The Hissy Fit Generation and the Loss of Free Speech IV: The Narcissism Factor (1)

By M.K. Styllinski

Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

“We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

Chuck Palahniuk


We live in a culture that promotes degrees of narcissism as though it were perfectly normal. Indeed, the core of American exceptionalism and NATO warmongering is large-scale abusive narcissism, so it is little wonder Americans are being confronted with a choice to become part of that pathology or to resist it. It is that resistance by our younger generations that may define our future.

So, are millennials inherently narcissistic? Absolutely not. In fact, the common belief that millennials and Generation Z are narcissistic by default is often sourced from older generations like the Baby Boomers [1] many of whom happily gloss over the fact that it is they who are largely responsible for the psychological conditions now surfacing in the young. Many findings are reflective of a mixed bag of societal conditioning that points to generational confusion and a loss of meaning more than any one overarching psychological condition.

Postmodernism and its viral-nihilism has a lot to do with the suffering of millennials. Similarly, clusters of narcissism may emerge in certain groups like the SWJ’s for example and other forms of radicalism, but this is quite different to labelling a whole generation as inherently narcissistic. Such a ready conclusion might even exacerbate the problem. It is more probable that they have common narcissistic traits as symptoms of Official Culture which feed into a host of other mental conditions. So, it seems the extent of this “narcissism” within the millennial generation and Generation Z is still under question, though evidence is growing that this condition is pervasive to some degree or another.

One study carried out by Joshua Grubbs, a clinical psychologist at Case Western Reserve University, millennials and BB’s and older were asked to rank generations on their narcissism.  Millennials came in at 65.3 on a 100-point narcissism scale, rating themselves as 61.4.  Grubbs’ study found that despite admitting that they had narcissistic traits they didn’t like the label of narcissist and felt it to be a “putdown.” They also, (unsurprisingly perhaps) rejected accusations of arrogance, selfishness and vanity. Yet, if we are told something often enough we may come to believe it whether this is overstated or understated. This may have an effect as they grow older.  Or as Grubbs stated: “Over time, the ‘narcissistic’ label could impact how millennials feel, their mental health (and) their attitudes about themselves and general generation.” [2]

Interestingly, it was classic narcissists that didn’t mind the diagnostic label and according to Grubb: “..there are very few of them.” He believes that it is more a case of individualism than overt narcissism, though speaking generally his study led him to conclude that: “on the whole, people of my generation probably are more narcissistic than in past generations.”

This is a real diffculty: if these generations do have a predominance of narcissism, then a constant reiteration of this label may further entrench the condition. This has been proven to be so in a variety societal milieus in my own experience from prison inmates to ethnic communities.  If you are told you are an offender often enough then you may come to believe it, especially when the inducement to remain under such a category is more compelling than constructive change, which often lacks social support. Falling back into victimhood isn’t useful either, but since that too is encouraged in our social systems we have a complex vicious circle which is sadly not broken by adopting multidisciplinary solutions.

It is also true that an entitlement complex in the millennial generation is on the rise. A University of Hampshire study found that “youngsters scored 25 percent higher than people aged 40 to 60 and 50 per cent higher than those over that age bracket.” [3] [4] Which may explain why millennials suffer increasing anxiety and stress when they don’t get their own way. It is also evident from Grubbs’ research that millennials “experience more anger, frustration and sadness over the  [narcissism] label than other generations”. The fact that it bothers them shows that the majority of millennials are not suffering from classical Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) but incorporating the traits of narcissism as opposed to full blown pathology. And Official Culture thrives on promoting narcissistic habits and values. Again, postmodernist philosophy and left-liberal politics is instilling false expectations and the stress and anxiety that comes with it; not least from a depressed market for work and job satisfaction. Match this with a socially encouraged infantilism it can only lead to the rise of a lost generation, rather than an inherently narcissistic one, though obviously these lines are very blurred.

The Narcissism Epidemic

Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell are two academics who believe that there is an undoubtedly a swing toward an extreme individualism or narcissism across all generations, but focused mainly in millennials and Generation Z as the repository of a culture’s shadows going back to at least the 1960s.

