Narcissism in America

SaturdayToday is Saturday, October 12, 2013.

The term “narcissism” comes from a mythological Greek hunter named Narcissus, who was punished for his vanity by being made to fall in love with his own image in a pool of water.  He was unable to pull himself away from his own reflection, so he wasted away and died.  Today, the term is used to describe an abnormal fixation with oneself, or excessive selfishness.

Some people have noticed that selfishness and a fixation with ourselves is on the rise in the United States, especially among young people.  There are even studies that seem to prove this is so.

One study using a common psychological test found that 30% of young people nowadays can be classified as narcissistic.  That’s one out of every three young people.  This recent percentage is double what it was 30 years ago.  Another study says that there has been a noticeable decline in the trait of empathy among young people since the 198os.

What are the hallmarks of narcissism?   According to David Thomas, who recently wrote a book on the subject, narcissistic people focus on and talk about themselves a lot, often bragging about their accomplishments or exaggerating their achievements.  They often pretend to be more important than they really are, and claim to be an “expert” in a number of different areas.  They have trouble maintaining relationships, because they lack awareness of the feelings of others, and cannot view situations from anyone else’s perspective.  They are often hypersensitive to insults, both real and imagined.  They are more vulnerable to shame (a feeling that other people think they are wrong), rather than guilt (a feeling that they think they are wrong).  They exhibit haughty body language.  They flatter their supporters to keep them nearby, and hate anyone who is not one of their admirers.  They use other people without caring or whether they may be hurting them.  They are incapable of expressing remorse (a feeling of being sorry for something that they did wrong) or gratitude for what others have done for them.

Celebrity psychologist Dr. Drew had 200 celebrities complete a psychological test called the Narcissistic Personality Battery and found that they were significantly more narcissistic than the general population.  Who scored the highest?  Female reality TV stars.  (If you don’t know who the Kardashian sisters and Paris Hilton are, you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last few years.)   Interestingly enough, those celebrities who actually have a talent were less narcissistic than those who were simply famous for being famous.   Of course, my question would be this: Didn’t we already know that?  But I digress…

The Main Street Mouse on FB

Image Credit: The Main Street Mouse / Facebook

These days, the popular culture, the news media, technology, and social media have all teamed up to produce a generation of narcissistic young people, who are focused on computer and smart phone screens rather than on other human beings.  The Facebook walls of my “friends” who are under the age of 18 are filled with status messages about themselves and “selfie” pictures uploaded directly from their smart phones.  Young people today have less incentive to learn the qualities of empathy, compassion, or consideration for the feelings and opinions of others.  After all, if you don’t like something that someone says on Facebook, you can simply delete the comment, or “unfriend” the person.

There seems to be a trend, not only in young people, but also among their parents’ generation, away from civic responsibility and making contributions to society, and toward instant self-gratification and a focus on status symbols such as popularity, wealth, and power.  In a blog post for the Huffpost Healthy Living, Dr. Jim Taylor asks what will happen if our society begins to accept narcissistic behavior as the norm.   Will we stop trying to instill in our kids qualities such as respect, compassion, tolerance, and selflessness?   Will these qualities fall by the wayside?

pogoDr. Taylor made another point in his blog.  He said that indifference, egotism, disrespect and lack of consideration are not only the hallmarks of narcissism, but also the basis for unethical corporate behavior, cheating among students, and all kinds of bad behavior on the part of professional athletes, celebrities, and politicians.

This is not to say that the whole generation of teens and young adults is full of narcissists.  Far from it.  But there is a growing trend, and it’s a trend that we can stop, if we wish to.


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