While the conclusion of the study about today’s college kids isn’t shocking the conclusions about the reasons are indeed interesting. According to the study’s lead author, psychology professor Jean Twenge, the reason narcissism is now epidemic can be traced to an unhealthy desire to boost self-esteem.
Narcissism is defined at dictionary.com as excessive love or admiration of oneself. The second listed definition smacks of irony.
A psychological condition characterized by self-preoccupation, lack of empathy, and unconscious deficits in self-esteem.
So our out of balance attempts to artificially boost self-esteem actually creates an unhealthy self-esteem deficit in many young men and women. Very interesting.
Here are some excerpts from the Associated Press story.
In the study released today, researchers warn that a rising ego rush could bring personal and social problems for the Millennial Generation, also called Gen Y. People with an inflated sense of self tend to have less interest in emotionally intimate bonds and can lash out when rejected or insulted.
"We need to stop endlessly repeating 'You're special' and having children repeat that back," said the study's lead author, San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge. "Kids are self-centered enough already."
Some of the rise in narcissism was probably caused by self-esteem programs that many elementary schools adopted in the 1980s, the study suggested. It noted that preschools began to have children sing a song to the tune of "Frère Jacques" that proclaims: "I am special, I am special. Look at me."
Other trends such as permissive parenting, increased materialism and the fascination with celebrities and reality TV shows may also heighten self-regard, said the University of Georgia's W. Keith Campbell, a study co-author.
Dr. Twenge has written a book titled “Generation Me: Why Today's Young American are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable Than Ever Before”.
Let’s be honest here. Maybe the “Mellennials” are a bit higher on the narcissism scale but this self-absorption is not confined to the university level. I would suggest this has been a growing phenomenon since the Baby Boomers starting crawling around America’s nurseries. The effects of America’s heightened self-regard has filtered into our churches as well. You could do a church version of Dr.Twenge’s book called “Generation(s) Me: Why Today’s Christians have more Teaching, Programs, Resources – and are more Miserable Than Ever Before.” Sadly, you can too often see Christians who don’t realize who they are in Christ lash out when rejected or insulted just like the students in the study. Why? The answer for Christians is that we have forgotten or don’t understand what Christ has done in our lives.
Self-esteem for collegians or congregations does not come from singing songs and being told you are special. The foundation of such shallow self-esteem is built on sand and is easily washed away by life’s storms.
But healthy self-esteem is possible. I believe it can be accomplished through applying some timeless truths.
- It is not about you. Dr.Stephen Bramer, a teaching pastor at our church, shared that he was taught as a child that you find joy by living with clear cut priorities. The plan is simple and uses joy as an acronym. J – Jesus comes first, O – Others come next, Y – You come last. When I have lived my life in that order I have found joy. Unfortunately my percentage of days lived in that order needs to get higher.
- You are special. But you are special because you are created in the image of God and not because of a group sing-a-long.
- I believe that every one of God’s children is gifted to contribute to His church and to His plan. Having a part in the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus gives you significance that has eternal value.
- Self-worth is found in being loved unconditionally by the Creator of the Universe. Jesus said “I love you” when you were unlovable. Having a personal relationship with God gives you self-esteem that is built on a solid foundation and that can withstand life’s storms.
- We were created to be in community and being self-absorbed sabotages that plan. I can enjoy the benefits of community only if I put things in the right relational order.
- All of these truths come together when you become a child of God and allow Jesus total access. The old self must go away. Paul wrote powerfully about our potential to live new lives in Christ Jesus. Take a moment to read Romans 6. Good stuff.
The conclusion of the narcissism study made me chuckle. Dr. Campbell did note that narcissism can have benefits, suggesting it could be useful in meeting new people "or auditioning on American Idol." So if the primary benefit of narcissism is getting shredded by Simon Cowell I think I will pass.
When I awoke today I thought about these words of Jesus.
“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
That makes me feel pretty good about myself today.
Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award winning television sports director, author, and Christian speaker. He is the author of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People and Bring'em Back Alive: A Healing Plan for those Wounded by the Church. You can reply by linking through daveburchett.com