We need something radical to break from our self-hatred and narcissism. We need something radical we can offer those stuck in self-absorption and self-hatred. The radical alternative to our narcissistic self and wounds is redemptive intimacy.
In a nutshell, redemptive intimacy is: God with us.
One of the most common psychological theories concerning the source of narcissism is unmet intimacy needs in our childhood development. In our development there are places where we grow from a natural "practice of the presence" of our inner selves, to a more mature way of relating our inner world to others outside us. It is commonly held that narcissist's lacked a deep interpersonal intimacy that would normally shape, bless, affirm and call them out of a self-absorbed way of relating to others. In other words, the "intimacy" that narcissists did experience as a child shaped their presence to remain stuck on how they relate to others (and God).
It's common knowledge for example, in the discipline of psychology that the "intimacy" we experienced as infants in our family of origin or with our primary caregiver, had immediate and long term consequences on dynamic issues of trust, reciprocity, empathy, etc. Very early on, for example, before an infant has any capacity to communicate verbally, there's this deep sense of "attunement" happening between the primary caregiver and the child. "Control" issues that shape intimacy, that shape trust, are present for example, in this "attunement" way of relating--good or poorly.
A Christian viewpoint of narcissism would begin with something radical: we are all narcissists at heart. We are all self-absorbed in our hearts. All of us are afflicted with the narcissitic condition. I think a Christian view of reality understands narcissistic condition as something *in* us, not, contra Carl Rogers, something that happens to us. However, I think a deep Christian view of development would not preclude Rogers' view, either. It is signifcant, but not sufficient. A Christian understanding would also recognize the many "flavors" of the narcissistic condition, both internal and external.
So, I suggest a Christian approach to a self-absorbed presence has more to do than just modifying behavior, or for that matter, focusing on those who, on first appearance, manifest narcissistic behaviors. I also suggest it has more than just memorizing Bible verses, or exhortations to forget self and take up one's cross. As I have mentioned in the past, one of my favorite quotes from Leanne Payne shows how self-absorption is also at the core of self-hatred, self-doubting, self-protection, self-withdrawl, and self-questioning: "To achieve a healthy personality, we must pass from this self-centered stage to the self-acceptance that is full, secure. Whoever does not accept himself is engrossed with himself."
A self-absorbed presence ironically, can give too much power and influence over past and present other voices to reinforce their self-absorbed condition. An in-depth Christian approach to self-absorption would be to recognize narcissistic grandiosity as well as narcissistic egotism expressed through our own unworthiness, or our own inadequacies, our own chronic habit of beating ourselves up internally. A broad Christian perspective on narcissism sees an inflated self and an deflated self as manifesting a self-absorbed presence. I am in agreement with those who see the source of both as pride:
"Clinicians treating narcissism have convincingly pointed toward the fragile, vulnerable self beneath the attempts at exaltation. Indeed, insecurity breeds pride. Yet it is also true that beneath much self-belittling, nonassertiveness and self-contempt is a pride system. In other words, beneath the self-derogatory attitude is an indealized self" ( Terry Cooper p.146).
The dynamic issue of pride is related to distrust (notice how this could be connected to the ways in which we were encouraged to trust or distrust back in our developmental stages of attunement) "In one way or another, human pride is always related to distrust in our Souce. This distrust is the intervening variable between anxiety and pride. There is an exchange between anxiety and pride--namely, the placement of self at the center of one's being instead of God...in fact, we cannot talk about unfaith without also talking about pride. We may feel insecure when we do this. We may feel frightened. We may even do it with some trembling self-doubts. However, we are replacing God and making our own efforts at the center of our life. This invariably leads to an excessive focus on our own insecurity. This distrust in God perpetuates our anxiety. We attempt to outmaneuever life and find our own 'solution' to the problem of anxiety. This is what makes it prideful: we know better than God! We will seize on some type of security apart from the only security that can console us...The greater our anxiety, the more tempted we are to sin by acting in frantic ways to establish our own security" ( 152-53).
I suggest redemptive intimacy--God with us--is the healing path of narcissism and self-hatred. Notice, I did not say redemptive information, or redemptive correct beliefs or theology.