The problem of narcissism has received attention in the clinical psychological and psychotherapeutic literature. This interest is related to the contemporary cultural situation and social priorities that encourage individualism, purposefulness, confidence, and independence. Modern people are preoccupied with self-understanding, self-affirmation, and self-reflection. The flip side – the “dark” side – of the focus on individualism and the uniqueness of one’s personality is arrogance, manipulativeness, and disregard for moral norms (Graham-Fuller & Robinson & Khilnani, 2018). Psychological and clinical classifications have identified a continuum of emotional, personality, and behavioral phenomena – from individual traits in the structure of the character to extremely acute, pathological personality traits, defined by the term “narcissism” (Graham-Fuller & Robinson, 2018). Narcissistic traits can be present in the personality structure and support striving for success, achievement, self-actualization, career, and social recognition. During periods of developmental crises, the expression of narcissistic traits may increase in response to physiological changes in the body and social expectations, which may cause difficulties in social adaptation.
Studies on Narcissism
As noted by researchers, the self-concept of the narcissistic personality is characterized by either sharply negative or sharply positive self-esteem, a sense of their uniqueness, a moral code, and grandiose fantasies with which to relate a positive self-image. Self-consciousness and an exaggerated sense of self-importance lead to a pronounced dominance of the achievement and superiority motive, which affects interpersonal relationships, accompanied by distressing experiences and constant comparison to more successful people (Campbell & Crist, 2020). Grandiosity is often combined with an understanding of psychological fragility accompanied by fear of losing oneself and loss of self-respect. The diffuse, blurred intrapersonal and interpersonal boundaries are determined by the complex interconnections of the essential characteristics of a narcissistic personality – grandiosity, vulnerability, and privilege.
Depending on the prevailing tendency – grandiosity or vulnerability – there are grandiose and vulnerable types of narcissism. Grandiose narcissists tend to be energetic and optimistic, have high self-esteem, and are more willing to take advantage of others. Vulnerable narcissists are sensitive to threats, and prone to anxiety and negative affect (Campbell & Crist, 2020). Their inherent hypersensitivity and frustration caused by unmet expectations lead to social disorganization and avoidance in an unsuccessful attempt to manage self-esteem. This causes shame, depression, anger, and hostility and often culminates in outbursts of narcissistic rage. Empirically, a positive association of grandiose narcissism with subjective well-being and a negative one with psychological distress has been found (Brunell & Hermann & Foster, 2018). Regardless of the predominance of grandiosity or vulnerability in personality structure, high sensitivity to social comparisons and negative interpersonal interaction experiences influence self-esteem stability and mood swings.
Results of the Study
The findings contribute to an understanding of the relationship between narcissistic traits and personality self-concept. Self-perception undergoes a deformation: on the one hand, experienced feelings of grandiosity and uniqueness reinforce self-interest, self-sympathy, and self-respect; expectations of honor and admiration from others seem quite realistic (Hench, 2020). On the other hand, self-perception is attacked by destructive impulses brought on by envy, the desire to control other people, to use them for one’s purposes. And to keep self-esteem at a subjectively good and socially acceptable level, the personality looks for ways to reduce the pressure of these impulses. Understanding the unacceptability of such strategies leads to shame and an experience of one’s defectiveness-vulnerability. In response, the individual either focuses on the painful side of such incidents, which reinforces envy and leads to narcissistic outbursts of rage and defiant behavior, or seeks self-affirmation and social achievement, which helps maintain a sense of grandiosity (Campbell & Crist, 2020). According to the study, lack of empathy and envy of others, according to the study results, is most pronounced in respondents with negative perceptions of their personality.
