As the culture of selfies, live streams, Twitter updates, Instagram, Snapchats, sexting and all other forms of broadcasting ourselves to the world has exploded over the last few years, concern has grown that our new culture is breeding a society of self-involved narcissists. Books and blogs tell us that “personal branding” is one of the most-important things we can do, and we carefully curate a portrayal of ourselves to show the world the version of ourselves that we’ve determined is the one we want people to think we are. Looking at our portrayals, we’re all prettier than ever. We’re all artists, musicians, authors … and judge, jury and executioner.
And as Kristin Dombek argues in her new book, ‘The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism,’ we’ve also all become self-proclaimed experts in psychology – quicker now than ever to blame the true realities of life and our relationships on perceived faults in the very being of others. As the self-help revolution began in the late 70s, and found a new explosion in the world the Internet has opened to us through technology, we’re looking deeper into the reasoning behind the ways we (or better, put, others) act, and we turn to the Internet in many ways to determine what those reasons are. Books from psychological researchers, like Twenge and Campbell’s ‘ ‘The Narcissism Epidemic‘ and Twenge’s solo book, ‘Generation Me‘ have attempted to throw science behind this all, encouraging a rise in relationship sites and tips in ways that allow us to more easily than ever shift the blame of problems in our own personal relationships onto others.
Dombek’s essay argues all of the above, and much more, at a very convincing level, and it’s in my opinion, a remarkably prescient read to put this new “fear of narcissism” into check. It’s not that narcissism doesn’t necessarily exist, she argues, but that it’s become the easy scapegoat for us to blame our own weaknesses and personal misunderstandings on. In addition, it’s arguable that this raise in “pride of self” that many are calling narcissism isn’t such a bad thing – and is in fact a reflection of our increased desire to be interconnected with others in society, sharing our experiences in a communal sense, something that’s becoming much more clear of a possibility as research on social awareness of Millenials matures.
In an effort to protect ourselves from harm, we label others as narcissists. Likewise when we see people acting in a cultural manner that’s different from those we ourselves grew up with, we risk mistaking different for dangerous.
Anyone looking at cultural understanding of our modern, connected world – or interested in relationship or behavioral psychology would do well to read this work from Dombek. While at times diving a bit more into the clinical realm than might be necessary. She does tend to mix in personal experiences into the essay as well, which although welcome and helpful in humanizing the arguments she makes, at times can be confusing as she doesn’t always delineate between research, recitation of historical events, and her own personal anecdotes.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll likely start going down your own road of self-diagnosis. Are you, yourself a narcissist, and don’t even know it? Today many of us exhibit the habits that have been frowned upon and demonized by those who decry narcissism as an epidemic – and that can be frightening, especially to those who struggle to know themselves. There’s a difference between healthy self-esteem and a desire to share vs. an egotistical worldview in which the mirror of ourselves is that which we most truly love. If you do happen to let curiosity get the best of you, I recommend just going out and taking a Narcissism Personality Inventory yourself just to see where you might actually fall.
Just don’t share the results. Rumor has it that if you do, your score automatically goes up an extra 5 points.