Friday, July 15, 2011

Are we in the midst of a narcissism epidemic?

To end this week's series of posts on narcissism, I wanted to talk prevalence. The findings of a survey of nearly 35,000 adults living in the US indicate narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) occurs in nearly 6.2% of the general population. WHOA. More men than women have the disorder (7.7 vs. 4.8%). NPD was found to be "significantly more prevalent" in black men and women, Hispanic women, and young adults. Dr. Jean Twenge, the author of the book The Narcissism Epidemic, claims that the prevalence among young adults might be as high as 10% (!!!).

I was ... shocked by that. And also--when the prevalence of any mental health disorder is that high, it makes me question how it's defined and assessed. Apparently I'm not the only one, because the developers of the DSM V, the anticipated revision to the diagnostic manual of mental disorders, are making some major changes to the definition of narcissistic personality disorder. There was some indication that the disorder might be eliminated altogether, but at this time I think it's still in there, just with significant revisions to the criteria--INCLUDING a change that takes norms within cultures and subcultures into account.

Regardless of the precise definition of the disorder, however, Dr. Twenge's argument is this: narcissism is part of our culture right now. She points to the frequency of cosmetic surgery as an example, and the first thing to come to my mind is reality television. I don't know, you might not agree, but ...

[hang on a minute. I'm still giggling]

[thanks for your patience. I've almost got it under control]

[deep breaths ...]

Ahem. I solemnly swear I will never ever again post a Jersey Shore video on this blog.

OK. What do you think? Is this an epidemic--particularly among young people? With the emphasis on appearance, material goods, and status in our culture, are teens being raised in an age of narcissism? For YA authors and readers--is this reflected in YA these days?


  1. I think that's part of our culture but has probably gotten worse. At the same time, I think doctors love to diagnose probably a bit too quickly.

  2. That is one crazy video. Scary! Not sure if this will be the norm in society, but i hope not.

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  4. This is really interesting. I've been thinking about this since you've been talking about this on your blog. Do you think maybe social media has something to do with it? You know, the status updates and tweets and other things we're all doing to say, hey, doesn't everyone care about the minutiae of my life?

    Or perhaps it's the reality shows and such that makes viewers so entrenched in the day to day of people's lives, giving the sense of individual reality being more interesting than it is.

    I also notice something else, not so much in young adults but right after, in that new "extended adolescent" phase of early 20s, where many people are the center of their own universe and expect that universe to extend those around them.

    Or maybe none of these make sense. I haven't even had my coffee yet, so this could be mere babble.:)

  5. Oh jeez. I think Jennifer makes a good point. Social media that gives us the ability to tweet and post every tiny little detail of our lives to our "followers" has always struck me as odd. Great post - horrifying video LOL:)


    you could just watch american idol try-outs. :(

    great points about social media. also, i think the emphasis on "self-esteem" education in grade school- and the general media portrayal of adult leadership (teachers, parents, presidents) as being dundering, narrow-minded, manipulative creatures who must be overcome contributes a bit to the societal rise in narcissism. i think it narrows the vision of respect to only self.


    love the uncontrollable giggling, by the way!
    have a great weekend, sweetie!

  7. I don't think there's any question it's getting worse. With our "it's all about me, right here, right now, instant gratification" media culture, young people are going to have a hard time not being influenced.

    I used to be part of a humor Facebook group called "you know you're a douchebag if:" It was mostly filled with pictures of this guy.

  8. As someone with little to no hair, I'm currently uploading my riposte to PaulyD. It starts with "It takes me 20 seconds to do my hair..." Hoping it will be a YouTube sensation.

  9. Okay - I skimmed the comments too and Matthew's made me laugh! Just had to say that. Narcissistic people are annoying, there's no way around that. Who wants to listen to someone talk about themselves all the time? BUT IDK if it's really a disorder. I mean is it interfering in their day to day lives? Well, I guess if you're N himself wasting away by the mirror that's a problem...

