Awareness, Blogging, Blogger, Writing Web Content, Culture, Op-Ed Commentary, Psychology

Beware of Narcissistic Traits and Toxic Apologetics

Photo by Sammy Williams on Unsplash

The nature and field of apologetics has blossomed into various forms of experience, knowledge, and understanding. It has grown exponentially since the internet became the popular mode of disseminating information, conversations, and much research. Specifically, the field of apologetics – as it pertains to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – has ebbed and flowed through the 1990’s and early 2000’s. And while there are a younger generation of individuals growing up and carrying on the defense of the Restored Gospel – much of it is based on the work of those who have come before.

I have had many different encounters with people who have challenged my testimony and faith in Jesus Christ, in the Book of Mormon, the Prophet Joseph Smith, and current teachings. Some still challenge me to this day. Others have chosen to disagree and not engage in any form of challenging of my beliefs – and for the most part, are quite respectful of what I hold to as truth.

However, there are those who have crossed the line. Individuals (members of the LDS faithful, members of the evangelical and protestant communities, and atheists at large) who have, and continue, to engage in narcissistic behavioral patterns and traits. Do not get me wrong – I am not here to make a professional diagnosis on someone’s mental capacities as an individual. Far from it – however, what I am doing is addressing a very dangerous behavioral trend that comes up time from time when we engage in discussions pertaining to the teachings and doctrines of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.

What is Narcissism and its Application to the field of Apologetics

First, and foremost, narcissistic personality disorder is a mental health condition where an individual is observed to have certain characteristic traits that impact their social, relational, and worldviews. It is one where the individual has a grandiose high view of self where there appears to be a lack of empathy toward others.

Dr. Suzanne Deggs-White, Ph.D. writes that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) lists nine traits and characteristics that are clinically significant in determining if someone’s super-sized ego may be something more than just self-confidence (The 13 Traits of Narcissists). She goes on to mention that only five of the nine traits a person exhibits are required to determine whether they are exhibiting NPD. Dr. Deggs-White also comments that along with the nine traits, the DSM-V also acknowledges an alternative means to determine NPD where there are four identifiable areas that impact a person’s life.

Sam Vaknin describes this type of personality disorder as follows:

The narcissist keeps referring to others excessively in order to regulate his self-esteem (really, sense of self-worth) and for “self-definition” (to define his identity.) His self-appraisal is exaggerated, whether it is inflated, deflated, or fluctuating between these two poles and his emotional regulation reflects these vacillations.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the DSM-V

From a psychological viewpoint, those suffering from NPD are toxic individuals. Much of relational abuse stems from those who are narcissists. Albeit, emotional, physical, sexual, and/or spiritual abuse. According to Joe Navarro:

Narcissists victimize those around them just by being who they are, and they won’t change. That statement may seem extreme until you listen to the stories of those who have been victimized by a narcissist. Then you realize just how toxic relationships with these individuals can be.

Inside the Mind of a Narcissist

And it is not defined solely in a romantic relationship. Men and women may have been brought up in an environment where a parental or guardian figure may have had narcissistic traits. Spouses and romantic partners find themselves in a toxic relationship with a partner who is a narcissist. Yet there are those relationships we have at work where a boss or supervisor may display such characteristic traits of being a narcissist. This is because such individuals view themselves differently than any other person. Navarro provides 15 traits of a narcissistic worldview and perception.

Secondly, NPD is volatile, toxic, and undermines a person’s sense of worth, personal autonomy, and identity. It appears to strip any vestige of faith and hope they may have in Christ. It is this form of toxicity where we define it as spiritual abuse.

It is one thing to get caught up in the emotional state and mindset when someone challenges our perspective and worldview. It is also another rational aspect that we may experience disappointment, hurt, and in some sense – betrayal. No one likes their testimony and faith put to the fire of criticism. However, it is entirely different when one crosses paths with an individual who lacks any form of empathy. Their whole perspective is self-grandiose importance. Even their demeanor is, what I refer to as, puffed up arrogance.

And, I have met many who have come close to crossing that line of selfish pride and arrogance. I’ve also come close to crossing that line myself.

So, how does this apply to the field of apologetics? Since NPD engages in some form of deception, manipulation, and grandiose self-centeredness: it relates quite well since it is classified as spiritual abuse. And how this is classified as spiritual abuse is because of these patterns of behavior:

  • Takes place within a spiritual place/context: This includes interactions in online forums, discussions, and commentary
  • Usage of spiritual truths and scriptural texts to inflict intentional harm (sometimes physical and more often than not used to manipulate feelings of shame and guilt)
  • An individual claims to be in a position of authority – or is placed in a position of authority by fellow peers
  • Invocation of divine authority in order to manipulate people into performing certain behaviors that meet the needs of the toxic individual

How this appears may manifest in different forms. The goal is to motivate some form of inferiority, toxic shame, toxic guilt, and a toxic sense of identity. Tends to leave someone questioning their own sense of worth and identity. Too often it leads a person to abandon their own faith and hope.

Recognizing and Responding to a Toxic and Narcissistic Apologist

From my own personal experience – it is difficult to walk away from certain conversations. Specifically, those that involve defending our testimony, faith, and belief system. It is even more difficult to turn off the emotional reactive faucet. And despite one’s best effort – we may get caught up in our own frustrations.

