It’s Narcissist Friday!
(I am traveling and thought this might be a post worth repeating. The times, they are a changin’!)
I often get asked if there are more narcissists today and, if so, why. That’s a difficult one to answer because the diagnosis of “narcissist” keeps changing. Many psychologists now believe that the narcissism we see in our relationships is simply a personality type, rather than a disorder. They reserve the label of narcissism for only extreme cases, those who commit gross crimes or who are sociopathic.
I suspect that the reason for this change is that we seem to see narcissism everywhere. Churches, politics, entertainment, even in small organizations and in our families. Most of us are simply more aware of narcissism and see it more, as when you are told that there are a lot of pregnant women in your community and you begin seeing them more and more. We are talking about narcissistic behavior and abuse more today than ever, and we are seeing it all around us.
Yet, I think the simple answer is: Yes, there are more narcissists today. At least there is more narcissistic behavior. I think there are more abusers, more cruel and manipulative people, and more attention seekers.
Of course, there are more of almost every kind of person today. In 1980, there were over 32,000 100-year-olds living in the US. In 2014, there were over 72,000. Not all of this is because we are living longer. There are just more people. We added nearly 100 million people to the US population during that same time.
I suspect that there are several factors in what we see as a rise in narcissism. One of the more influential factors could be the increased difficulty of being noticed when so many people are involved in our lives. If you consider just the memorable history of an older adult today, you will see the changes that have happened. Farm families spent most of their time apart from other people except for church or social gatherings. When the children started going to school, class sizes were small, just the local kids. When rural kids began to be bused into town, the schools were still smaller and class sizes allowed the teachers to actually know the kids. Today’s schools are consolidated and student bodies often number in the thousands. How does one kid stand out?
How do you get noticed in school today? Achievements that might stand out are already eclipsed by the trophies in the hallway case. Even bad behavior today has accelerated beyond anything that could have been imagined 60 years ago. How does a kid stand out?
How do you get your resume to stand out today? It used to be that you could drop in on a local store to see if they have any openings. Today you are told to send your resume through their website. You will probably join 200 others who have done the same thing. Almost all employers report the difficulty of sorting through the hundreds of resumes and applications they receive.
There’s lot of pushing going on out there. You see it when you drive. You see it when you try to buy a certain popular product. You see it when you want to advertise your skill or organization. Everybody is pushing to be seen and heard.
Some people respond to life’s pressures by developing a need and a will to push themselves into the limelight. Do you realize that only nine out of 10,000 high school football players in the US will eventually play in the NFL? Even if the student stands out in his school, how can he stand out later? Yet, those who must will find ways.
Today’s students and workers do not compete against those who do well. They compete against those who push hard. Who pushes to become the boss? Who pushes to become popular? Who pushes to make more money or get the more attractive spouse or enjoy the attention of others? Well, the narcissists certainly do.
And, because they have to push, they justify the abusive and manipulative behaviors of the narcissist. If you want to become the supervisor at work, you can’t let the work of others be considered better than yours. You have to draw attention to yourself, and you will probably be more willing to push others down to do it. The tools of the narcissist become the tools of advancement: lying, cheating, manipulating, belittling, using.
Most of us will refuse to stand out if that means we have to hurt others. But the narcissist doesn’t care about hurting others. The narcissist doesn’t recognize the personhood of others. The narcissist only wants to get ahead, to be noticed. Since that seems to take more these days, the narcissist is the one who can win.
Who gets the job or the scholarship or the position on the team? We all know that good people who are more capable are often pushed aside so the narcissist can get the prize. The company hires the one who pushes, rather than the faithful employee who knows the job so well. The school honors the one who “did what it takes” to get noticed, rather than the most qualified. The team uses the loudest and most outgoing player, rather than the one who practices diligently and works best with the other players. We see this all the time.
So we see narcissists more, I think. Narcissistic behavior is rewarded more. We may even be creating more narcissists by requiring that behavior to get ahead of others.
How does this change? I don’t think there is an easy answer, except on a personal level. Tell your daughter that the flashiest guy might not be the best, that the regular guy who is kind and thoughtful might make a much better life partner. Help your church to find the pastor who will serve and love, rather than mold the church to his will for his own benefit. Again, avoid the flashy pusher. If someone gives you good service, send a note to the boss as a thank you. If someone is kind, be sure to tell others. These things do make a difference.
If the game is set up to use the skills of the narcissist, we will see more narcissists. People will begin to use narcissistic behaviors to get what they want. The only way to overcome this, I believe, is to value the kindness and patience and service we have learned to take for granted.