“The Narcissism Epidemic” … (part 1)

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing various observations gleaned from a wonderful, recent study entitled, The Narcissism Epidemic.  According to dictionary.com, “narcissism” is “an inordinate fascination with oneself.”  From the same source, an “epidemic” is an affliction that affects a “disproportionately large number of individuals within a population.”  So in titling their book as they have, Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell are suggesting that a disproportionate segment of our society is currently suffering from a distorted sense of self-image that is marked by a pronounced fascination with one’s own being.

Now, to get us going, let me offer you two brief insights gleaned from the first chapter of the book.  Then I want to ask a question.

  • From the 1980s to the present, the percentage of Americans possessing Narcissitic personality traits has risen as fast as percentage of society that struggles with obesity.
  • In 2006, 1 out of every 4 college students possessed a majority of the traits listed in a standard psychological profile of narcissism.

So here is my question.  Why are we, as Americans, concerned about obesity, but relatively ignorant and/or unconcerned about narcissism?  

The Narcissism Epidemic is currently available through amazon.com for $10.87.

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6 Responses to “The Narcissism Epidemic” … (part 1)

  1. Matt E says:

    I think the “answers” to obesity are fairly easy to come by: they all basically revolve around diet and exercise. (And by “diet” I mean looking at all aspects of what one eats, and how often, and how much, not “diet” as in “go an a diet.”) Who has the “answers” to narcissism (outside of a religious context)?

  2. Fair enough, Matt. But why are these things on the rise in our culture? In terms of obesity, one could argue that we are less committed to the concept of self-restraint? It may also simply be a function of us being more sedentary in both our work and play?

    But what is causing narcissism to rise? What’s happening in our culture?

    It’s one thing to say that “religion” is the only answer, but are you suggesting that are decreased interest in “religion” (on the societal level) is inversely related to the rise in narcissism?

    • Matt E says:

      1) I definitely think our more sedentary lifestyles have a lot to do with the rise of obesity.

      2) I think a lot of what is causing the rise in narcissism has to do with how parenting has changed over the last 50 years. The idea that it is possible to spoil a child “rotten” seems to be going the way of the dodo.

      3) I think there is a correlation between the decrease of “religion” and the increase in narcissism, but I’m not prepared to claim causation of any kind.

      • While I am also not ready to claim direct causation, I think there is a very strong correlation. One the major shifts that came about during the time of the Enlightenment was a shift away from the Christian conception of mankind being sinful. In it’s place, we postulated an ontologically good humanity; and I think that plays out in American culture, which is nothing more than a giant petri dish for Enlightenment philosophy.

  3. In America, we tend to judge first on outward appearance. “It only matters if we look like this model” or “wear this style of clothes.” Our society has almost set standards as to what’s “in” or not and if you don’t abide by these standards, then you’re a nobody. They spread a message that who we are on the outside, defines who we are on the inside. According to makebeatsnotbeatdowns.com states

    Suicide rates among 10 to 14-year-olds have grown more than 50 percent over the last three decades. (The American Association of Suicidology, AAS)

    • In 2005 (the last year nationwide stats were available), 270 children in the 10-14 age group killed themselves. (AAS)

    I’m sure some of this has to due with not feeling worth it or “looking good enough.” People kill themselves as well as emotionally abuse and cutting themselves today more than ever before. So I’m sure that the statistics are somewhat relational with people who have a struggle with obesity. In America, we can’t get past the fact of someone being obese…it’s almost what we know them by and that completely KILLS self-asteem. This is probably one of the reasons why we care so much about obesity, yet tend to ignore narcissistic behavior. Society looks at what we are on the outside, and it tends to overpower inward personality now a days. Don’t believe me, look at some of the teen magazines out there like Seventeen and Covergirl. We are convinced that what we look like affects the outcome of our future. If obese, that can be true but shouldn’t COMPLETELY determine what’s to come. It’s really sad how we are living this lie today. I honestly believe we need to judge someone by who they are as a person. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

  4. Rebecca … As always, I so appreciate your thoughts an input. The strange thing is, our society has polarized itself in terms of outward appearance. On the one hand, we have 70% of the adult population massively overeating. On the other end of the spectrum, we have the emergence of sizes “00” and even “000.” Are people getting smaller? No. They’re getting larger. But they want to feel good about themselves, so we’ve introduced “vanity sizing.” Take Gap for instance. A size 4 pair of pants in the 1990s was two more inches in the waistline than a size 4 today. So we’re just putting smaller numbers on clothing to make everyone feel better about themselves. It’s bizarre and really sad.

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