The Narcissism Myth
A millennial sticks up for her generation, because that’s what they would want
Jesse Kuhn / www.rawtoastdesign.com
According to a new study, college students would rather get a boost in self-esteem, from a good grade or a compliment, than eat their favorite food or have sex. And apparently the conclusion one should extract from this data is clear: Young people today are super into themselves.
Narcissism has long been the diagnosis for Generation Y, a complex seemingly born of inflated grades, helicopter moms, and overscheduled childhoods. For evidence, one need only consider all those fresh faces basking for hours a day in the sickly glow of smartphones and MacBooks, uploading an endless stream of “candid” and “coy” pics.
Last year’s New York Times Magazine cover story “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” topped its website’s rankings for weeks, passive-aggressively forwarded, no doubt, by many parents—and consumed ravenously by the twentysomethings who are, of course, tickled by anything in which we headline.
New York Times columnist David Brooks followed up in late January. “Children are raised amid a chorus of applause,” he wrote. Entitled punks are the new American majority, Brooks and many of his fellow commentators harrumph. We are righteous in our beliefs and throw tantrums when we’re denied. Our political culture is uncivil, because it was raised that way.
Given that our brattishness even made its way into conversations about the shootings in Tucson earlier this year, it seems worth questioning the basic premise behind all of the finger wagging.
The definition of narcissism is to excessively love or admire oneself, at the expense of others. Narcissists are, for example, bad boyfriends. But young people today aren’t so much narcissistic as needy. If anything, we are obsessed with relationships. We don’t hurl our bursting egos into the Internet, but build our self-esteem through likes, re-tweets, views, and comments.
Young people don’t blog out of self-love, but in pursuit of affirmation. We didn’t grow up “amid a chorus of applause,” but with intense parental pressure, as competition for college spots soared. We got the message not that we surpassed all expectations, but that expectations surpassed our human limits.