I’m going to start by saying that I’m not a psychologist. Despite being a science major, I didn’t even take a Psych 101 course while in college (also psychology isn’t a real science). So while that qualifies me to not be an annoying know-it-all who thinks he understands the human condition, it also unqualifies me to make any real analytical analyses of psychological importance.
But I’m going to anyways. Yeah, you heard me right. Despite being underqualified at best to talk about human psychology, I’m gonna put my thoughts out there because this is America goddamnit, and if a man can’t put his opinion on blast for the world to see regardless of his intellect or experience, then this is a country I no longer want to live in.
“Is today’s youth the most narcissistic generation ever?” – Older Generation of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and now.
That question has been asked in newspapers, magazines, and now blogs for the last half-century. In 1976, the cover story of New York Magazine was “The Me Decade.” About 37 years later in 2013, the cover of Time was “The Me Me Me Generation.” Essentially the members of the “Me Decade” were now calling today’s youth the “Me Generation,” although I must concede that Tom Wolfe’s article from 1976 is much better written.
In all honestly, I think the most self-absorbed people are the one’s looking at the younger generations and attempting to label them as “more narcissistic than I ever was,” while seeming to forget that moving past self-obsession is one of the major parts of growing up.
Narcissism and youth were shown to be directly correlated when, in 2010, psychology researchers at the University of Illinois compared narcissism rates with age and life stages. They found that narcissistic behavior was not related to generation, but to age-related developmental stages. In their summation, they stated that, “every generation is Generation ME, as every generation of younger people are more narcissistic than their elders.”
There are studies out there that have published data indicating this particular “Millenial” generation is the most narcissistic generation ever. But independent reviews have found most of the data to be suspect at best, many relying on personality tests that aren’t easily interpretable.
Narcissism is an extreme. It’s a mental disorder that is characterized by severe selfishness, an overriding need for admiration, and a complete lack of empathy coupled with a terribly fragile self-esteem. But like most buzzwords in our culture, it’s overused and misunderstood.
We see a celebrity post an obviously set up “candid” photo on Instagram and scoff at them saying, “wow, how much more attention do you need?” But the next day we’ll spend 20 minutes picking out the best filter and adjusting the brightness and saturation and highlights on our own picture, only to post it and obsessively check to make sure it gets enough likes so that we won’t be embarrassed by our clear lack of friends and have to take it down. Like almost every other standard we have, we hold others to a higher one while holding ourselves to much lower expectations.
The word narcissism has been thrown around a lot during this election year, with supporters from each side calling the other candidate a narcissist. But there’s a problem with armchair psychologists implying that narcissism is a negative for our presidential hopefuls. And the problem is that for a large portion of the American population, a narcissist is what they want to vote for. Narcissists tend to display traits that we find desirable in a political leader. They’re supremely confident, believe that they know best, and are willing to thrust their lives and the lives of their families into the spotlight of political theater.
Can you think of any sane, rational person you know that would be willing to work 90-hour weeks, give speeches to hundreds of thousands of people, and have all of their dirty laundry aired out on CNN just for the opportunity to work 168-hour weeks in a job where if you screw up, your name will be remembered forever? I can’t.
For over 200 years, we’ve been ruled mainly by narcissists. Now that their lives are so public, it’s really starting to show. Rutherford B. Hayes didn’t have personal emails to hack and display across all forms of media. Millard Fillmore never said “grab them by the pussy” on a hot mic before an interview with Billy Bush. For godsakes, Marilyn Monroe basically waltzed through the White House on her way to fornicate with a sitting U.S. President (more like “laying” U.S. President, am I right? High five!).
I’m going to abandon my typical scientific perspective here for a moment, so bear with me as I go a little rogue here: Would it really be that surprising if the Millenial generation was truly the most narcissistic generation to date? We’ve had almost four decades now of 24-hour news coverage, exposing us to the depravity of many of our political leaders. We see news anchors, political pundits, and even our parents explain away selfish, egotistical, borderline sociopathic behavior because “at least he/she is not a democrat/republican!”
I know that I said previously that there isn’t much solid, scientific evidence showing that this generation is more narcissistic than any before it. But I do see an unhealthy amount of self-absorption on social media every day, especially with how contentious this election has been. While we may not be any more narcissistic than those before us, I do believe we are more vocal in our narcissism. We have so many social media platforms where we can express our thoughts and unleash blind rage, often anonymously, I think that’s what gives us our narcissistic reputation.
Ultimately, I think the world needs more people who are deliberately thoughtful, selfless, intelligent, and kind. I think the world needs more people like me.