Previously mentioned in this blog on various occasions, The Narcissism Epidemic – Living in the Age of Entitlement (2009) provides in-depth, expert research at the cultural level and details how and why such generational narcissism has bloomed at this time, along with its deleterious effects. Using diagnostic criteria to arrive at a prognosis, they believe, as I do, that there is a pathology of normality meaning: what we now perceive to be normal is a camouflaged abnormality, habituated and conditioned by an array of influences which gradually infect society as a whole.  (We can also include State sources of social engineering and neuro-hacking as primary causes).

According to the authors’ studies which are by far the most extensive, “…in data from 37,000 students narcissistic personality disorder rose just as fast as obesity form the 1980s to the present, with the shift especially pronounced for women.” (This will be an important point to remember in the context of 3rd wave feminism and SJWs). They explain further:

“The rise in narcissism is accelerating with scores rising faster in the 2000s than in previous decades. By 2006, 1 out of 4 college students agreed with the majority of the items on a standard measure of narcissistic traits. Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), the more severe, clinically diagnosed version of the trait, is also far more common than once thought. Nearly 1 out of 10 of Americans in their twenties, and 1 out of 16 of those of all ages, has experienced the symptoms of NPD. Even these shocking numbers are just the tip of the iceberg; lurking underneath is the narcissistic culture that has drawn in many more. The narcissistic epidemic has spread to the culture as a whole, affecting both narcissistic and less self-centered people. […] Like a disease, narcissism is caused by certain factors spreads through particular channels, appears as various symptoms, and might be halted by various preventative measures and cures. Narcissism is a psychocultural affliction rather than a physical disease, but the model fits remarkably well.” [5]

This is essentially, a description of one stream of ponerological infection. Twenge and Campbell reiterate this more precisely: “Narcissism has spread through the generations like a particularly pernicious virus — one with multiple means of entry and transmission. … American’s immunity to narcissism has been weakened.” [6] Which brings us back to the hysteriodal cycle and the hystericisation of society due to progressive psychopathic inculcation from on high. Such psychopathology has been transmitted as the “unintended consequences of good intentions, as in the self-esteem movement and less authoritative parenting” [7] with the result being self-centered and/or narcissistic children. It is for this reason this book probably represents the most accurate appraisal of the collective condition since it places large demographical data sets in context rather smaller surveys in isolation. Sporadic internet surveys only take a snapshot of the situation. It therefore goes to the root of Official Culture from a social and historical context with large data sets to support it. Most importantly, “behaviour and attitudes that don’t go far enough to merit a clinical diagnosis but that can nevertheless be destructive to the individual and other people. This “normal” narcissism is potentially even more harmful because it is so much more common.” [8]

And further, there is a big difference between narcissism as a personality trait and narcissism as a cultural condition; a difference that is seldom factored into the numerous articles that highlight a raft of studies. Twenge states there are two stories to keep in mind in analysing current trends in the rise of narcissism: “One story is about the high level of narcissism among individuals. The other story is about a shift in our shared cultural values toward greater narcissism and self-admiration. These two issues are related, of course, but the cultural changes are even more dramatic than the personality changes.” [9]


“Me, me me.” | Cultural Narcissism is like a viral epidemic spreading over time through our social systems. The character of Agent Smith from the movie The Matrix (1999) is a suitable metaphor for the effects of this condition. It is also a symptom of a deeper psychopathology based on the State and its hierarchical social systems which offer a breeding ground for various trains of pathogenic disease.


Due to brevity we’ll include the main areas and a short summary of their findings, starting with what narcissism isn’t.

