“Live your life as if only your feelings count!” advises satirist Ben Stein, former White House speechwriter, in How to Ruin Your Love Life–
moment mean to say that your lover doesn’t have any feelings. That
would be totally incorrect and an insult to the whole idea of humanity.
All human beings have feelings…The only thing is that those feelings
don’t really count for much in the grand scheme of things…In fact, each
feeling you have counts for about 1,000 times as much as each feeling your lover has.
We laugh. But the fact is, there are many people who, perhaps
subconsciously, live their lives according to Ben Stein’s rule. These
people wonder why their relationships never seem to work out. As one
gentleman told me, “Every woman I date turns out to be a self-centered
Now, it could be that by some strange cosmic coincidence
every girl you have ever met is a self-obsessed loser. Or, it could be
the one common denominator in all of these relationships: YOU!
This thought does not occur to the narcissist.
When things go wrong, the narcissist blames everyone else. He doesn’t
stop to think: What part have I played in this fiasco? Perhaps I should
have been more understanding. Am I sincere with God and with others?
The narcissist follows a unique script in which he is the perfect
protagonist who can do no wrong. Your purpose in life is to serve him.
He is condescending, arrogant, and uses others to achieve his own ends.
His relationships never work out, because he undermines them all. And
it is never, ever his fault.
He avoids any real introspection, because deep down, he fears that
he is worthless. Instead, he covers this feeling of shame or
worthlessness with a grandiose self-image, a false self that he
projects onto reality. At all times, he must feed this grandiose
self-image, so he spends a lot of time talking about himself, putting
other people down, and constantly seeking admiration and flattery.
As a result, there is little time or energy available to actually listen to somebody else.
A narcissist rarely expresses any true interest in, or sensitivity
toward, anyone other than himself. A narcissist lacks empathy.
If you have ever been in a relationship where your feelings don’t
count; where you always feel just slightly off-kilter; where you feel
belittled or continually disparaged; where you never know when the next
outburst of anger or rage will come, and you are kept continually on
edge; where you are expected to reassure or flatter him or her; and
where your own feelings seem never to count…then you might be in a
relationship with a narcissist.
If you are caught in a narcissist’s web, you feel as though you have
been sucked into a black hole or an alternate universe. At first, the
narcissist is rather charming. However, his charm eventually wears
thin. You begin to doubt your own abilities and qualities, because the
narcissist convinces you (when you are in his world) that you are
nothing compared to him. You fear his anger if you do not continually
feed his need for admiration and praise. Though reality may not match
up to the grandiose image of the narcissist, he confidently assures you
of his own eminence and authority while keeping you in a state of
subjugation. You may begin to doubt your own sanity.
Yet, though there are surprisingly few true narcissists,
there are many who have a narcissistic “style.” In our society, we
value self-confidence and assertiveness. Yet, when self-confidence
becomes arrogant or exploitative, we have a problem.
“All people have personality styles, but when their ‘personality’
prevents them from maintaining employment and/or long-term
relationships their style of relating becomes a disorder.” says Dr.
Lisa Klewicki, a
Catholic psychologist in private practice in Northern Virginia.
Dr. Klewicki tells us that she is seeing more and more narcissism in
her practice. “With an ‘instant anything’ society in which one's own
needs can be
immediately met in some way or another, usually at the detriment of someone
else, people begin to believe that their needs are more important than
anyone else. Thus, narcissism is on the rise, especially in places where
people feel tend to feel more entitled to having everything their own way at
all cost.” 
I once worked for a narcissist. It was not evident from casual
acquaintance that she was a narcissist. It was not until I worked
her, reporting to her alone, that I discovered she was one of the rare
(but apparently increasing) breed of humans around whom the universe
The first sign that something was awry, were oddities about the office.
My boss was a packrat, with stacks and stacks of disorganized,
definitively outdated files that were nonetheless precious. They could
neither be thrown away nor re-organized. We had to work with piles on
our desks, stacks on the floor, and boxes in the closet. Yet they were
as valuable as the Holy Grail. Her computer files were in equal
disarray, yet she feared deleting any. My boss’s confident predictions
of future success seemed incongruous given the chaos of her office. She
was a penny-pincher and insisted on outdated, cheap methods of
operating, even when this would guarantee less than desirable results.
