Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Narcissism Epidemic in America?

A Narcissism Epidemic in America?

A friend recently loaned me the book “The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement”, By Jean M Twenge, Ph.D. and W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D. This 2009 book was published by the Free Press, New York, NY.

As a practicing psychologist, I was interested in this book, the title of which fits with my experience as an observer of American Culture and as a behavior therapist. I know, all too intimately, the havoc wreaked in society and its families by the human behavior patterns called Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

I also recall my last fifteen years as a professor dealing with the deteriorating quality of student academic performance and behavior. Increasingly, I felt like I was teaching high school classes. Discipline problems in the form of students flirting and talking with each other; disruptive late arrivals and early departures; cell phone shenanigans; students not studying and then being sullen or angry about poor grades. It became necessary to develop a course point bonus and loss system in order to manage my larger classes. With rare exception, smaller and more advanced classes remained a joy to teach. I truly miss the challenge and excitement of these advanced classes. I am delighted to no longer have to deal with the increasing proportions of the disrespectful, self-centered, irresponsible narcissistic-like ”riff-raff” in my larger service classes.

It is critical to understand the definition Narcissism. If you think that what follows is an “academic” exercise, you are wrong. You really need to be able to identify these behaviors patterns. If you are unlucky enough to get involved with a narcissistic personality disordered individual in business or your personal life, you will suffer in ways that most non-professionals are unable to imagine. When it comes to human relationships: Caveat Emptor (Let the buyer beware).

There is no better source for the definition than the following:

Diagnostic criteria for 301.81 Narcissistic Personality Disorder

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need
for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in
a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

(1) has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g.,
exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior
without commensurate achievements)

(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

(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

From the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth Edition. Copyright 1994, American Psychiatric Association.

The book, Narcissism Epidemic, provides credible research evidence that narcissistic personality patterns have increased within America’s population at an accelerating rate.

From my own perspective, this book provides a ton of anecdotal evidence in its attempt to illustrate the rise of narcissism in America. If this was the only support for their argument, its believability would suffer. However, the authors also provide a sufficient amount of research evidence to make their case and the abundance of anecdotes simply underscore the validity of their own and other’s research findings.

However, I have one area of respectful disagreement with authors Twenge and Campbell. They explain that insecurity, low-self-esteem, or a “deep-seated sense of shame”, as a cause for what has traditionally been called narcissistic Personality Disorder is wrong. Instead, they argue that such behavior patterns are taught through over-indulgent, worshipful, and effusively non-contingently praising parenting styles. In my professional experience, both of these general avenues can lead to the formation of narcissistic behavior patterns. I have seen strong narcissism in too many neglected, abandoned and abused individuals to reject these experiences as contributing causes.

The following is a very good summary of the main points of the book, “The Narcissism Epidemic”.

Please take the time to learn about this reflection of, and contribution to, America’s decline. Learn what the contributing factors appear to be and then, behave accordingly!


Dr. Tom

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