Myth 1: Narcissism is ‘Really High’ Self-Esteem

In our politically correct, postmodern Western societies it is now fashionable for parents and educators to build up their self-esteem and tell them that they are special so that they can be all they can be and a success in life. But self-esteem is not linked with the ability to forge success in one’s life. Creating happy, self-confident children doesn’t mean that we should treat them like unique little princes and princesses who should love themselves as somehow more important than loving others and the society of which they are a part. This is part of the problem with extreme individualism and the cult of self-love now so popular in self-help, new age circles – it breeds narcissism. The authors state:

“Narcissists do have high-self-esteem, and in fact many techniques used to increase self-esteem might lead to greater narcissism. But narcissism and self-esteem differ in an important way. Narcissists think they are smarter, better looking, and more important than others, but not necessarily more moral, more caring or more compassionate.” [10]
“A major review on the work of self-esteem and achievement found that high-self-esteem does not cause better grades, test scores or job performance. It’s a problem of correlation not equaling causation. There is a small correlation between self-esteem and better achievement but it is almost certainly explained by better performance causing higher self-esteem. Self-esteem comes after success, not before, because self-esteem is based on success (whether that’s academic success or simply being a good friend to someone). Much of the rest of the already small link is due to confounding variables — rich kids for example, have higher self-esteem and make better grades. Some children with low self-esteem do poorly, but it’s because they were abused or had parents who did drugs — things that cause both low self-esteem and poor outcomes. On its own, self-esteem does not lead to success.” [11] 

The research highlights three social trends which appear to be the main culprits in altering the way we bring up children. The first was the movement toward self-esteem in the late 1960s which saw this psychological factor as the most significant key to a child’s future behaviour and motivation. Self-exploration that requires discipline and effort – sometimes painful realisations – was replaced with the second trend of “finding yourself” or self-expression which required rationalised forms of self-promotion, attention-seeking and often varied forms of indulgence. Third, was the move away from community-oriented thinking during the 1970s, with personal relationships following the same trend, parallel to an explosion in the divorce rate and a massive dip in birth rates.  The abandonment of family and community was replaced with the ritual of the Self as a source of value. In summary: “in our rush to create self-worth, our culture may have opened the door to something darker and more sinister.” With a foundation of institutional psychopathy in social systems and government a rapid psychological dissolution has taken place.

Myth 2: Narcissists Are Insecure and Have Low Self-Esteem

Is narcissism a mask for a lack of self-worth? Are they just insecure, fragile poppets desperately misunderstood and all they need is to be nurtured and loved? Do they just need to love themselves more? Such a psychodynamic belief is common in our culture, that narcissists have low self-esteem and suffer from shame and well-camouflaged insecurities. There’s just one problem – there’s no evidence for this view, at least not for the extroverted narcissists which tend to influence society much more than say compensatory narcissists who do not seek the limelight. For those with narcissistic traits, hidden shame may well feature and buried by a survival/defence mechanism that has overtaken normal behaviour. Charismatic and outspoken narcissists however, are quite happy with the way they are which is why you seldom get such individuals rolling up for an appointment with a psychologist. The authors state:

“The most common self-esteem measure has items such as ‘I feel I am a person of worth, at least on an equal basis with others” and “I feel that I have a number of good qualities.” Someone who thought he was entitled to the best would find very little to disagree with here. To narcissistic people, these self-esteem items sound like a pale shadow of their own greatness. ‘You bet I’m a person of worth—more than most people!’ They think. ‘I have a lot of good qualities, not just a number!’ The sub-set of vulnerable narcissists do have occasional bouts of low self-esteem and can end up in therapy, but in this book we focus on the more socially savvy narcissists who have the most influence on the culture. Much of the confusion about narcissism comes from thinking that most narcissists are like these vulnerable narcissists, but they’re not. […] Narcissism is not about deep self-loathing or low self-esteem, but a confidence in individual achievement areas paired with a neutral to negative attitude toward closeness and emotional intimacy with others.” […] “…many people assume that narcissism can be cured by even more self-admiration. It can’t…Thus it is very important that programs seeking to work with school bullies be very careful when trying to build their self-esteem, as narcissism might be an unintended consequence. Bullies need to learn respect for others. They already have too much respect for themselves. [12]

Myth 3: Narcissists Really Are Great/Better Looking/Smarter

Narcissists may be special but not in the way they might think. There is no real evidence to suggest that narcissists are any better than the average person, which is why their behaviour becomes so hard to bear. Narcissists don’t score higher on IQ or general knowledge tests, with studies on creativity being inconclusive. The authors claim that there is also no evidence to show that narcissists are better looking than anyone else either, although of course, they think they are: “…narcissists do know how to pick out a a flattering picture of themselves (or take enough pictures so at least one is flattering). For example, the pictures that narcissists choose for their personal Web-pages were rated as more attractive by observers. Overall, narcissists believe they are smarter and more beautiful than they actually are.” [13]

It is the classic narcissistic illusion between thinking you’re hot stuff and the next Einstein overlooked, conflicting with the objective reality that you are not – something which most others are able to see quite well.

