A RISE IN NARCISSISM?
Mark Groblewski, LCSW
I’ve noticed a rise in the amount of narcissism I’m seeing in some of my psychotherapy clients recently, and it’s become disconcerting.I don’t consider narcissism to be one of my areas of expertise, yet this appears to be more prevalent among my clientele, especially in the last 6 months. I know that as individuals we all exhibit some narcissistic tendencies, and some of this is healthy. Yet the number and the extremes I’m seeingare different frommy previous 20-plus years of psychotherapypractice. Is it possible I’m more aware of narcissism or that there has been a rise or more of an acceptance of narcissism? For example, I had a client who asked to record the family session with his ex-wife and adolescent son on his I-phone. He was told “No, you cannot,” and nodded in agreement. Yet in a subsequent therapy session with his ex-wife, I was told that he gleefully disclosed to her that he had done so anyway! My boundaries did not matter to him.
Are we becoming less connected as asociety? What could be the potential causes? What effect are social media, reality television, I-phones, and the Internet having on us? Are we so concerned with our needs that we have chosen to consider the needs of others to a lesser degree, in effect acting like narcissists?
Narcissism is defined in the DSM-V (our Diagnostic Manual) as having 9 characteristics: 1) Exaggerated self-importance; 2) a sense of entitlement/requiring excessive admiration; 3) A feeling of superiority without the accompanying accomplishments; 4) A preoccupation with future success, power, and beauty, or perfection; 5)Feeling superior, like they should only interact with other superior people; 6) Manipulating others to get what they want; 7) Lacking in empathy for others’ feelings; 8) Feeling envious of others, while feeling others are envious of them; and 9) Subject to arrogant, haughty behaviors.
In some of the couples I have been counseling, the pairing has been the classic match of a co-dependent partner with a narcissist, as described in psychological literature. Since the narcissist is focused solely on their needs, the co-dependent matches this dynamic since they are generally focused upon others’ needs and tend to deny their own. The codependent, feeling “not good enough” subconsciously and unconsciously, tolerates the partner’s manipulation, arrogance, and need to control. They have learned that love is conditional and transactional from the possiblenarcissism that existed in their family system growing up.
This pairing lasts until the co-dependent realizes they deserve better; that they have been short-changing themselves and do want their needs to be addressed, too. They have reached the end of their unworthiness and approval-seeking; enough to risk the relationship. They have given up their “hope” that the narcissist will change.
Boundaries are generally blurred in these relationships. Narcissists may attempt toseverely restrict the codependent’s relationships. And if the co-dependent begins to resist, I have heard of arrogant and haughty behaviorsturning into physical assault, and police reports by the codependent, followed by narcissistic “gaslighting” to keep the codependent off balance emotionally.The narcissist sets the boundaries until the codependent decides to make changes. At this point, the codependent decides to enter a period of limited or no contact, feeling exhausted by the ongoing needs and demands of the narcissist. The relationship in its present form, hopefully, is about to end.
Another current topic in psychological literature is narcissism among teenagers. This may be due to reliance upon social media and a fascination with reality television, among other factors beyond the scope of this article.Many teens are influenced by social media and its accompanying bullying, especially among adolescent females.Teens may feel connected or disconnected due to their Facebook and other social media accounts, influenced by the number of “likes” they do or don’t obtain. Social media encourages the user to discard their usual boundaries at times, with sometimes depressing and disastrous results. Individuals will do and say things on social media that they generally would not do in person.
What are some of the solutions to these dilemmas? First and foremost, all of usmust be more conscientious in the setting of our boundaries, realizing we will have to go through a continuous process whereby we redraw them. Second, we need to share our mistakes with boundaries with our children and selected others. We need to be kind and apologize for errors of judgment and behavior
and see this as strength. Third, we need to take time to unplug from the grid daily to refresh our perspective, giving us time to be more objective. This will assist us in reaching our primal objectives: intimacy and protection. Finally, we need to set boundaries with the narcissistic behavior that we encounter from those around us. The behavior does need to be addressed, else the narcissist will continue to blur boundaries and manipulate to get their exclusive needs addressed. We don’t have to be arrogant and/or haughty in return with those who are exhibiting the behavior; just very firm and assertive.These are some of the steps that can help possibly insulate us from the manipulation, lack of empathy, and arrogant behaviors of narcissism.