The Narcissists

Last February a study was completed by Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University along with four other Psychologists. The study examined responses of 16,475 college students nationwide who completed an evaluation called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. The study concluded that today’s college students are more narcissistic and self-centered than their predecessors.

What is Nacrissism? The term was coined by Sigmund Freud from Greek mythology. You may remember from your schooling that Narcissus was the one who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. While Narcissism can be diagnosed as a severe personality disorder, I’m referring to a milder form of narcissist as someone who honestly believes that, “It’s all about me.”

According to the website narcissism101.com a narcissist may exhibit at least five of the following behaviors:

1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
4. Requires excessive admiration
5. Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
6. Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

While all research is controversial, it is my anecdotal opinion that today’s eighteen to twenty-eight year-olds are indeed more narcissistic than those who came before them. I’ve noticed that email correspondence from this group of people is sometimes stingingly harsh and unkind. This is not a “respect your elders” issue; the emails would be unkind even if written to a person in their twenties. When I confront these rude e-mailers in person and mention the tone of their emails, often reading them back to the authors, they are often sheepish and apologetic. It is apparently a heck of a lot easier to insult someone by typing on a keyboard than to face him or her in person.

I’ve noticed that today’s young people are often impatient and want immediate results. Sometimes their expectations are so outrageous and unrealistic that they are laughable. One time I was remodeling a bedroom for a tenant. It was a major job and I told her it would take perhaps five days. After only one day, she told me her boyfriend was coming over. She demanded that I get ten people into the room at once so that it could be finished within 5 hours! I told her that the bedroom couldn’t even hold ten workers, and that plaster and joint compound require several coats to dry. Then it would have to be painted. She didn’t buy it for a minute; if she wanted it done in 5 hours it was going to be done in five hours! Of course, the laws of nature prevailed and the job took three more days. She still hasn’t forgiven me and is convinced that I “dragged out the job to be mean.” This is another characteristic of the narcissist. They are never wrong.

I suspect that narcissism is largely the product of over-praise by parents and teachers. After all, we wouldn’t want to mess up the self-esteem of these “little pretties” lest they become depressed. My son tells me that in corporate America it is now taboo to talk about a “problem.” In today’s politically correct world this is far too negative; problems are now called “opportunities”. I guess I’m old fashioned, but in my businesses we encounter problems continually. We even call them problems. All of us are held equally accountable for the success of our firm, and we know that it is our job to solve problems. In my company when a person messes up a $50,000 project we don’t go up to him and discuss his “opportunities”.

Please understand that the vast majority of the young people I know are fine men and women whom I admire and appreciate, but I think the narcissists among them are getting more “hard core” each year. I’ve been tempted to get some “It’s Not All About Me” buttons made for the growing number of narcissists I meet!

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