He was finally on his way home. Harold had been working out of town for six weeks, and he dearly missed Amy and the kids. Sure, he brought Maggie, his dog, to keep him company because this posting was going to be so long, and she had been great company, but right now he needed his family. He was just entering the airport when he realized he forgot to feed her.
Maybe Maggie would be okay without food for this four-day weekend. She’d be uncomfortable, sure, but a few days without food wouldn’t actually kill her, and besides, no one would know. Maggie was a quiet, sweet dog. She wouldn’t bark, she would just sit quietly and wait for him to come home and take care of her.
It seems simple; if Harold is selfish, he takes the trip, if not, he feeds the dog. But going back to feed his dog may involve more than selflessness. Let’s take a look. Therapists are aware that there is a group of normal looking people who do not have a conscience. They lack the ability to feel shame, guilt or remorse. They have no problem letting down the people (or animals) who count on them.
And to make matters worse, these people are usually very charismatic, interesting, and often great providers. It’s almost as if they have developed a special magnetism to cover up the selfish hole in their personalities so they can make the rest of us love them. The American Journal of Psychiatry estimates that about 4% of the population, or one in every twenty-five everyday Americans has these qualities.
You won’t find them in my office however. They don’t come for counseling, because they don’t think they have problems – it’s the people around them who have the problems. So while I may get a husband who wants me to deal with his wife, or a wife who thinks her husband needs fixing, I will rarely see the self-centered person as a client.
This behavior shows up in people from all walks of life. They can be policemen, clergy, teachers, politicians, homemakers, or counselors: anyone really. Here’s how to spot them. If the person in question is willing to take responsibility for his or her behavior, he/she probably has a conscience. If you hear the words, “I’m sorry”, “It was my fault”, or “I made a mistake”, you are probably dealing with someone in the healthy 96% of the population. If, after repeated attempts to be understood, you are still told the fault is yours, you may be dealing with a problem personality. I’m so sorry. These people are truly difficult, particularly because they are so magnetic when they are not being selfish. Isn’t it amazing that such a small group of people can cause us so much grief?
As for Harold, he went back and fed Maggie. Did that make you smile? Me too. It’s like George Eliot said,
“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?”