Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement by Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell


Jean Twenge’s previous book was Generation Me, which I read as an attempt to understand the values and psyches of my younger co-workers. I found the book depressing but insightful. As a result, I decided to read her next book, The Narcissism Epidemic, even though I felt the term was heavily overused. Rarely have I had such an extreme reaction to a book. I moved between recognizing societal behaviors that I had noticed but not fully registered to being convinced that I, too, was dangerously narcissistic. Should I take the narcissism test? Would taking the test be a sign of narcissism? Is wanting to affect change a sign of narcissism? I ultimately called a close friend who reminded me that I had a similar crisis after I read The Geography of Bliss and suggested that I read some non-taxing novels for a change.

However, the worsening of the U.S. economy has made it essential that we examine our society. How did the financial crisis begin? What made financial people feel that it was acceptable to let potentially unsound loans to go through? Why did ordinary people borrow widely out of their financial means? Why did no one think that these financial abuses would be destructive? The answers, according to Twenge’s book, lie within the narcissicist values of our culture.


Anonymous said...

This is such a timely issue from personal to cultural realities. There is hardly any interpersonal problem which is not related to narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), in its mild to serious manifestations. Its complex rationalizations and disguises make for much of interpersonal, cultural and political discourse. NPD exists on a continuum like most things in this slippery world. But one thing is certain: narcissist needs constant reassurance that they are terrific in more ways than can ever be imagined. Most romantic love is based on unconscious narcissistic considerations. And being married to a narcissist means your own needs, wants and desires are likely to be ignored or paid lip service to. Narcissists are well known for their lack of empathy, sense of entitlement and self-centeredness.

They want their partners to meet their needs and give them endless attention and admiration, but they don't feel like reciprocating. If they do, it’s not genuine or longer lasting, and is mostly part of manipulation. Instead, they react to acts of kindness by criticizing, sulking or pouting, accusing or becoming angry over perceived slights. People who live with narcissists are likely to feel profound helplessness, frustration and demoralization because no matter what they try to do to be acceptable or give the other person what they want, none of that seems to work. Breakups, separation and divorce are common outcomes for relationships involving narcissists on all sides. And narcissists aren't going to change in any durable way if they themselves dont make a sincere effort. They don't see any need to change. The best way to help is working with a mental health professional for a reasonable amount of time, so that new ways of thinking and feeling could sink in. Only time, truth and good luck can cure a narcissist.

Anonymous said...

Narcissism is of the ego, by the ego and for the ego. Even ego defense mechanisms are a reaction to narcissistic injuries.

Richard F. said...

I don't know enough about narcissism to relate it directly to the financial shenanigans that led to the Panic of 2008. Everyone that I have discussed this with ties it to greed. Is greed always fueled by narcissistic tendencies? Whatever discussion I have seen relating to excessive risk-taking relates it to the endorphin or adrenaline rush related to taking chances. I don't know that would necessarily be due to narcissism. Has anyone tried to analyze the behavior of the mandarins of Wall Street in terms of that condition? The one book I read about Bear Stearns, House of Cards by William Cohan, did describe the outsized egos of their leaders, but I don't know that they necessarily craved the assurance that narcissists do. What's the difference between Narcissus and a Master of the Universe?