Are there more Narcissists?

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.

10 Comments

Filed under Narcissism

10 responses to “Are there more Narcissists?

  1. karebrad

    This was a very good article & so true. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. Mark

    I think there is a lot to do with the change in parenting style. In the 1920’s, there was a massive shift from attachment-style parenting to behavioralism. Behavioralism is the idea that the parent chooses what’s best for the child and then drives the child towards success in the field of the parent’s choice by alternately rewarding success and punishing failure. I think it was Watson who said he could turn any child into anything he wanted.

    However, the result of that is that the child’s interests, desires, and even needs take a back seat to what the parent decides the child should become. Another part of behavioralism is a merit-based system. The child is rewarded or punished based on actions, and there is not necessarily an underlying sense of self-worth. In fact, a child’s self-worth is seen to get in the way of the worth of the child as derived from the value in the parent’s eyes.

    I think this parenting style leads to adults who (1) believe that their value is what others perceive their value to be – that is different than actual accomplishment, it is the perception of accomplishment. (2) have no underlying moral compass because that is mostly rooted in their self-worth. (3) Re-create one or the other relationship based on their position – that is, they treat those beneath how they were treated and they treat those above like they treated their parents.

    To your point, I think more and more get away with it these days because of the explosion not only in population, but also towards urban and suburban life where relationships are more transactional and distant.

    • Great comment, Mark! I agree with both of your points here. The performance expectations on today’s young people, added to the pressurized environments of schools and urban/suburban life fit well with the population growth to produce and support narcissistic behaviors. If we remember that narcissism is a chosen coping mechanism, a way of handling stress and challenge, then we really should not be surprised to see more of it.

  3. Savedbygrace

    I liked your reflection on what we could do to make a difference… I think having authentic relationships with those around us is vital and this may take us out of our comfort zone ie be the change we want to see.
    We may need to initiate a neighbourhood relationship and go the extra mile to be ‘counter cultural’ and really listen to and value people as human beings not human doings; invest time in those who have the needs Mark described; and be generous with our praise and seek to build others up; resist the modern urge to speed up / be more efficient/ be self focused.
    Christians do not realise how much they have to offer to those around us – but we can truly be salt and light in this world and this will happen as we embrace our own true identity and worth in Christ.
    Whilst I believe this will have an effect on narcissistic tendencies or trends in our society I am not hopeful of it’s influence for those with NPD . Those in my life who present in this way seem – sadly- intransigent to change. So I leave them in the hands of the God of the impossible who is amazing and deals justly and mercifully with all.

  4. 20:20

    I dunno guys. I think there are or were just as many narcissists in the country as in the city or suburbs. I am astutely apposed to glorifying “country” life because isolation is a major factor in on going abuse. “Scream as loud as you want, no one will hear you.” That’s no joke. I don’t believe in any sort of romantic notion that the days of old were so much or any better than today.

    I think we are simply just more aware of narcissists and abuse these days because of technological advancements in communication.

    • I would argue that there is no more rural life. The days of families working together on farms, as they were 75 years ago or more, are gone in the US. With television, city schools, and easy drives to events the only isolation rural families have is that which is self-imposed – a far different thing. Nor are there people who are living the life of the “days of old.” (Nor would most of us want to.)

      As to whether there are more narcissists, the same argument could be made for there being more murderers. We simply hear about them more. Of course, that’s true, but it’s not the whole story. The US murder rate was just about the same in 2010 as it was in 1950 – but the population had doubled! That means there were twice as many murders. Yes, we heard about them on the television and read about them in the news, perhaps even experienced their aftermath in our schools, but it was not only our awareness that changed. The chances of us living in a community where murders happen have more than doubled since 1950 and, of course, even more than that in many cities. Sheer numbers do affect the argument.

      On the other hand, it is great that we are talking to each other more. Just like the #metoo movement, we are beginning to share the stories of our lives and the opportunities for abuse (I pray) are decreasing. I doubt, however, that the desire for abuse and control is decreasing.

      • Pastor Dave, I have been following your blog for a number of years, reading, liking, and sometimes commenting on your posts. I recently read your book, Narcissism in the Church: A Heart of Stone in Christian Relationships, and gave it a rave, 5-star review on Amazon, under my ‘Loves2Read’ moniker.

        So, I would consider myself one of your biggest fans. But this reply that you made to 20:20’s comment above, made me go WHAT?! I simply don’t understand, Pastor Dave, your ‘Lol’ at the beginning of your reply to a comment that contains these words:
        ‘ … isolation is a major factor in on going abuse. “Scream as loud as you want, no one will hear you.” That’s no joke.’

        In 20:20’s short comment, I don’t see one thing that strikes me as an ‘Lol’. Certainly not the part about nobody hearing you if you scream while you are being abused!