The selfish individual’s self-concept is unstable. A focus on constant affirmation of one’s uniqueness, combined with negative interpersonal experiences, failures, rejection, and various self-esteem threats, proves to trigger lower self-esteem and mood swings (Campbell & Crist, 2020). The correlations of most scales of the dark triad and narcissistic traits questionnaires with the self-esteem scales are negative (Hench, 2020). Also, confidence in one’s identity is positively related to expected attitudes from others (Campbell & Crist, 2020). This explains well the self-esteem fluctuations of the narcissistic personality: on the one hand, the need to maintain a high level of self-esteem, on the other hand, the low self-esteem associated with ego-threats, the central leitmotif of which is “there is always someone better than you” (Gabbard & Crisp, 2018). This study was conducted on a population of young people without psychiatric diagnoses. The system of representations of oneself acts as holistic, emotionally, morally, and socially balanced (Gabbard & Crisp, 2018). Self-respect, self-acceptance, and self-interest are accompanied by a readiness to follow social and moral norms, a willingness to take responsibility, regulate one’s emotions, and reckon with the values of others.
Main Causes of Narcissism
The formation of a person’s personality begins in childhood. The first three years of life are crucial in developing an individual’s personality traits (Gabbard & Crisp, 2018). During these years, the primary personality models are formed; during this period, a sense of his own body is acquired, and awareness of his gender, name, mind, and history. In these years, the foundations of the future personality are laid (and they last throughout life) (Brunell & Hermann & Foster, 2018). Of course, this does not mean that later life experiences are irrelevant; however, they do not have the same impact as earlier experiences.
Individuals are very plastic in the early years of life, which allows them to be shaped by the visual and sensory experiences they receive. The clinical term for the changes that occur during this period is “narcissistic development” (Campbell & Crist, 2020). Although this term is often ascribed a negative meaning, leadership and narcissism are closely related. To understand the essence of narcissism, it is necessary to go deeper than the commonplace understanding of the word “narcissism” (Gabbard & Crisp, 2018). Psychologists refer to this term as a stage of childhood development, through which each child goes, a scene in which the growing child takes pleasure in their own body and its activities (Gabbard & Crisp, 2018). The way children are treated during this critical development period will color their view of the world until maturity.
Children create a majestic image of themselves and idealize the image of their parents, attributing to them the role of saviors and protectors. The first version is called the “majestic self,” and the second is called the “idealized image of the parent (Gabbard & Crisp, 2018). With time, if the child receives proper care, these two models create a “bipolar self” are softened by reality. However, as has been shown, traces of these models remain with the person throughout their life and manifest themselves in interpersonal relationships.
The role of parents and caregivers in the development of narcissism is crucial. Parents, siblings, and other important people in the life of the child change the external manifestations of the child, channeling grandiose dreams of power and glory, thus creating the foundation for realistic ambitions, stable values, well-defined business interests, and a confident sense of self-esteem and individuality (Gabbard & Crisp, 2018). But this critical process can go wrong if a child’s narcissism is inadequately underwritten by an inconsistent or harsh upbringing or a series of significant hardships. But even with the best parents, the process of growing up is full of challenges; it is nothing like the time in the womb before birth when everything was taken care of automatically (Brunell & Hermann & Foster, 2018). So, growing up inevitably involves disappointment. However, if development is going well, disappointment will come in moderate doses. If parents take good care of their children, they will overcome disappointment and approach adulthood as well-balanced people.
Children raised without good care may begin to think that they cannot rely on anyone’s love or loyalty. Although such people seem entirely self-sufficient, they are plagued by feelings of loss, anger, and emptiness (Brunell & Hermann & Foster, 2018). To cope with those feelings, or perhaps hide their insecurities, they turn their narcissistic desires into an obsession. This type of person may become fixated on power, beauty, status, prestige, and superiority issues. They manipulate others to bolster their shaky self-esteem and constantly think about how to make up for the pain (real or imagined) they suffered as children (Gabbard & Crisp, 2018). They usually exaggerate their sense of superiority, uniqueness, and talent and often have grandiose visions.
Millennial Generation and Narcissism
There is an epidemic of narcissism going around that began during the heyday of Generation Y, or Millennials, as they are called. Born between 1985 and 2000, this generation embraced new values and laid the foundation for freedom, individuality, and tolerance (Peluchette & Gerhardt, 2018). Along with them came digital screens, advanced technology, and the social media “boom” that today is so full of narcissism, arrogance, and self-confidence.
