The Narcissists Among Us
Their ranks are growing and social media isn't helping; here's what to know
We throw around the word “narcissist” a lot — especially in an age of selfies. But why is this behavior so pervasive in American society?
Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, studied 16,000 college students on U.S. campuses a few years ago. She found that 30 percent of them were narcissists — up from 15 percent in 1982.
“Empathy is also down and what I call the ‘selfie syndrome’ is in full bloom,” said one psychologist.
It’s indicative of a generational shift, she noted.
”These were shocking numbers. You can only diagnose this starting at age 18, so there weren’t that many years for people in their 20s to develop this — yet their rate was three times as high as people over 65,” she said in a statement.
Millennials are a more narcissistic generation, she reported in a 2010 study that appeared in Social Psychological and Personality Science. Other experts say there hasn’t been a rise in narcissism. Key reason it’s hard to tell: People who aren’t narcissists likely aren’t speaking up as much as those who are.
“You can look at individual scores of narcissism. You can look at data on lifetime prevalence of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. You can look at related cultural trends — and they all point to one thing. Narcissism is on the rise,” Dr. W. Keith Campbell, head of the University of Georgia psychology department, told the American Psychological Association (APA) Monitor on Psychology.
“Empathy is also down and what I call the ‘selfie syndrome’ is in full bloom,” Dr. Michele Borba, a psychologist from Palm Springs, California, told LifeZette. “Then there’s the problem of poor role models. Not only do they often not assume responsibility, they often blame the ‘other guy.'”
“A trait of narcissism or entitlement is the ‘not me’ behavior,” she added.
Roots and Behaviors
Flooding our kids with praise about how special they are could be partially to blame, Twenge reported. Making them feel as if self-worth is a prerequisite to success is also part of the problem — success should largely come about as a result of it.
Pop songs focused on the self, as well as unique names, are also culprits.
- Lacks empathy
- Grandoise sense of self-importance
- Sense of entitlement
- Takes advantage of others
- Envious of others
- Requires excessive admiration
Telltale signs of narcissism include lacking empathy, having an inflated sense of self, being materialistic, and feeling entitled. These people fantasize about success and believe they deserve special treatment. Technology hasn’t helped, as the kids who were bullying others are now seeking attention by broadcasting their behavior online. A 2015 study linked selfies to narcissism.
But just saying “I” or “me” a lot isn’t enough to qualify as a narcissist, the APA reports.
Narcissism leads to more social media usage, Twerge said, which leads to positive reviews — just the thing people need as a boost. While it’s not clear social media can cause narcissism, it’s at least a breeding ground for it.
Stop Raising These People
A 2015 study found that parental warmth led to self-esteem. When the parent overvalued the child (suggesting to the child that he or she was better than others), that led to more narcissistic behavior.
To break the narcissism cycle, parents should talk to their children when they show behaviors like bullying or acting entitled.
“Children believe it when their parents tell them they are more special than others,” said one psychologist.
Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, a psychologist in Princeton, New Jersey, said talking to children about how to empathize with another person is vital. Ask him or her how another person might feel. This helps kids practice empathy, which can combat narcissistic thoughts and behaviors.
“Children believe it when their parents tell them they are more special than others. That may not be good for them or for society,” Dr. Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, said in a statement.
“Rather than raising self-esteem, overvaluing practices may inadvertently raise levels of narcissism,” his co-author, Dr. Eddie Brummelman, a University of Amsterdam researcher, added.