Myth 4: Some Narcissism is Healthy

People often jump to the other extreme and suggest that we should all go and eat worms and despise ourselves. Self-hatred is clearly not the answer. As Twenge mentions: “a small number of people do hate themselves and could use some self-admiration. But you can like yourself just fine without loving yourself to excess.” [14] And even more importantly, to suggest small doses of narcissism are beneficial and healthy – healthy for whom? Narcissistic behaviour harms everyone and is a symptom of our socio-cultural direction that has lost its way.

Myth 5: Narcissism is Just Physical Vanity

Narcissism has many characteristics, physical vanity being only one.

Myth 6: You Have to Love Yourself to Love Someone Else

As a central principle of the self-help and new age industries as well as popular media, loving yourself is taken for granted as a means to achieve healthy interactions with the world and the development of proper romantic relationships. How many times have we heard: “oh, she just needs to love herself more” or, “He has no self-esteem…If he’d just learn to love himself life would open up for him.” But the devil is in the details. Fear of settling or missing out; the idea that we mustn’t compromise; looking for the perfect partner without any sacrifice – these are some of the flawed ideas based on a culture that encourages narcissism and the attraction of a partner as a mirror of the same. The hook is that such chemical highs may at first, appear to offer this ideal but goes south rather quickly when everything is burned up only to reveal the true emotional centre of each. Loving yourself as opposed to respecting yourself and seeing your potential to grow without ego-inflation sends us running into the arms of the very thing that is least nourishing. But the narcissist will gain an awful lot of fuel and nourishment from these gaps in our awareness.

Self-admiration linked to self-love is perceived to be a good thing provided it doesn’t morph into narcissism. Of course, everyone thinks they are immune to this danger. Loving yourself in order to love someone else is misguided. The authors explain:

“People low in self-love or self-esteem are somewhat clingy, seek reassurance of their partner’s love and can get hung up on their partner’s insecurities, but they choose partners just as well as everyone else and genuinely care about their partners. The protagonist in Curtis Sittenfield’s best-selling novel Prep is a good example: she clearly has low self-esteem, but loves with a poignancy the more popular girls could never reach. Unless he’s very depressed, the chances are that a low-self-esteem person will truly love you and will be a decent relationship partner—-much better than a narcissist, who really loves loves himself and won’t care about you much at all. Which would you rather have: someone who wants reassurance of your love or someone who doesn’t truly love you? For most people that’s a a pretty simple choice, and shows that loving yourself isn’t all that important for loving others. […] Self-admiration can make loving others and treating them well almost impossible, because too much self-admiration encourages people to put themselves before others. We need a new cultural belief: if you love yourself too much, you won’t have enough love left for anyone else.”  [15]

And since we are constantly being pulled into the vortex of Official Culture which is narcissistic and addictive by default, it is no surprise that we are seeing precisely that: self-admiration and self-love pushed to an extreme. Self-deprecation and humbleness in our culture is neither sexy or endearing it seems. Humility is passé because it doesn’t give the narcissitic supply to which we have all – to different degrees – become accustomed.

Myth 7: You Have To Be Narcissistic To Be Successful

A fallacy is ever there was one. We still live in a global economy predicated not on classical global capitalism (that’s bad enough) but a financial architecture that breeds cartelism at great cost to the social fabric of the world. Thus competition has become a religion where the very concept of success has been warped into a normalised dog-eat-dog world. Now that the terrible flaws in this criminal system are coming home the drive to compete is becoming even more pervasive in education, business and our social systems, turning it all into an exploitative corporate take over.

