Social Issues: The Age of Narcissism
Our old friend Webster defines narcissism as an inordinate fascination with oneself.
I was thinking of this definition the other day as I was going through my daily feeds on Facebook. I was a bit surprised by the number of people who posted pictures of themselves. Now ordinarily I wouldn’t give much thought to this; I mean everyone occasionally has a picture that they think does them justice and is flattering, and they just have a hankering to share with others. However, these people had posted pictures of themselves quite often in the past and that meant it was time for me to do some reflection on this practice.
It seems to me that I am seeing a great deal of this behavior of late and I’m wondering why? Why is it necessary to continually show others how good you are looking of late? The ones that particularly bother me are the obvious poses that are meant to convey sexuality and desire. Look at me, world, ain’t I beautiful? Look at me, world, aren’t I desirable?
The other people that I thought about are the ones that constantly talk about themselves. I did this and I did that. It is always about them; every conversation is filled with the “I” word, as if they are the only ones worth talking about.
Where does that come from? Why is there a need to dazzle the world with your physical attributes? This is such a foreign concept to me that I need to take a look at this thing called narcissism and see if I can’t find the root cause of it; maybe then I can better understand it.
CAUSES OF NARCISSISM
After some extensive research, reading the opinions of several psychiatrists, I found that narcissism generally comes from one of two main causes, namely parenting or lack of self-worth.
With regards to parenting, behaviors that will foster narcissism can include:
· Excessive praise which gives children an unrealistic view of themselves
· Spoiling a child
· Lack of adequate discipline
· Raising a child to meet lofty expectations of the parents
All are interesting points and, as a former teacher, I have seen evidence of all of these behaviors in many of the parents I have had associations with. There is certainly nothing wrong with praising your child; every child needs to have a healthy sense of value in life. The problems arise when all the child hears is how great they are, that they are the prettiest, the smartest, the greatest, and on and on, until the child begins to believe it. Once that happens a healthy sense of reality goes out the window and narcissism starts to take root.
Spoiling a child can obviously have negative effects later on, most notably manifested by a belief that they deserve to be spoiled later on in life.
Discipline is nothing more than setting limits on a child’s behavior, and in the case of narcissism the child without limits becomes an adult without societal limits. Proper interaction with others has never been established if the only concern is me, myself and I.
And of course, raising a child to meet lofty expectations all too often results in a child constantly trying to meet unrealistic expectations as an adult, to the point where they begin to believe this fabricated image of themselves.
When we are speaking about low self-worth, the cause is generally a feeling of being inferior, which leads to a major gap between the real self and the expected or ideal self. In order to quell the shouts of inferiority, a defense mechanism is necessary, and that all too often leads to narcissism in order to defend the threatened ego.
All of this leads to narcissists being concerned more with image rather than self. How can I appear to be better than I am? How can I convince others that I really am fantastic? How can I gain self-esteem through the praise of others? It is, in fact, an exhausting quest and one that is doomed to failure. One can never base self-esteem upon the opinions of others, nor can one base it upon possessions, awards, or other false foundations.
AN OBSERVATION ABOUT TODAY’S SOCIETY
This is purely a subjective observation. I have no survey to support it, nor do I have any scientific reports that lend credibility to my claims. It is my observation that we are seeing a great deal more of this narcissistic behavior in our society today. This observation leads me to wonder why that is? What is there about today’s society, and in particular in the western world, that leads to so much narcissism?
My gut reaction is that media has much to do with it. Between television, the movies and the internet, we are constantly bombarded with unrealistic and false values. So many actors, actresses and athletes of very little character are glorified in the media, their every move scrutinized, and more often than not their every move is all about them.
The internet and sites like YouTube have given a stage for all to perform on, the perfect setting for a narcissist.
Then, too, I have seen an unhealthy increase in permissive parents, and quite frankly this began during my generation, with the Baby Boomers. From the 50’s and 60’s we began to see a more lenient parenting method, an attitude that we didn’t want our children raised in the strict environment that we were raised in. This has mushroomed to the point where strict parenting has all but disappeared, leading to unhealthy permissiveness.
As I was writing that last sentence I thought back to a school I taught at in Oregon four years ago. There were always awards given at 8th grade graduation, and it was determined that each student should get an award so that everyone would feel special. Consequently, thirty awards were given at graduation; so watered-down was this exercise that even the students thought it was ridiculous. In effect, some awards amounted to no more than an award for breathing and showing up. What message does that send?
THE BOTTOM LINE
The day I start believing that I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread is the day I’ve got huge issues. My father summed it up perfectly when I was a child. “Bill,” he said, “You are no better than anyone else and no one is any better than you.” Pretty simple words to live by; I am just a human being, unique and yet superior to no one. I like that position in life. I have no unrealistic standards to maintain, and as long as I keep my ego safely under wraps all is right in my world. Once I allow my ego to exert itself, however, I have major problems.
Narcissism is all about ego; whether truly believed or falsely manufactured, it is ego nonetheless.
How do I deal with it? I know this will sound cold, but I eliminate it from my life. My time is too precious to me to spend it feeding someone else’s narcissism. If all someone wants to do is talk about themselves then they don’t need me to do it. Heck, I would even be willing to buy them a blow-up doll so they have someone to talk to. Just leave me out of the equation.
The same goes for Facebook. I honestly have friends on Facebook and I don’t know who they are or where they came from; a friend of a friend or whatever. Once they exhibit the need to discuss their greatness at length, they have lost me as a follower.
I guess a bottom line is in order. I cannot stop narcissism, but I can stop its influence on my life. It is not my job to point out narcissism in those I meet; it is my job to take care of my happiness. In the final analysis, the only person I should have control over is myself and believe me, that is a full-time undertaking. If others feel the need to dazzle the world with their brilliance, beauty or talent, they can do so without my participation.
2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
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