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2/8/15blog post

the problem with narcissism

I grew up during a time when my generation was encouraged to “do your own thing.” I wonder if we’ve taken that advice to the extreme.

Lots of different trends support the view that we’ve become incredibly self-absorbed, with a focus on what we want rather than on a concern for others. Status, power, and physical attributes seem to be of highest priority.

Academic researchers have documented increasing rates of narcissism among college kids and an inflated sense of self-worth among children in general. Cosmetic surgery for kids has become increasingly commonplace. Appearances are more important than substance.

Parents are more likely to select unique rather than common names for their kids. They want their children to stand out rather than fit in.

In a review of over 800,000 books published in the past 50 years, the use of first person pronouns (I, me) increased 42 percent. It’s all about me.

Social media sites are used to document the most mundane of activities. Why do people feel compelled to let others know that they made cookies or went shopping at the mall?

Is there anything wrong with this trend of focusing on what we want and need? Why shouldn’t we follow our dreams and do what’s important to us rather than conforming to the expectations of others?

I think the answer has to do with the word balance. I suspect that the extremes of narcissism and conformity both leave people unhappy.

The problem with narcissism is that it’s impossible to develop meaningful relationships if you manipulate people as a means to satisfy your needs. Relationships are about caring and compromise, which require at times sacrificing what you want for the sake of another. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to do something for another.

George Clooney’s character in the movie “Up in the Air” captured this eloquently when he advised that “life is better with company.” Happy people who live meaningful lives place a high priority on love, caring, commitment and concern for others. Narcissistic personalities can’t enter into those types of relationships.

The other extreme of acquiescence can be just as dangerous as narcissism. Our lives are so fleeting, and it’s sad to read about the empty feelings of older people who lived their lives trying to conform to the expectations of others.

They sacrificed their dreams and their lives desperately seeking acceptance from others. As they approached their death, they muttered the saddest words—“if only I had….”

Finding that delicate balance between focusing on yourself and caring for others is the real challenge of life.