The Narcissism Myth

A millennial sticks up for her generation, because that’s what they would want

| May-June 2011

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    Jesse Kuhn /

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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.

steve eatenson
6/14/2011 10:25:52 AM

Very well put article. Children learn from what adults model for them, lest we forget the narcissism of the human race at large. One only need to look as far as the environmental disaster we are wallowing in to be reminded of what past generations of narcissism have bequeathed to the current and future generations. The greed of corporate America and self-serving politicians is evident everywhere to the detriment of us all. How many wars have we fought, lives have we lost, human suffering and tragedy both at home and abroad have we suffered due to the self-serving interests of a few. Our founding fathers in America were a group of rich guys who decided to defy the law in order to grab more of the goodies for themselves. They thought anyone with a brain would see things their way. Sounds narcissistic, doesn't it? To the current upcoming generation, work on being aware and think of others first before yourselves in every situation. In your awareness, don't compare or judge others, just notice, and always do the next right thing weather anyone else is looking or not. If you will do this, maybe the human race might last a bit longer.

Adam King
4/28/2011 1:43:02 PM

I think maybe your definition of narcissist is a bit too narrow. I also think that the overly-needy type of narcissist will in fact turn out to be a bad boyfriend, only years later when the newness of the relationship is over and he now finds his "needs are not being met." Being overly-needy is certainly a form of narcissism and the best solution is to get over yourself. You don't have it so bad. You are a good person. No amount of admiration/reassurance/positive feedback/good grades/compliments is going to turn around your poor self-esteem problems. You have to just suck it up and do it yourself. This is coming from a closet narcissist like yourself. I'm trying to change, but the first step is accepting the truth.

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