020 | The Narcissism Epidemic by Jean Twenge, Ph.D. & Keith Campbell Ph.D.

It was his own beauty that killed him.

According to Greek mythology, Narcissus was a man with a serious problem… He was so handsome that he couldn’t find a suitable mate. He scoured the land up and down, unable to find a partner who could match his beauty. One day, he walked by a pool of water to quench his thirst, and finally, his quest came to an end. And so did he.

As he leaned over the water, Narcissus caught a glimpse of himself in the pool’s reflection and instantly fell in love. He had found the only thing beautiful enough to quench his thirst for love – himself – and he spent the rest of his life staring into his own eyes, ceaselessly, literally dying in that very place. And so, with one accidental glance at his devilishly handsome face, the first narcissist was born.

In their thoroughly researched book, The Narcissism Epidemic, doctors Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell take a deep dive into the science around the rise of narcissism in society today. Older generations would have you believe that young people today are becoming more entitled and less caring towards others, but what does the science say?

Yeah… It wasn’t good.

Studies now show that college students in the 2000’s were significantly more narcissistic than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s. In fact two studies found that narcissists don’t score any higher on objective IQ tests, and another found no correlation between narcissism and performance on a test of general knowledge. "Narcissists also weren’t any better looking,” Twenge added.

Okay, clearly narcissists are arrogant and maybe even a little delusional, but how can we spot a narcissist when we see one? What does it even mean to be a narcissist?

“Narcissism is not simply a confident attitude or a healthy feeling of self-worth,” says Twenge. “Narcissists are overconfident, not just confident, and – unlike people with high self-esteem – place little value on emotionally close relationships. In short, narcissists are missing the piece about caring for others.”

She continues: “The central feature of narcissism is a very positive and inflated view of the self. People with high levels of narcissism think they are better than others in social status, good looks, intelligence, and creativity. However, they are not.”

Unfortunately, narcissism has become a distinctly American trait. Maybe we’ve taken our “American dream"-ing too far. Maybe we’ve grown an overinflated sense of self and lost touch with reality. We talk about the importance of a strong self-image and improving our self-esteem. We laud business owners and athletes for being self-motivated and self-sufficient. An inflated sense of self is synonymous with the American life. It should be noted, however, that neither Taiwanese nor Mandarin Chinese even have a word for self-esteem.

But what has caused us to become a nation of self-loving, selfie-taking narcissists? Let's ask the question we all want answered... Who is to blame? Unfortunately, almost everyone.

Parents are to blame. Celebrities are to blame. The media that gawks over those celebrities is to blame. Banks giving away easy credit are to blame. The list goes on and on, and it's all backed by the science. It all starts with the messages we are sending to our kids.

“Modern behavioral theories argue that narcissism arises from inflated feedback,” says Twenge. “If you’re told over and over again that you are great, you’ll probably think you’re great.”

I’d challenge us all to take a look in the mirror today. Is there any area of our lives where we’ve grown an overinflated sense of self? Are we really smarter, cooler, or better looking than the next guy or gal? Even if we are, is that really a good measure of our worth as a human?

So yeah, let's take a long, hard look in the mirror today. It might be time for us to re-evaluate what truly gives us worth.

Just make sure it doesn't last forever.


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