  10. Narcissim is all over the place. I have a co-worker that is so stuck on himself it is nauseous.

  11. hmm... I'm always amazed by guys who are SO focused on their hair... *snort*snort*snort*

    But being Devil's Advocate here, wasn't that kind of how the Fonz was portrayed? and Uncle Joey? (LOL!) Maybe it's an Italian thing... :D

    In other news, I don't necessarily think this sort of behavior is increasing--I think it's still frowned upon. Reality TV's just making a mint off these clowns.

    the plastic surgery thing is more like ... fear of growing old. Or up? Growing up? Fear of death? I hate that I missed your narcissim week. I'll have to do some homework~ :o) ((hugs))

  12. Wait. There was a Pauly D vid? I was too busy trying to watch my own reflection in the glare of my computer screen...

    I agree with what LTM said about the plastic surgery thing. It scares me a little that we are becoming a society that insists upon being flawless teen-to-young-twenty-year-olds all our lives. It's a standard that sets us all up for failure, self loathing, competition and depleting criticism that serves none of us.

    I say we rage against The Man in flat footwear and shining, natural faces that show differences in sizes and styles of lips and noses, smiles and skin tones. What would be the perfect campaign to turn the tides toward the practice self acceptance and appreciation rather than self worship and loathing?

  13. I think teenagers have always been narcissistic. I can't decide whether it's worse now, or if it's always been this way. There's just something about that period where you're trying to break away from your parents, and you're so busy trying to assert your independence, that you can't help but focus on yourself. I think it's part of growing up.

    I do think that social media has an effect on this, however. Sometimes I see teens on Facebook upload a status update like, "Headed out with my bffs!!!11" And I want to comment, "Who cares?"

    But then sometimes I see adults post an update like, "Grabbing a glass of milk and heading to bed." And I want to comment exactly the same way. :-D

    I think a narcissistic character would be difficult to pull off well, especially in a protagonist. Because no one wants to relate to someone narcissistic. Even that 10% of the teen population who might actually BE narcissistic would pick up a book like that and wonder why they should care about some douchebag who only cares about him/herself. Because of the narcissism, they wouldn't be able to draw a parallel.

    I do think parents contribute to the narcissism of young people, however. With more parents working outside the home, with less time to spend with their kids, there's a much greater emphasis on devoting too much praise, attention, gifts, etc. to kids in general -- which only raises someone to believe they're entitled and worthy of such things. I mean, how not?

    Okay. I'm rambling. Someone turn me off.

  14. I sincerely hope the numbers are exaggerated.

    As to YA--if you look at the super popular books, i.e. Twilight, The Hunger Games, even Harry Potter--the protagonists are heroic, but flawed, and I wouldn't qualify them as narcissistic at all. In the typical YA arc, the main character grows and matures through his/her experiences by the close of the book.

  15. Yeah, people are out of control. Everyone thinks they're the next hottest thing. I'm not sure if that's all narcissism or if it's a trend toward self-centeredness, instant gratification, lack of accountability, and indulgence.

    I think we need to keep NPD in the DSM. People with the disorder have a lot of distress, as do the people around them. Oy.

  16. I think the media/television has managed to exert an amazing amount of influence over people. It's a little sad actually. As if things or looks are so important. Not that I don't get suckered into that whole mode of thinking upon occasion...

    In response to Lisa I'll argue one point; I don't think Bella ever really changed/evolved. Harry certainly did, but I think Bella was pretty much the same person at the end (can't speak to the Hunger Games since I haven't read).

    great post, Sarah.

  17. so.dang.interesting. And yes revisions were called for, I suppose.

    WOW--yes, I agree about reality TV and just the turnabout of individualism in society in general. But the predominance of it in teens--prety much makes sense, no?

  18. Yikes, did I even make any sense up there?

  19. That kid is a serious flammability risk. One match and foom! He'll be brain dead. But then again, maybe he already is from all the fumes...

  20. I'm sorry, what was the question? Pauly D had me so distracted by all his "look at my hair" stuff...
    Yes, I think our culture is far more narcissistic than it ever was. And the sense of entitlement, which goes with it, is at high levels too.

  21. I do think our culture really does support the "look at me" mentality, but I wonder how seriously you can take the results of a survey. Those of us that took the online survey had some trouble with the forced choices -- and besides, true mental disorders are not diagnosed with surveys, right?

    Nevertheless, self-absorbed people can be fun to write (and read) about. ;)

  22. Those numbers are concerning. I will admit that one of my secondary characters does display some narcissistic behaviour...