Narcissism–an exaggerated sense of one’s importance–is out of control.
You can now hire fake paparazzi to follow you out to the clubs…
Surgically make over your face to look like Brad Pitt…
Even garner seven minutes of fame by broadcasting a video on YouTube of you singing.
In The Narcissism Epidemic, professors Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell examine this epidemic in a highly-readable, heavily-researched book on the ubiquity of narcissism, its fatal effects and prescriptions on how to curb it’s spread.
Unruly Narcissism among the Rank and File
Narcissism used to be reserved for Hollywood actors. Rock stars. Dictators. Not anymore.
Narcissism is pre-schoolers singing “I am special. Look at me.” Teenagers daring anybody to “**** with this badboy” on MySpace. Or shouting “Hell yeah, I’m hot!” on Facebook.
Narcissism is preachers spreading a gospel of self-fulfillment and prosperity. College students demanding a “B” for simply showing up. Homeowners snapping up 3,000 square feet homes with funky, zero-down mortgages…
And young women sinking deeper and deeper into debt because they simply can’t live without pedicures, waxes and botox injections.
The alarming part? This recent, pernicious surge in self-centeredness doesn’t seem to be slowing.
Unchecked narcissism rears its ugly head from mere disobedience [teenagers ignoring curfews and warnings to turn down music] to the destructive [broken marriages, Ponzi schemes and suicide].
Naturally, with an abundance of sermons on self-love, princess parties and glad-you-could-play trophies at our fingertips, it’s hard for our generation to understand why a raging ego might be a bad thing.
Yes, I said “our” generation. Cause I’m part of this very generation.
Bewitched by Self, Attention and Fame
Born in 1972, I’m among the generations–70s, 80s and 90s–who are more entitled, aggressive, cocky and self-centered.
At one point in my life, I manipulated my way into the front lines of garage bands (not because I could sing, cause I couldn’t)…dominated college classrooms by answering every question I could…and even sabotaged family dinners by ordering the most expensive dish–and then refusing to eat it…
All because I wanted the attention on me.
Yes, everyone goes through a vicious stage of self-absorption. But most of the times it ends by the ages of three or four with lingering, gut-wrenching highs and lows throughout adolescence, but typically tapering off into low-grade, chronic, garden-variety selfishness by adulthood.
Not so with the narcissist. [We have Freud to thank for this insight.]
Their single, solitary, cut-throat MO in life is to win at all costs. Even if that means alienating friends. Trampling over strangers. Gutting bank accounts. [Think Terrell Owens. Donald Trump. Paris Hilton.]
Watch a single season of Survivor or America’s Next Top Model and you’ll see what I mean. Each show is nothing more than a showcase for volatile young men and women brimming with delusional optimism and unhealthy overconfidence.
But isn’t narcissism necessary to compete in that kind of environment? Well…the answer might shock you.
Narcissism: When Is It Necessary?
In most cases, narcissism isn’t necessary. But is narcissism ever healthy? you insist. The question really is, “Healthy to whom?” Selfishness that makes others suffer is never healthy.
The funny thing is, narcissists aren’t better looking. Or smarter. Or faster. Or richer. They just think they are. Their beauty doesn’t stand out in a crowd. Nor do their IQ scores. And typically their wealth is built on a bedrock of easy, high-risk credit.
However, narcissists are much better at selecting flattering photos of themselves. And they tend to excel on film where being a legend in your own mind can help you perform brilliantly on stage.
But the idea that narcissism is needed in a hyper-competitive world like ours couldn’t be further from the truth.
Debunking the Myth of Narcissism
Narcissist love to win, yes. But in most cases, they’re not very good at winning. Overconfidence often backfires. Narcissistic students don’t study. Narcissistic athletes don’t train. Narcissist reality TV contestants don’t cooperate. Ever.
So they lose.
On the other hand, a little self-doubt can be a great motivator. Self doubt motivates people to try harder. To train longer. To cooperate for the greater good.
See, part of the problem of this epidemic of narcissism is rooted in permissive parenting. In the idea that we’re raising royalty. In the idea that each child is special.
What Twenge isn’t saying is that you shouldn’t love your child. Or tell her that. But there was a time when you actually had to do something before you were considered special. Or unique. Or competent.
Achievement always precedes self-esteem. Not the other way around.
Our over-zealous desire to equalize every inch of our culture has driven us to turn a blind eye to hard work, creativity, achievement and constructive criticism.
And unfortunately, narcissists tend to resist criticism with emotional violence…thus shooting the legs out from under their relationships, which for most people keeps their hubris in check.
What Do We Do Now?
The quaint, paradoxical antidote to skyrocketing self-worth, Twenge suggests, is nothing more than humility and compassion.
It’s the idea of nurturing your relationships. Helping others. Critically and accurately evaluating your self. And, in my own opinion, surrendering your life to Jesus Christ.
It won’t happen overnight. But it’s a good place to start.