David and Narcissistic Personality Disorder


Narcissus by Caravaggio depicts Narcissus gazing at his own reflection, c. 1594-96

I ended my previous post by suggesting that David exhibited classic signs of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). (Narcissism was named after a character in Greek mythology who fell in love with his own reflection.) I’m not a psychologist and don’t claim to have any qualifications to diagnose NPD, but I have had the misfortune of being the victim of a narcissist so I am somewhat qualified by virtue of my own unpleasant experience to be able to recognise narcissism when I see it. I won’t attempt here to detail all the clinical signs of NPD, but will simply outline those narcissistic characteristics which I detect in the story of King David.

The first thing that alerted me to the possibility, and which I mentioned in my previous post, was that Jonathan seemed to have become infatuated with David from the moment he met him. Narcissists are charming people. They collect friends easily. They are often the life of the party and love to be the centre of attention. Everyone loves them, initially, and it’s easy to become infatuated with one. If David was a narcissist I’m not surprised that Jonathan thought he was amazing: they are, or at least that’s what they want you to believe, and they are pretty good at winning people over almost immediately. In time, however, if you have become a part of a narcissist’s network (a lot of people call it their “web”) you will discover that although they initially seemed to be genuinely interested in you it was only part of a strategy to obtain your loyalty and devotion. They are not genuinely interested in anyone other than themselves, but they will show an interest in you in order to draw you into their network because they need admirers and “resources”, people who will loyally do their bidding. I noticed in the story of Jonathan and David that after Jonathan’s death, well after it seems, David had to make enquiries about whether Jonathan had any offspring. True friends would know that! You know if your friends have children, you know their names, you know about their school or career, and if they play a musical instrument. But David knew nothing about Jonathan’s children: he didn’t even know if he had any!

Because they are so focussed on themselves narcissists inevitably clash with friends and family. Often there will be one drama after another, one relationship breakup after another, and it will never be their fault! Narcissists have an inability to handle any criticism, so if you say or do something to upset them they will find a way to punish you. Typically they will give you “the silent treatment”. In my experience, my narcissistic friend would refuse to speak with me for months on end; no replies to emails or messages, and wouldn’t answer phone calls. They will decide when the punishment has gone on long enough, and often they will make contact again (and “forgive” you) when they need something from you. We get a hint that David was like this in the story about when he brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, and danced in the streets in celebration. His wife Michal (who, incidentally, was Saul’s daughter and Jonathan’s sister) thought he was making a fool of himself, and said so. Big mistake! The account of this incident ends with the chilling line that “Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death” (2 Samuel 6:16-23). In the context that line gives the impression that David didn’t sleep with her ever gain. Typical narcissistic punishment.

One by one a narcissist’s friends will leave them, or try to. Narcissists are simply too demanding, there will be constant drama, tension and friction, and you have to get away, for your own sanity. They will never understand why but will act as though they have been betrayed, as though their closest friend had put a dagger through their heart. This is almost certainly what happened when David’s friend Ahithophel sided with David’s son Absalom when Absalom attempted, with a great deal of popular support, to seize the throne from his father. I personally think Psalm 55 – about the betrayal of a close friend who became an enemy – may have been written by David bemoaning the betrayal by Ahithophel. Read it and see if you think it fits.

David’s family was disfunctional. His children attempted coups against him; his friends abandoned him. At the end of his life his courtiers had to find a young woman to sleep with him to keep him warm, suggesting none of his wives would do it. He died alone, and cold. This is what often happens to narcissists. Often even their own children steer clear of them. They sometimes die in prison cells, or while committing a crime (they tend to be reckless); often alone and lonely.

Perhaps I’m reading the story of David through the lens of my own experiences with a narcissistic friend (ex-friend now – I was finally able to end the friendship on my own terms). I may be misjudging David. I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who is qualified or who has had experience dealing with a narcissist.

4 comments on “David and Narcissistic Personality Disorder

  1. Kris Shead says:

    No. I don’t agree. I haven’t any formal training in identifying NPDs but I’ve done my fair share of researching them over the years and have encountered them at close quarters.
    To simplify the NPD, they are pure evil. They manipulate, lie, cheat and are morally reprobate without any conscience whatsoever. They could destroy someone, walk away and party. There isn’t a tinge of conscience in them. There’s a fine line between the NPD and the sociopath or psychopath.
    David, however, whilst he was immoral, had his conscience eating him out. His bones roared with his sin (Psalm 51). He was described as a man after God’s own heart. He was a type of Jesus and was given great promises.
    David was just a miserable sinner who was capable of repentance. An NPD only repents for show and generally when they’re caught red-handed.

    • Stephen Cook says:

      Hi Kris. The experts these days talk in terms of a narcissism “spectrum”. At end end are people who have a healthy self-confidence and self-esteem, while at the other end, where it is classified as a personality disorder, sit those people we easily recognise as narcissists. I agree with you that people at this end of the spectrum can be “pure evil”. Where David sits on the spectrum I can’t be sure. I agree with you that someone with NPD generally “only repents for show” although I think it’s possible for people who aren’t that far along the spectrum to have sufficient self-awareness and insight to realise they have a problem and to make an effort to change.

  2. alsowritten says:

    It seems probable that Ahithophel was Bathsheba’s grandfather and resented David for the scandal he brought to his family. Also, I don’t believe a narcissist would seek out the children of a dead friend to care for them… nothing in it for them. The grief of David at the death of Saul and Johnathan doesn’t seem like narcissistic behaviour to me (2 Sam:1) David had faults but was one of the few who could interpret the Law of Moses below the surface “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire”, and his inclusiveness of foreigners was wonderful. I’m glad his faults are recorded… the histories of the other ancient rulers generally only glorified their leaders. I also believe he fully adopted Uriah’s children and Nathan would go on to become the ancestor of Jesus. alsowritten.wordpress.com/2018/01/19/bloodline-of-jesus-via-david-or-uriah/

    • Stephen Cook says:

      Thanks for the interesting comments. Just some brief comments in reply:
      1. Narcissists can certainly do nice things. Remember, narcissists are often/usually charming people and they nurture loyalty and devotion by doing nice things for people. But almost always that nice behaviour is motivated by self-interest, and the fact that in David’s case he waited 20 years before seeking out Jonathan’s family, and then withdrew his favours as easily as he granted them, suggests that he wasn’t motivated by simple kindness. I agree with Virginia Miller’s assessment that his timing indicates he did it for political advantage.
      2. Narcissists can grieve. They can feel loss. They hate losing loyal supporters. There is nothing in David’s lament for Saul and Jonathan, in my view, that contradicts the view that he was a narcissist. Remember, it’s a spectrum and only a small number are at the extreme end which is often identified as psycopathic or sociopathic and sometimes described as “pure evil”. I’m not suggesting that David was in that extreme category.
      3. Narcissists can be intelligent, even brilliant. David may have been a good theologian. The two are not mutually exclusive.
      4. Your ideas about Uriah’s children are interesting and I’ve read your blog post about this. Do you have any supporting evidence from elsewhere in the Bible (especially Samuel / Chronicles) that the term “born to him” can include adopted children, and that sons were always listed in their birth-order?

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