Yet when one comes across someone that definitely appears to fit the narcissistic traits – we need to make a concerted effort to walk away from the conversation. Because it will not matter what you say or the amount of time and energy you put into doing any research – they see themselves as being far more superior to you. There are thirteen specific traits I have adapted from adapted from Joe Navarro’s twenty differing traits:

  • Accept the reality that you are not equal with a toxic and narcissistic apologist – they view themselves as being far more superior.
  • Recognize those feelings of insecurity, dismay, disbelief, or incongruity one is experiencing from the conversation/dialogue by validating and acknowledging their reality.
  • Prepare to be degraded because when you encounter a toxic and narcissistic apologist – you will be devalued since they overvalue themselves
  • Toxic and narcissistic apologists will talk down to you in condescending tones and overtures – treat you in ways you may never imagined
  • A toxic and narcissistic apologist will place their needs and desires over yours – no matter how inconvenienced you may feel.
  • A toxic and narcissistic Apologist will attack your integrity, undermine your sense of worth, manipulate you into feeling ashamed and guilty
  • A Toxic and Narcissistic Apologist only operates under a false sense of morality, ethics, and kindness as a means to attain their own grandiose illusions of self-importance
  • Be prepared for a toxic and narcissistic apologist to lie without any regard or concern for truth. They have mastered the ability to lie as a means to manipulate and control others. They will even use such deceptive tactics to get you to question what you may have already observed, deny, or reject any accountability or responsibility for such behavior.
  • Toxic and narcissistic apologists are prone to talk about themselves and their accomplishments – and sometimes to the accolades of those they have around them. They almost do so in a manner in which they garner worship and admiration
  • A toxic and narcissistic apologist tend to attract those individuals who have a distorted and misplaced perception where the traits of the narcissist are valued, honored, and desired – this is because narcissists are social predators and opportunists to feed their power-hungry driven ego – hence, they seek the adoration, worship, and accolades of their following.
  • A toxic and narcissistic apologist will never give themselves over to apologizing or admission of any wrongdoing or trespass. They tend to blame others. This is because they lack any authentic self-awareness.
  • Toxic and narcissistic apologists do not like to be challenged – especially in any public forum or public environment. Their persona is one of perfection, can-do-no-wrong, and arrogant sense of superiority.
  • Toxic and narcissistic apologists simply do not care and absolve themselves of any empathy. They are lacking in emotional intelligence and only value how they feel.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of characteristic traits one may encounter. And not all of them will be presented. In most cases – based on my own interactions over the years – there are at least 4-6 of these traits one may observe and experience.

What is the intended purpose of this post?

As expressed, this is based on my own personal observation and experience over the years. Something that I have, not only observed in my own behavior and action, experienced firsthand. Not only experience, but something also I have seen others undergo from those who appear to have NPD traits.

More recently, it is to bring awareness and warning in how we interact online. To watch our own attitude and behavior. To be disciplined and mindful where we are not responding out of an emotional reaction. Sometimes, it is to take the wise counsel of scripture to hold our peace and remain silent. Not to react and not to respond.

Suffice it to say, I was recently made aware of something that was published about me. The statement made is this:

Berman, Timothy Amateur Mormon apologist who needs to get back in the ocean where he belongs. His main argument against my material is that he thinks it is biased (the truth usually is) and it makes him think too hard.

This statement is posted over at a website called Tektonics Education and Apologetics Ministry. A supposed Christian-based ministry to educate and inform fellow Christians concerning various teachings and doctrines as it appears to relate toward the field of apologetics. The founding individual behind all of this is James Patrick Holding. Not only does he have this website, he also has written numerous works. He produces YouTube cartoonish videos defending the Christian faith.

My interaction with this individual has only been limited to posting a comment on one of his YouTube Videos – and then subsequently responding to him (which has now been deleted by him). And an article response to his position concerning the doctrine of Baptism (The Nature and Covenant of Baptism as a Sacred Right and Ordinance). I even offered to have a thoughtful discussion regarding this.

Despite my best intentions and efforts – the tone and language utilized was insulting, demeaning, and vulgar. And from what I gather – his whole form and style of communication appears to be one of superiority, flippant, and arrogant. So much so that he apparently has had three libel lawsuits put forth against him by an individual that I had known years ago. And while there are some relevant and good information he provides on some aspects of Christianity – when it comes to representing the other side of discussion, it is done so with the visualization of that individual being caricatured as an imbecile, moronic, and even demeaning as one who is stupid. This is evidenced by some of his videos ending with the narrator (a cartoonish fox) saying “Moron”.

And this individual wasn’t the first to take me out to the proverbial woodshed. Another incident involved two or three articles posted on a person’s website that challenged my integrity, character, and belief system. Because of this, I made the personal mistake of becoming so wrapped up in the emotional distress of it that I had lost sight of my own sense of worth and identity. It was also one of the main reasons I had abandoned apologetics all together and focused on the more important matters at hand in my life.

How does one respond to such individuals? You don’t respond at all. It is far better to hold your peace and move along. Because, and talk with any one with personal experience in dealing with someone who has narcissistic traits, any challenge you present will result in nothing more than further demoralizing and demeaning insults, blame, and manipulation, to where you begin feeling victimized.

The field of apologetics is not about manipulating, deceiving, or even victimizing people. It is to give a defense of one’s faith for understanding, education, and learning. Only in this context are people able to engage in real authentic conversations that challenge and uphold the character and integrity of both individuals. When we approach it from this honest perspective – that is where we are open and receptive to one another. Healthy disagreement is welcomed and acceptable. Thoughtful discourse in sharing information and exchanging understanding is beneficial. Growing in knowledge and learning from one another give credibility to a Christ-like attitude and perspective.

It is only by the spirit of contention where divisiveness, manipulation, and deception occur.