Are We Living in The Age of Narcissism?

Photo by Laurenz Kleinheider on Unsplash

He was exquisitely beautiful. And he knew it. He was just staring at his reflection, day in and day out — oblivious to anything else but the beauty of his own face, in the shimmering blueness of the water. He has never seen anything quite like it, no mortal or immortal ever could come close to the perfection of his own mirrored image.

Narcissus, the son of a river god, Cephissus and the nymph, Liriope was warned well in advance. The prophecy said he was to live to old age — if only he never looked at himself. If only he knew…

He knew his beauty. He knew how mesmerising he appeared to male and female admirers, but no one could touch his heart or invoke his curiosity — he was proud, vain and he rejected them all. He asked them to show their devotion by killing themselves as a sign of love and many of them did. He just laughed and marvelled at the power of his beauty.

A young girl, Echo, fell in love with him, followed him around and professed her everlasting love — but as heartless he was, he pushed her away, just like all the others. She was nothing to him. So he condemned her to become nothing. Almost. She wandered the forests, hid among the trees and her broken heart could never be mended. She withered away, faded away from existence until nothing else was left of her but a mere whisper, an echo, a shadow of something that could have been but never did.

The goddess of vengeance, Nemesis, heard the story of the pretty boy and the devastated girl and cursed Narcissus to fall in love with his own reflection. Narcissus spent his days infatuated with his mirror image in the clear surface of the pond — unable to let go, unable to want to let go. He died there — alone, in his own company, drowning in the everlasting illusion of love and admiration for himself.

A pretty, vain white flower grew where he died — a narcissus.

Wherever you go, you will hear the term narcissistic. It’s been thrown around as a buzzword, to describe egotistical, self-centred people — replacing other terms we used to use for self-entitled individuals who were bound to break our hearts.

Are we more narcissistic than ever? Are there more people today displaying narcissistic traits than there used to be? Is it true that the snow-flake generation is raised to be narcissistic? Is it about helicopter-parenting and making them believe that they are entitled to have everything?

The Millennial generation has been stereotyped as self-absorbed, self-centred, self-entitled. They are said to be lazy, immature and selfish. They are the snowflake generation, believing that they are one of a kind — overdoing the process of proving it by taking selfies and living on social media to gather followers. They refuse to settle for a job because they deserve more. They don’t buy cars and houses, because their money is spent on avocado toasts and barbershops. Simply put, they are narcissistic.

The generation, born after 1980 is one of the biggest cohorts in the world — with huge purchase power and significant impact on everything that happens all around the globe. It’s not indifferent, whether this generation is bound to be narcissistic — they are too important, too big, too loud, too omnipresent.

In the past ten years, a string of serious debates played out studying the narcissistic personality trait (not the disorder) among members of the GenY.

Narcissism exists on a spectrum, therefore displaying some traits of narcissism doesn’t necessarily mean that we have more narcissists among us than we used to have.

While research indicates that the prevalence of narcissistic personality disorder is more common in modern societies than in traditional ones, the lifetime rates of the disorder are reported to be relatively stable for men and women throughout a thirty-year period in which data were collected.

So why do we have so many cases of narcissistic abuse now and why didn’t we have them thirty years ago? What is this about?

“Every generation worries about the next generation and thinks that it’s unique to that generation”―Dr. Kali Trzesniewski

We know about it more

We don’t have more narcissistic people around; we are just more informed, more aware, more educated about the phenomenon.

Information travels faster, we have social media, we have 24/7 access to our friends, families and all sorts of informative materials.

What used to be just ‘battered wives” is now a phenomenon with all different layers. What used to stay within the family now makes it out and we hear about it more. Women are more empowered and they don’t let themselves be silenced as much as they used to.

Our expectations towards relationships changed and not putting up with maltreatment is one of the beneficial changes that occurred.

We fight patriarchy better

We believe in equality more. Even if there is still a lot to do, we have already come a long way. We strive for equal wages, equal rights, equal access to education and resources — as it should be. We believe in the empowerment of women. We think that girls are worth just as much as boys.

The strong, independent woman is not labelled as spinster anymore — they are what they are, strong and empowered.

There is still a stigma to fight. Still walls to destroy. Still beliefs to get rid of.

But this generation — the Millennials — are the first of many that don’t buy into the patriarchal values of previous generations. They think freer, they act differently.

Selfishness and self-care

Millennials are labelled selfish when all they do is what they learnt from their parents — to stand up for themselves, to choose themselves and to become independent in thought and action. They believe that the world belongs to them — just like all the previous generations did — but they have different tools to express it. Being digital natives the Millennial generation is the first to overcome time and distance — to leave a mark — just like every other generation before they wished to.

But selfishness and self-care are two different things. While selfishness is deemed negative — for it might be detrimental to others and society tells us not to harm others, self-care and self-centredness is a positive trait.

In our individualistic society, we need to take care of ourselves. We are left to our own devices. We are pioneers in finding new ways of living, loving and coping. They are not better or worse than anything before, they are just different.

The stereotype threat

While researchers debate whether the methods they use to define narcissism are right, another threat emerges, the stereotype threat. Stereotyping a whole generation creates a harmful bias — and it is difficult to fight it individually. When twenty-somethings are expected to have a superiority complex and labelled as immature and lazy, the outer world response to them differently than it would otherwise.

Negative perception of young people can affect broader trends, like access to jobs and promotions, just as well as their mental health or even their relationships.

Another detrimental effect of the bias is that the phenomenon becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy — the more Millennials hear they are lazy, immature and reckless, the more they are prone to believe it.

As if the job market, mental health or our love lives weren’t difficult enough to manage without a bias.

It is easy to blame narcissistic Millennials for everything — from ruining the workforce to killing the sanctity of marriage. It is a lot harder to tackle bigger problems in our society that are just revealed by the transparency and honesty that a different world brought.

Narcissism is real. And although the original story is about being obsessed with beauty, it can get really ugly, when it comes to relationships and abusive individuals.

But this generation is not more narcissistic than the previous ones — we are just existing in a different world, where different rules apply and different priorities rule.

Let’s give a break to Millennials and let’s discover where the blame really belongs. Let’s solve the problems that we have instead of creating new ones.

Zita Fontaine is the author of A Box Full of Darkness, a guide to understand and move on from narcissistic abuse. Available for sale on Amazon.

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Zita Fontaine

Zita Fontaine

7.8K Followers

Writer. Dreamer. Hopeless romantic. Newsletter: zita.substack.com Email me: zitafontaine (at) gmail