Narcissism in modern life

Narcissus:  A beautiful young boy who fell in love with his own reflection and came to a sad end. (Greek Mythology). 

Narcissistic personality traits are on the increase and you may not have even noticed. Narcissism is the personality trait of egotism, vanity, conceit, or simple selfishness.  In a study using data from 31 college campuses across the US, college students who completed the Narcissistic Personality Inventory – a measure designed to record narcissistic beliefs – the mean scores between 1982 and 2006 show a significant increase of nearly 16% in just 24 years.

There has been an emergence of celebrity culture over the last few decades, and with an increasing number of celebrity gossip magazines like Hello and OK,  the individual is celebrated, and we are all encouraged to think of ourselves as ‘special’, ‘unique’ and ‘important’.   This is all well and good but when it is out of balance then it can lead to problems of grandiosity, a sense of entitlement and a lack of empathy towards others.  This is the territory of narcissism

  It involves an inflated and exaggerated view of the self.  It affects how we feel and how we behave towards each other in our day to day lives. When a person internally demands that others recognise how marvellous/gorgeous/amazing he or she is, that person becomes disturbed when the demand is not met.  In fact that person is already in a disturbed state because of their inflated sense of self.   Some theorists view narcissism as an over-compensatory behaviour.  This means the individual is in fact highly insecure harbouring a sense of emptiness, loneliness or inferiority which leads him or her to   place an excessive emphasis on outward status, beauty, success and superiority. This type of unhealthy view point can trigger feelings of depression, anxiety, envy and rage.

Facebook can be a prime example of this. There can be a competition over the number of ‘Facebook friends’ that we have, and an expectancy that everyone will read our daily status updates. There are plenty of other examples. Some well intentioned parents can sometimes treat young girls likes Princesses and tell them they ‘deserve’ all that their heart desires and young boys are told ‘you can achieve anything, because you’re unique and special’.   Encouraging young boys and girls is extremely important but it needs to be balanced with boundaries, guidance, responsibility to self and to others and setting and meeting realistic goals.  If, however, the home environment is very permissive, overindulgent, lacks direction or has a sense of superiority then sadly it can be a good foundation to developing narcissistic and entitlement belief.
© Ian Martin, April 2011

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