        Dave, I have been that abuse victim, battered literally to the point of unconsciousness, right in front of my hysterical two year old son, because I hadn’t cooked my husband’s steak exactly the way he wanted it, and — as he said — he had worked his rear off to pay for the groceries, and he was really looking forward to enjoying a big, juicy steak. When this happened, we lived several miles out on an unpaved rural road in the Ozark hills of Missouri, and nobody lived close enough to hear me scream.

        And no, that wasn’t 75 years ago, I’m not even close to being that old. But, regardless of how long ago it was …. there was nothing whatsoever that was ‘Lol’ about it then, and there is still nothing ‘Lol’ about it now.

        I realize that we all have off days and moments where our brain isn’t functioning up to par. Maybe you were in a hurry, skimming through comments, and you didn’t catch that part about screaming while you are being abused, and nobody can hear you? Maybe you had skipped breakfast that morning and gotten a little dehydrated and your tired brain saw the word ‘joke’ and responded with an automatic, unthinking ‘Lol’?

        With my history of dealing with narcissists and their abuse, a very big red flag for me is anyone who does not seem to have empathy for the suffering of others. An ‘Lol’ in response to what 20:20 wrote, strikes me as stunningly lacking in empathy. Maybe you have burnout? I can see where burnout would be a real danger for pastors, the same as it is for therapists, because people tend to bring you their worst problems, every single day of the week. In fact, I had previously assumed that you were no longer responding to most of the comments that people leave on your blog, not even to the most heart wrenching comments about severe narcissistic abuse, because you probably have some level of burn out. It happened to me at times when I was a nurse. And, five years ago when I went to Los Angeles to be with my daughter after her surgery, I was very quickly overwhelmed by all the homeless people everywhere. I wanted to help them all, but there were thousands of them, and only one of me. It took me about three days to burnout, a record for me.

        I know it’s not easy being a pastor. I come from a family of pastors, and my husband is a chaplain, so I have seen firsthand the toll it can take. I also know how overwhelming it is at times, blogging on this topic, because I write a blog about healing from the post-traumatic aftermath of abuse. Blogs like ours attracts readers, and comments, with stories that often move me to tears. So… I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, Pastor Dave, and I am doing that here. I don’t think you have a “heart of stone,” as the subtitle of your own book warns about! But… you really might want to rethink your ‘Lol’ at the beginning of your reply to 20:20. Although that gravatar is no longer active, I wonder how many current readers of your blog have read this comment, or will read it, and feel like I am feeling right now?

        You said at the beginning of this post that you are traveling. I’m praying for your safe journey. God bless.

  5. Thank you! Wow, I totally missed that point of the comment. I grieve that my response sat there for a year and a half like that. In no way do I want to make light of the suffering, the very real suffering, so many have experienced. I do understand that abusers like rural settings because of the isolation and that abuse in the past was covered by the “homey” culture. So, the commenter makes an important point that neither the rural setting nor the past are/were better. I am sorry that I took that in a different direction. I am especially sorry that readers were hurt by my response.

    And thank you for the “benefit of the doubt.” Most of those who write with immediate or severe needs get a personal response from me, rather than a reply on the blog. At the same time, I confess to not being as attentive as I have been in the past. The community we have here has been so good about words of encouragement and support to those who write.

    Summer travel is over, and I have good access to a computer again. I have been praying about what this blog will look like in the future, wanting to continue the support people have found here and struggling a little with finding new ways to expose the problems and encourage those who have experienced them. Narcissism is a popular topic today, as you know. So much so that the word is losing its value. Yet the abuse seems to be increasing. The things that are happening in churches (or are being exposed) are almost overwhelming. I feel it is even more important to write about narcissism in the Christian context and, at the same time, offer an understanding of the faith that draws people to Jesus as they struggle to find themselves again.

    So, again, thank you! You don’t know how much I appreciate your comment. I have taken the “lol” out of my response (and confess that I now see nothing funny in the comment), but I want to leave your comment and this response up. Yes, I screw up sometimes, and I miss the point – and, sadly, someone might be hurt. That’s why I have to be attentive to this and other communities in my life. I want the Lord to use whatever means He wishes to get my attention and to use me to encourage His people.

    And I appreciate the prayers. I believe the abuse is real and evil. I believe there is hope and comfort in Jesus. I want to do whatever I can to help people find a new life and future in Him. Your prayers are a great blessing!

  6. Thank you for your reply, Pastor Dave. I appreciate it very much.

    We all mess up and miss things sometimes. Only the narcissists won’t admit that — with one exception, which is when they are trying to hoover you back in for more abuse. If you were that kind of person, you would definitely have deleted my comment.

    God bless your very valuable ministry.

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