Real estate tycoon Donald J. Trump bellowed over his fellow candidates in the most recent Republican presidential debate, showcasing once again what mental-health professionals have been saying about The Donald—he is a textbook narcissist. But Trump is far from alone, and more and more kids are growing up to be self-important like him.
Narcissism takes its name from the ancient Greek myth of Narcissus, a man who fell in love with his own reflection. With the emergence of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, it is easier than ever before for kids to become self-obsessed—to the detriment of others and themselves.
A 2010 study in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that narcissism among college students has increased by more than half since the early 1980s, to 30 percent. The study used the students’ scores on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, a widely used diagnostic. Psychology professors Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell show that narcissism has increased as quickly as obesity since the 1980s in their book The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement.
As Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, explained in the New York Times, “while full-blown narcissists often report high levels of personal satisfaction, they create havoc and misery around them. There is overwhelming evidence linking narcissism with lower honesty and raised aggression.”
He said that narcissism can even get in the way of romantic relationships—such people “struggle to stay committed to romantic partners, in no small part because they consider themselves superior.”
Brooks referred to 18th-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who warned against “amour-propre,” an unnatural and unhealthy self-love based on the opinions of others. This narcissism pushes people to waste their lives in an attempt to look and sound attractive to others.
“Narcissism isn’t an either-or characteristic,” Brooks explained. “It’s more of a set of progressive symptoms (like alcoholism) than an identifiable state (like diabetes).”
The Christian writer C.S. Lewis warned against pride as the most destructive sin because it pushes a person more and more inward, closing him or herself off from others and from all the good things in the world. Humility, from a Christian standpoint, counters this universal human tendency away from God and others and toward ourselves.
Brooks suggests taking the Narcissistic Personality Inventory test, and keeping a tight leash on your emotions to make sure you do not derive your self-worth from the opinions of others. He also suggests a social-media fast for Lent—not to avoid internet communication all together, but to avoid using it for self-promotion.
These are important suggestions for adults, and they can guide parents in how to raise their children. As you raise your kids, make sure to emphasize self-respect and warn them against an unhealthy focus on their public image. It’s never too late to encourage a healthy attitude about fame, and a self-respect rooted in things that really matter. If you have teens in your home, take the Narcissistic Personality Inventory together and then consider participating in a self-promotion social-media fast as a family during Lent.
After all, what parent wants to hear their kids say about a war hero, “I like people who weren’t captured”?