The Cause of the Narcissistic Epidemic Among Millennials
How Social Media Has Affected Narcissism
People use Facebook and Twitter pages to draw attention, and social media supports this format. Their users are launching startups, turning their names into brands, launching global trends, and making money from their social media accounts by selling their skills, knowledge, and creativity to hundreds of thousands of people (Robinson & Khilnani, et al., 2019). If earlier people could demonstrate their narcissism only in a narrow circle of family and friends, now they have an opportunity to become known to a much wider audience.
Social media users are attracted by the opportunity to observe other people’s lives and talk about their own. It is not necessary to be one hundred percent truthful, and it is enough to wrap content in an exciting cover (Robinson & Khilnani, et al., 2019). However, now there is a tendency on the Web for sincerity. That is, the more natural and genuine an individual shows himself, the more people are attracted. Before, society wanted to look at a perfect picture to escape from reality. Still, there is a fashion for sincerity, and people have become more interested in following live accounts (Peluchette & Gerhardt, 2018). Despite this, society still encourages performance, egoism, and financial solvency, factors by which others judge people, and, consequently, the number of unscrupulous and hardcore careerists is growing. The highly competitive technological world forces people to develop such qualities if they do not want to lose themselves in the gray masses and be stifled (Sollohub, 2019). Some experts even argue that this is the next step in human evolution.
Encouraging Narcissism on Social Media
The most crucial function of social networks has become the ability to showcase their own lives to users of existing platforms. Since the publication of personal information always attracts attention, an excellent opportunity for egocentrists to focus society on their persona has opened. There are several types of behavior of social network users:
- Active use, when a person posts their content and focuses on their persona;
- Passive use is when a person views other people’s content but does not post their own;
- Upward comparison, when a person thinks that those whose “perfect” lives they see on the Web have a much better fate;
- Downward comparison, when a person feels better about themselves when they come across someone else’s post about their troubles or failures, i.e., the person is internally self-affirming when others feel bad;
- Social exclusion is when a person, for example, looks at photos of acquaintances from an event and regrets not being invited there (Sollohub, 2019).
People are used to believing that everyone around them is worse off than they are, and realizing this makes them feel good. But one should not look at the results categorically because there are exceptions and many other behaviors. For example, a person suffering from a severe form of narcissistic personality disorder feels uncomfortable on social networks. There is also the other side of the coin. Self-acceptance and loving, healthy self-esteem and inner harmony, and the need for self-expression can push one to post personal content (Sollohub, 2019). Social media is also great for introverts and withdrawn people, who expose themselves. Their opinions to the public become less scary when it is anonymous or in their comfort zone in front of a phone screen.
Compared to Generation X, Generation Z is more cosmopolitan, free of frames and stereotypes. From birth, they want to be leaders and rotate in the center of everyone’s attention. The main distinguishing features of digital “natives” are multitasking, the vastness of thinking, and the influence of the Internet (Renning & Scholz, 2019). Such people can do several things simultaneously, combine several completely different spheres of activity and show promising results for work in the field of IT technology and programming (Renning & Scholz, 2019). The desire for instant profit characterizes generations Z. That is why generations Y and Z are so marked by ambition, determination, and internal non-recognition of any obligations (Renning & Scholz, 2019). Recently, the generational boundaries have narrowed considerably. Previously, one generation replaced the other on average every 25 years, but now the difference between the generations is up to ten years (Renning & Scholz, 2019). This is the case because the unconditional increase in the speed of change occurring in the world is an inherent part of life.
Although principles and attitudes vary markedly from generation to generation, some aspects remain stable at all times. For example, the humanistic values established at an early age, instincts, the regular age stages of personal maturation, and the crises each person goes through. Although today’s children mature and go through the steps of personality formation earlier, it still happens and must happen in the future. At present, it is impossible to judge generation Z objectively, as its oldest representatives are no more than twenty years old. Traits attributed to them like impatience, thirst for power, career growth, material well-being, freedom, and independence can be related not so much to specific character traits such as ambitiousness and hyperactivity. These factors are characteristic of young people of any generation, so they cannot be called unique.
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Peluchette, J. V. E., Gerhardt, M. W. (2018). Millennials. Trends, characteristics and perspectives. Nova Science Publishers, Incorporated.
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Sollohub, D. (2019). Millennials in architecture. Generations, disruption, and the legacy of a profession. University of Texas Press.