THE CONVERSION OF A NARCISSIST
Deep in the heart of Florence, the city that is the jewel of Tuscany, there once was a certain Father Hippolitus. He strove to cultivate the virtue of piety and had a painting executed of Our Lord pierced with thorns. He displayed this fine work of art in his room near a window that looked out onto an open street.
Before this painting he often stood and meditated upon the Divine Love of Our Lord that led Him to offer His Blood for us, so much so that it ran from his scalp down His Face. Hippolitus had a neighbor, a lady who lived right across the road from him. She was a narcissist in the most traditional sense, classically vain and she derived narcissistic supply by admiring her own appearance and making herself feel special by obsessing over her looks.
When she looked across her street and saw Hippolitus stare at the painting of Christ's Face stabbed with many thorns, she thought he was looking at a mirror and admiring his reflection as a way of self-worship. In this way she looked to see her own image in Hippolitus - she assumed he was just like her - and that he gratified his ego by preening before a looking glass. The narcissistic lady became insanely curious as to the type of "mirror" that the priest looked upon for such long periods. And so she summoned the nerve, and went and asked him to show it to her.
Hippolitus agreed to show it to her - but first he did not disabuse her by telling her it was not a mirror per se - rather he just handed her the painting to behold. When she beheld the "mirror", she was astonished to see the Face of Christ look back at her. She felt a sudden narcissistic injury, she was found out as the one so vain she craved a mirror, but she could not take her eyes off the Face of Our Lord, Who had allowed His aspect to be assailed by a circle of thorns like barbed wire which had punctured his scalp.
She saw in Him, her opposite, the willingness to have His skin ravaged for our sake. Hippolitus saw his opportunity, "Behold here the mirror in which you, too, should daily contemplate yourself. See our poor Savior, for love of us so basely maltreated. Will you, too, remain cold as did the Jews to whom Pilate presented the lacerated Jesus, crying out, "Behold the Man!"? As this Countenance of our Redeemer is disfigured by wounds, so is your soul disfigured by sin. Wash your soul with tears of compunction, and instead of this sad and disfigured image, you will one day behold and admire the glorified Countenance of the Divine Savior eternally in Heaven."
In that instant, the lady accepted Hippolitus's words of admonishment, that her soul was "disfigured", which is truly the proof that she had been healed of the toxic narcissism that will broke no breaking of the delusion that the entire self is to special as to be beyond reproach. She was converted from self-worship to worship of Christ, and thereafter she led a penitential life where she repented of her old self-absorbed ways.
Our Lord created in us a need to adore, to worship the Holy Trinity, and I would like to proffer that narcissism is self-adoration which supplants adoration of God. To remedy narcissism, the narcissist may get the grace to abandon worship of self, and replace it with worship of Christ, and they may forfeit narcissistic fixes or "supply" in favor of seeking to do all for Christ's glory, and not their own. Our Lord's Sorrowful Passion, where He subjected Himself to the foulest insults and the most vicious abuse is the counter to narcissism, it puts to shame the self-destructive fawning over self, where the ego has to be protected at all costs, because He Whose Face we adore gave Himself up to be lacerated for our sins. It is impossible to adore He Who suffered for our sins, and to adore our sinfulness simultaneously, and I posit that narcissism is excessive love of one's sinfulness.
It is no exaggeration to say I have read most of the major psychological literature on narcissism, and it pains me to admit that someone who manipulated me so hideously had all the signs of covert narcissism. In the solemn books on narcissism, the experts often conclude that most extreme narcissists do not change or become better through treatment. As Christians we believe true transformation only comes through Christ. I humbly submit that to adore Our Lord's Face may be the first catalyst in the conversion of a narcissist, who like the Florentine lady we have just encountered, will see in Christ their opposite, and may change so as to be like Him.
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