Then she would fly into a rage.
Another odd feature about this narcissist was that, with nearly
unfailing predictability, when it was just about time for me to leave,
she would give me an urgent project that needed to be accomplished immediately.
It necessitated staying late. At first (when one has a new job), one
tries to be flexible; one doesn’t wish to appear to be an
unprofessional “clock-puncher.” But soon it became a pattern. Even when
I pointed out the urgency to leave on time, the same scenario was
Most disturbingly, she presented two faces: one to the public, and one
which she revealed only one-on-one. She had temper tantrums when things
didn’t go her way, and she spoke condescendingly, always verging on
annoyance or anger when we were speaking privately. Acquaintances
thought she was rather soft-spoken. She only revealed the full force of
her temper in private–or with hapless telephone customer service
employees. Secretaries, customer service people, receptionists, and
even relatives were often called “idiots” by this narcissist. It
reminded me of the angry kid who kicks the dog.
My boss would describe in great detail how her ex-husband had an anger
problem…yet she failed to perceive her own insensitive, condescending,
and manipulative behavior.
She actually provoked her husband and children to anger. Yet, as is
typical for a narcissist, when her whole world was falling apart, she
never considered her own behavior, but continued to blame everyone
At times, any one of us can show instances of narcissism: arrogance,
expecting special treatment, having grandiose thoughts of success or
achievement, seeking praise and admiration, becoming envious of others’
success. Because of Original Sin, we can be at times self-absorbed and
insensitive. We can be selfish and difficult to live with. Furthermore,
we all have to learn how to deal with people who are difficult. Gospel
charity demands that we even love our enemies—and that includes our
cranky great aunt, my obnoxious boss, or a cantankerous neighbor.
But charity does not mean being a doormat. How do we know when it is
time to end a relationship, or that someone might need professional
help? When is someone not merely difficult, but actually disordered?
When does someone cross the boundary of normality and enter the land of
pathology? How can you tell that someone is a narcissist?
A narcissist really does not care about you.
They can feign interest for a while, if necessary. But you would soon
see the glazed look in their eye, as they shifted the conversation back
to themselves. Once you are in a relationship with a narcissist, it
will be all about the narcissist. In fact, a narcissist may be
incapable of true intimacy.
“Narcissistic personality disorder is a serious emotional disturbance
characterized by a grandiose, or extremely exaggerated, sense of
self-importance. Individuals with this disorder lack empathy for other
people but need constant admiration from them. …
Although people with narcissistic personality disorder have an
exaggerated image of their own importance, they have vulnerable
self-esteems and often don't like themselves. Therefore, they seek
attention that confirms their grandiosity. When feedback doesn't
validate their exaggerated image, they tend to lash out or withdraw.”
For an individual to be diagnosed as having a narcissistic personality disorder, he or she would show a pervasive
and inflexible pattern (affecting all his or her thoughts and
behaviors, not merely the occasional) of grandiosity, need for
admiration, and lack of empathy.
Even when not taking the extreme form of a personality disorder,
narcissistic tendencies can adversely affect our most important
relationships. Healthy relationships require generosity in self-giving
and the capacity to be sensitive to each other’s needs. “One of the
major causes of excessive anger in marriages is the result of
narcissistic conflicts in a spouse. These individuals regularly
overreact in anger when they cannot have their way or when their
partner does not give in to their extreme selfishness,” writes Dr.
Richard Fitzgibbons of the Institute for Marital Healing. 
Self-confidence and assertiveness are not bad; in fact, it would be unhealthy
for a person to be incapable of self-regard, lack all self-confidence,
or have zero self-esteem. However, a healthy individual also has the
capacity to accept criticism, does not feel contempt for those less
gifted than he, and is sensitive and empathic toward others.
As Christians, we hope to always grow closer to the Lord, practicing
the virtue of charity as Christ commanded us, “Love one another as I
love you” (Jn 15:12). Loving God means loving our neighbor, respecting
the dignity and worth of each human person, and realizing that, to be a
true follower of Christ, we must seek not to be served, but to serve.
“[W]hoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant…For the
son of Man did not come to be served but to serve” (Mk 10: 43-44).