so we can see our desperate and collective need for the only authentic, loving, and lasting remedy to our collective waywardness and inability to see or own our darkness.

I started by saying this isn’t a narc-bashing blame game. My extreme experiences helped me to clearly see both how my codependency sucked me into these toxic dynamics, along with my own hypocrisy and narcissistic traits. It was an agonizing work of learning, self-examination, repentance, and ongoing healing. God loves us, is faithful, and wants us to be free--narcs, too. Our part is an honest repentance that often emerges only out of pain.

As the world grows darker, God's light will continue grow, exposing our hearts and misdeeds through emotional, material, and spiritual discomfort and increasing consequences.

If we respond, he’ll pour out his grace to enable us to deal and heal. In my own experience, there can be intense, purifying pain for a time, but only long enough to be liberated.

Ego death stinks, no doubt about it.

If we don’t admit our wrongdoing, the consequences and pain will become ever more severe, and we will be exposed. Take P. Diddy, for instance.

Faith aside, with a master’s degree in public relations, I’ll tell you it all goes better if we come clean of our initiative. Don’t numb the pain, dismiss the warnings, or wait to make headlines in the paper, at the office, church, or with your family. Respond.

The Good News

The unbelievably good news is that Jesus never exposes anything without being willing and able to forgive, free, and heal us…if we repent.

However evil narcs can be, the takeaway here is not torch-wielding posse but to turn the lens on ourselves and admit our own tendencies, even in the G-rated form. No shame, just equalizing honesty that can change the world. Seriously.

God assures us anyone can be forgiven and healed if we come clean.

Let's come clean.


Heavenly Father, thank you for providing Jesus so we could stand before you unfiltered. Please forgive us for our hypocrisy and desperate, sometimes evil cover-ups. Likewise, please forgive our idolatry in making anyone or anything, including ourselves, a higher power over you. Please enable us to fess up wholeheartedly and to receive the freedom Christ died to provide. If we’ve been injured by a narcissist, please enable us to forgive them wholeheartedly and to get the courage and help we need to extricate ourselves from the idolatrous snare. We need you for all of it! Thank you. I love You.


Here are just a few of the resources I used to help me grow through this process.

They offer crossover benefits for recovery from narcissistic abuse, codependency, empaths, CPTSD, and even narcs themselves if they have moments of clarity or conviction. Most have YouTube channels, many offer coaching, and some have Facebook pages and websites with additional resources. I encourage you to explore further to find voices and experiences that most closely align with yours.


Spiritual Healing Prayer & Deliverance:

I'll be sharing more on this topic later, but for those of you who are attuned to this kind of powerful help, here are two excellent resources:

Thanks bunches! Love, Isabella

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