Is narcissist a modern day standard and is narcissism on the rise in cosmopolitan world today? At least the latter is often a question and the answer is also simple. But I guess the straightforward answer would not really be enough. The next question is why is that so, why is it happening and why?
Searching the internet about narcissism doesn’t help us answer this question. It only makes it worse, because it can distract us from reality—by succumbing to a delusion that narcissism only exists when a person is diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. But that’s not true—not by far.
Unfortunately, as with many other mental health issues, I am not bale to serve you with empirical statistical data, because there isn’t any. Unless it’s a disorder, it doesn’t seem to count. Personality traits that don’t meet the criteria of a full-blown narcissistic personality disorder can be just as damaging—one can very much be a narcissist without the diagnosis. And the main reason for potential damage is in fact in underdiagnoses and under-treatment.
Narcissism and narcissist search statistics
If we want to have a sense of statistics related to narcissism, we can obviously turn to online search results again. However, in this case we need to be more careful than with other mental health conditions—the reasons I will explain later.
If we take a look at the number of google searches related to narcissism in the last five years in the UK and compare them to borderline, the number of searches for narcissism grew more than 170%, whereas the number of searches for borderline grew about 28%. The search statistics rise for narcissist is even more astonishing, generating growth of 370% in the same period, which is 47% per year.
This data is not something that we could rely on as indication of prevalence or incidence of narcissistic personality structure—primarily due to the fact that narcissism is often not considered a problem from the narcissists perspective. However, people are apparently more and more interested in the topic, which must stem from the fact that they might consider it a problem in either themselves or in others. But one is definitely true—and that is that the rise is significant.
Where does narcissism stem from and who is creating the modern-day narcissist
There is not only one form of narcissism, however, the one that is commonly considered and referred to is exhibitionistic narcissism. Developmentally, this form of narcissism will develop during childhood and predominantly as a result of parents’ own emotional needs not being met.
Parents that want to meet their needs—or the needs they never had met themselves—through their children will usually meet criteria for the children to develop narcissistic traits. Parents that consider their children as special, guard them from others, as though other children are not “as special”, and hence, end up raising them into adults as though they can achieve anything they dream of—as long as they dream hard enough. Parents that teach their children that they will have their needs met only if they wish to do so. Parents who communicate to their children that they have the intrinsic right to have their wishes met and that any refusal from anyone to do so is a sign of disrespect and devaluation. Parents who teach their children that others are there to serve them—others are the measure to achieve the goal. These are the parents of future narcissists.
This is especially apparent working with clients that consider themselves the “socially privileged”, having parents that inflate their sense of self. Raising children as though they are special and unique and that others are there to fight their battles is the recipe for narcissism. That’s not a way to have your child grow up as an integrated personality. Nor is being an overprotective patent that fights for their children in battles they could well fight alone, defending them in school whenever they feel teachers have done something that is not just.
The lack of parental contact is also characteristic of narcissism. A child lacking mother’s attention will learn to “toughen up” and compensate mother’s emotional nourishment, recognition, protection and guidance for the child’s own. A child that is on their way to become a narcissist will be seen as taking care of themselves—they will “toughen up”. Modern society supports this very well. A narcissistic mother will attend to her career—she will take care of the child by finding someone to do the job of taking care of. Bragging about having a nanny of any sort is nothing new, is it?
How is society stimulating narcissism?
One of prime roles of society in creating a modern day narcissist and inflating narcissism is in the tendency and gratification towards uniqueness, specialness, omnipotence. Not only on individual level, we can also see the trends of raising children into unique individuals on collective level.
We do not only have one parent here and there telling their kid “You can do anything as long as you dream of it and wish it hard enough”. We have this message delivered on collective parental level to whole generations. “Millennials are special; they want experience rather than things; millennials integrated with the digital world like other generations ever will; millennials can only understand millennials themselves”. However, millennials did not get these messages and the notion of themselves as a superior generation by making it up themselves. They did not invent this conception. This notion was ingrained into their psyche by their parents, society, media—by the world other then themselves alone.
This is a generation with a notion that a person liking themselves and being content with themselves is the same as loving themselves. They won’t know which of the two is the right thing to do even. When generation is brought up as though there are no limits and anything is possible, they will not see any limits, they will not recognise and acknowledge them. But there are limits and there is a wall to crash in to. And that is when the narcissistic false self bubble bursts and pink goggles brake.
Narcissism, narcissists and therapy
So, if narcissism is on the rise and if this becoming a problem of pretty much entire generations in cosmopolitan world, why is it not acknowledged and tackled as openly as other mental health issues? For one, a narcissist, contrary to the majority of other mental health issues, will not consider themselves as having a problem. Their false self is serving them well in today’s society. Even more so, today’s society is rewarding their overblown false sense of self, their grandiosity and omnipotence. Modern world looks up to narcissists mistaking them for powerful and influential individuals—which at the heart of it is far from reality.
Why would a narcissist turn to psychotherapy then? They wouldn’t. At least not until something “bursts their bubble” and they decompensate. They can find themselves in their mid-life crisis thinking they spent their life wasting it. When they find themselves alone and with no one they have a real intimate relationship with. When they find that the relationship they might be in brings them nothing real because they only got into it for the spotlight. They realise that treating people as resource and means to get their needs met is just not the way the world turns. They realise that the anger they have towards others is in fact not just—they start thinking about it, if they are lucky. All their relationships fail because none of them is perfect enough. A narcissist lives in imaginary world and when they see a glimpse of reality it is a shock. Some never see it until severe anxiety or depression, burnout, panic attacks, phobias kick in. Or until they lay on their death bed. And then it is too late. They will think they can pull themselves out of depression just by inspirational quotes and positive thinking.
Today, narcissism unfortunately fuels entire industries. A lot of corporate environments nourish it carefully. Because the effects it has are beneficial to them—the effects of individuation, treating a person as a non-social unit, tool, an instrument for achieving illusory perception of perfection from customers, consumers, shareholders, voters, readers.
Narcissism in narcissistic society is often a standard. One that is considered a prized trait rather than a threat to both the individual as well as society.