Think carefully before calling someone a narcissist

A woman takes a selfie on a bridge over the river Thames (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

St Narcissus was born towards the end of the first century and when he was 80 he became bishop of Jerusalem. Today we celebrate his feast day – but I doubt many Catholic parents will call their child Narcissus except as a put-down. In recent years, the word ‘narcissism’ has been bandied about more and more, often as a negative reaction to others who post steams of selfies and use Facebook and blogs as a means to highlight achievements.

But who is at fault, the ones who are acting ‘like Narcissus’, the god who fell in love with his own image, by posting their photos of evenings out and their successes at work? Or, is it people who name-call others with ‘you’re a narcissist’?

Calling someone a narcissist for being popular and for having pretty photos online could be covert jealousy and a way of controlling others. If a young woman feels jealous at seeing photos of another young woman with their boyfriend, she may call the other girl ‘narcissistic’ as a way of discouraging her from posting such photos.

Putting someone down by calling them a narcissist may ironically be narcissism. According to, The Narcissist Test, a fascinating book by Dr Craig Malkin, narcissists put down other people so that they can feel superior. Dr Malkin teaches at Harvard Medical School, and in his book he gives fascinating insights which have helped me understand what is ‘unhealthy narcissism’. While not a religious text, reading it would certainly help a lot of Catholics make better confessions, if they were to identify and acknowledge how their narcissistic tendencies have hurt others.

Narcissism is far more complex than most people realise. For the purposes of this post, I would caution fellow Catholics in Britain to think more carefully before calling another Catholic narcissistic. I think young Catholics are to be encouraged to post photos of themselves and to share their reactions to events happening in the Church because they are more likely to attract young people who share the same beliefs and becoming a cohesive unit, they will empower the Church in England.

Much older British Catholics have often told me that they felt incredibly lonely and isolated when they were young, they missed out on meeting a partner because it was very difficult to find someone who respected their values. Things are much easier for young British Catholics nowadays – precisely because they can ‘see’ who is who and maybe even find a marriage partner via online dating.

My peers who started climbing the career ladder after 2008 have to rigorously update their profiles to show small and big successes at work. If they re-tweet someone who praises their work, they may be doing so because they know future employers will do a Google search on them.

The Church always teaches that someone’s intention is the heart of the matter. If someone is spending an exorbitant amount of time posting many, many photos of themselves to indulge in self-adulation and a form of, ‘oh, look at me, I’m so attractive!’, then this is vanity pure and simple. But if posting a reasonable number of photos is done with the aim of networking and opening up to others, showing other people who we are so they may come into our lives, then it can be very enjoyable and even healthy.