Narcissism seems to be on the rise. Teachers are frustrated by children who believe they are entitled to an excellent grade for substandard work. Parents are annoyed by teens who believe they are wiser than their elders. Employers are aggravated by employees who believe the rules don’t apply to them. Spouses are shocked when the charming person they married turns into a raging bully.
“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.” This was written approximately 400 B.C. by the Athenian philosopher Socrates. Yet many would believe it intended for this generation.
So why does it seem like there are so many narcissists? Here are a couple of possible explanations.
- Social Media. The mass influence of social media has introduced a perfect narcissistic breeding ground. A person can be anything and say anything they want without ever having to verify or produce evidence. They can photoshop selfies, plagiarize quotes, make grandiose statements, exaggerate achievements, and accumulate supposed “friends” all while maintaining a safe distance to prevent any real intimacy. And sadly enough, the more dramatic or shocking the comment, the more attention a person is likely to amass. This “attention” feeds the narcissistic ego and emboldens them further.
- Our current culture encourages and even rewards narcissistic behavior. As a general rule, narcissists love to be in the spotlight. Their superior ego arrogantly believes they are “above others” and being recognized for their achievements propels them. Movies glorify egotistical behavior, narcissistic politicians rise to the top of the pile, the music and sports industry indulges selfishness, intimidating bosses receive promotions, and arrogant professors rewrite history. Self-aggrandizement is viewed as a necessity and narcissists are masters at this.
- There is nothing like an economic downturn to remind society the need to depend on one another and create an atmosphere of humility. When everything is well, selfishness and self-sufficiency become the norm. A narcissist conceitedly believes that the reason they are prosperous is because of their own efforts. During a bear cycle, even the most accomplished of individuals tend to struggle and are forced to work more productively with others. This keeps a raging narcissist in check so the disorder is not so prevalent.
- This is a difficult section to address as the intention is not to blame parents for all narcissistic behavior. However, it is important to note that some parents do encourage it even if it is not intentional. Kids will make mistakes, hopefully, many while they are growing up. The essential process of making a mistake and suffering the consequences teaches kids responsibility, self-control, humility, teamwork, excellence, industriousness, initiative, and autonomy. Parents, who remove the consequences (either natural or unnatural) prematurely because they feel sorry for their child, stun the growth of their child and create an entitlement philosophy. This is the beginning of narcissism.
- Role Models. Perhaps the saddest of all the above sections is this one. Too often parents, teachers, employers, and society hold up narcissistic individuals as examples to follow. On the surface, they look amazing with astonishing accomplishments matched with excessive recognition. But a quick examination into their personal lives reveals troubled personal relationships, lack of empathy of others, estrangement from family, and no real intimacy. These role models become the standard for excellence, achievement, and perfection.
The cure for this is a more honest approach to each section with reasonable expectations. Unfortunately, unless everyone agrees, narcissism will continue to rise.