20 May 2014

~ Sobering, Scary... and Rings SO True ~

I don't remember where I first saw this title, exactly what prompted me to get a copy of this book, or how long I've been slowly working my way through it,

...but doing so has taken me on a HUGE learning curve.


inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity.
also: self-centeredness, smugness, egocentrism.

There's even something called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), or a condition in which people have 
  1. an excessive sense of self-importance, 
  2. an extreme preoccupation with themselves, and 
  3. a lack of empathy for others.
It was one of those words I'd heard, and certainly understood when I read it in context, but not one that I'd spent much time thinking about, until recently... until reading this book.

Basically I was hooked from the moment I read the following words: 
"Personality does not exist in isolation. This increase in narcissism in individuals is, we believe, just an outcome of a massive shift in culture toward a greater focus on self-admiration. Narcissism has spread through the generations like a particularly pernicious virus - one with multiple means of entry and transmission. First, Americans' immunity to narcissism has weakened. At one time, strong social pressures kept people's egos in check. Mothers asked children "Who do you think you are?" (instead of "What do you want for dinner, princess?") Religious leaders stressed humility and modesty. Strong communities and stable relationships discouraged arrogance and made it less necessary to meet and impress new people. Narcissism has also been transmitted as an unintended consequence of good intentions, as in the self-esteem movement and less authoritative parenting. Instead of creating friendly, happy children, however, these practices often produce self-centered, narcissistic young people. 
In addition, norms for self-presentation have shifted with cultural trends and new technology.... Internet social networking sites and celebrity culture have raised the bar for narcissistic behavior and standards. Using MySpace [or Facebook] to post a picture of yourself half naked and posturing provocatively is now considered totally normal -- even though it is also deeply narcissistic. Americans are being persuaded that becoming more vain, materialistic, and self-centered is actually a good thing. This can happen even if you're not particularly narcissistic but just get drawn into what everyone else is doing. Today, if you don't get your teeth whitened, everyone thinks you are either poor or an espresso-drinking, cigarette-smoking European. Ten years ago, nobody would have noticed." (pp. 38-39)
This book is a difficult read, if you are willing to ask yourself hard questions as you make your way through the text - especially when the authors identify what their research has revealed to be the "root causes of the epidemic:" 1) current parenting and teaching practices focusing on the uniqueness and the special-ness of each child; 2) current obsessions with celebrities and everything about their lives; 3) social networking sites and the the quest for attention and self-promotion of a carefully crafted image; and 4) easy credit and never allowing real consequences to play out because of the mentality that "I deserve the best right now, regardless of the cost or future consequence!" 

This book is a scary and sobering read, especially when you see symptoms of narcissism stealthily creeping or full-out lambasting their way into the lives of those you love, into the organizations with which you affiliate. What are those symptoms? They include a growing focus on self-importance and a beautiful, appearance often at the expense of genuine caring or sweet personalities (i.e. vanity), materialism, the insistence on believing that "I'm special and therefore better or more deserving...," increasing acceptability of antisocial behavior, less and less civility and insistence on "my rights" instead of learning to get along, feeling entitled, and serving not to help others but to help your own image and self-impression.

Having spent most of the past fifteen years living on the backside of the Sahara Desert, while not immune or insulated from all of these pressures, we can clearly see the symptoms more and more pronounced each time we return to the States. It is revolting, especially as you listen to people you love and trust and admire... as you hear your own thoughts... justify behaviors the Bible clearly condemns. We, as a society, are so busy loving and worshiping ourselves, there is very little... if any... room left for God. We've made life into an "All about me" sort of drama, on so many levels. And frankly, this is what terrifies me the most about bringing our family back to this world... it is what concerns me when I ponder what it will mean to raise the younger half of our family in this world and culture so that they can function as aware and relevant - but without losing them to a value system that is so far from what God created us to be. 

It is the researched opinion of the authors of The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement that, "As a society, we have a chance to slow the epidemic of narcissism if we learn to identify it, minimize the forces that sustain and transmit it, and treat it. If we are unwilling to make... changes, reality always wins in the end. The only question is how long it will be before our nation buckles..." (p. 302-303)

photo credit: deborah is lola via photopin cc

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