The corporate ethos of exclusive privatisation and the sale of a nation’s assets is the hallmark of a narcissistic and psychopathic view of business. In other words, profit for profit’s sake with individual and community values crushed underfoot. Without a sense of local community and the natural support it fosters, narcissism and addiction can develop without hindrance. When a pathological worldview is normalised only a very select few will prosper; the rest of us have to survive while trying to keep up with an immoral system that offer can only offer steadily diminishing returns.

A narcissistic/psychopathic corporate model functions when its CEOs are made of the same psychological cloth; workers are culturally and socially  entrained to mimic the same “normality.” This is not a healthy business or economic model for our mental health or the environment. Narcissism isn’t useful or constructive for any business practice – or our concept of competition – as Twenge and Campbell explain. They raise several pointers regarding narcissism and competition which I’ll distill in the following way, with additions of my own:

  • Narcissists are desperate to win over others but they are not great at actually winning.
  • Narcissists are wildly overconfident since their self-importance and illusions do not match reality. Or: “Narcissism is a great predictor of imaginary success — but not of actual success.”
  • Narcissists are terrible at seeking advice and receiving it; they cannot take criticism and therefore do not learn from their mistakes.
  • Narcissists’ overconfidence inevitably leads to poor performance.
  • Narcissists are know-it-alls, which psychologists call “overclaiming.” Regardless of whether they know it or not, they will claim they do. Even if something or someone is fictional they will boast expert knowledge regardless.
  • Narcissists have a high tolerance for risk due to their self-belief and inflated confidence. This does very well in a deregulated financial free-for-all where speculation rules the day. Where others might employ due caution, the narcissistic trader and venture capitalist will throw caution to the wind. When things go belly up narcissists and their ventures are likely to be the first to fall, dragging the rest of us down with them. (The subprime crises of 2008 being one example).
  • Narcissists are not popular bosses and even poorer managers since they score low on interpersonal skills and problem solving.  Yet, such people are more likely to become leaders in organisations and businesses in the short-term as they dominate others with brash charisma and can-do attitude which, given our warped perception of what succeeds, is seen as just the ticket for a competitive world.  Much like the false economy of profits over values and our environment – narcissists’ place at the top seldom lasts. However, when corporations have become ponerised thus thoroughly corrupted in fiscal and structural terms, these companies inevitably have serious difficulties. This leads to implosion or the shedding of jobs and head-hunting new blood. This begins the cycle again – short-term dynamism and new ideas which eventually turn to mud. Indeed, as in romantic relationships, there’s often a big fanfare full of chemical highs and idealistic visions of undying love. This very often leads to a catastrophic low where everything falls into a black hole because it was based on a projected image. One is fiscal, the other is emotional. But since our economic and political culture allows such companies to fleece all and everyone with immunity then the longevity and resilience of pathological companies like Monsanto continue to thrive -or in the case of Enron, the narcissism and psychopathy gets so bad that it begins to eat its own tail. In fact, studies outlined by Twenge and Campbell show that the best CEOs are extremely humble and shun the limelight.

All in all, not a good recipe for business or any other field of human relations. But there is one exception: narcissists thrive through individual public performance rather than team-work. If public admiration and adoration is forthcoming, then its like a satisfying drug for narcissists who will try even harder to maintain that steady supply of glory. Acting, popular music, sport, and the ubiquity of reality T.V. shows flooding the entertainment market offer such people a channel through which they may indulge themselves.

Consequently, culture may now be so narcissistic that it’s warping “reality” itself.

Continued…

 


Notes

[1] ‘The Most Entitled Generation Isn’t Millennials. It’s Baby Boomers’ realclearpolitics.com By Ross Pomeroy & William Handke, January 09, 2015.
[2] ‘Study finds millennials the most narcissistic generation’, Jessica Brown, indy 100, 21 Feb 2017.
[3] ‘Psychologists say more and more young people are developing an entitlement complex’ Greg Evans, indy100, 30 Jul 2017.
[4] pp.2-3; Twenge, Jean ; Campbell, W. Keith,  The Narcissism Epidemic – Living in the Age of Entitlement (2009).
[5] Ibid. p.38
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid. p.23
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid. p.48
[10] Ibid. p.24
[11] Ibid. p.48
[12] Ibid. pp.27-28
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid. p.39
[15] Ibid. p.222

 

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