When we think about the Greek myth of Narcissus, we can see how the idea of narcissism is raising its ugly head in western cultures.
A young man was so beautiful he attracted many suitors (depending on what version you read, the admirers were either male or female), all of whom he rejected. When walking one day beside a lake, the beautiful young man glimpsed his own reflection and fell in love with his own image. He died lonely and forlorn beside the lake, knowing this love was impossible. The narcissus flower grew where he lay and is a warning to all of the negative impact of self-love.
When considering the implications of this myth and how it fits within a contemporary society, I feel that it challenges what we know about reality and illusion. What is real? The reality of the myth is that Narcissus was a beautiful young man who, one would imagine, had flaws like the rest of us. Let’s face it, there’s no such thing as perfect. The illusion however, is how he saw himself – absolutely perfect in all ways – he was the only person good enough and beautiful enough to be his lover, thus creating an impossible love.
There are claims that the world (or at least the first-world) is on the brink of a narcissism epidemic. In fact, a study conducted in 2009 by Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, showed a dramatic rise in narcissism from previous generations. But what is it? Narcissism is a cultural sickness – you won’t catch it when a narcissist sneezes on you – it’s not a physical disease – but it is having a huge impact of how we are behaving and how we like to look. But this generation didn’t raise itself, so it’s safe to suggest that the previous generations played a big role in this growing trend.
A simple study of baby names can show how narcissism is growing around the world. From the 1990s, a desire to have a child stand out as ‘special’ meant the creation of new names, such as, literally, ‘Unique’ (223 babies were named ‘Unique’ in California in the 1990s), along with a deviation in spelling of these new names (Uneek, Uneque, Uniqquee). If parents weren’t making up new names, they were changing the spelling of popular names such as Jasmine, which now have derivatives of ‘Jazmine, Jazmyne, Jazzmin, Jazzmine, Jasmina, Jazmyn, Jasmin, and Jasmyn’. I’ve seen Erica spelt Ericka, Erika and, believe it or not, Airwrecker. This shift in baby naming was a drive by parents to make their children stand out and not be like anyone else. Now, to make picking names easy for expectant parents, there are websites that will generate ‘one off’ baby names ensuring their child/ren can be lauded as special, thus holding a distinctive place on the planet.
From an early age, children are being taught just how special they are, and this is reinforced through an education system which also indoctrinates the children (even as early as kindergarten) with the same message: I’m special.
A combination of permissive parenting, self-esteem focused parenting, and education which praises stagnant or lacklustre performance, teaches children they are ‘special’, ‘stars’ and ‘winners’, irrespective of their accomplishments. An example of this is the ‘every child player gets a prize’ philosophy, where each child in a competition receives an award – even the kid that didn’t try at all – he gets the same as the kids who tried really hard. Rewarding someone for just turning up is counter-productive and results in teens, and in turn adults, who expect a reward where none is deserved – the world is not like that. We’re setting our children up for the bust.
Next, as your child grows and matures, she’s being influenced about fashion, behaviour, what’s cool and what’s not. And trust me, they’re not interested in being influenced by you, but you may be enabling the influence. The media is reinforcing what ‘beautiful’ is, and what ‘popular’ looks like. There is a trend to idolise ‘shallow’ celebrities such as Paris Hilton, and the Kardashians, all of who are famous for being famous. This phenomenon has a name: ‘The cult of the celebrity’. I remember when the weather girl on television was just the weather girl – now she’s a celebrity.
The disturbing thing is though, that these celebrities tend to be role models for young people. Paris Hilton has proclaimed that her own idol is the plastic doll ‘Barbie’, who, she says, ‘may not do anything, but she always looks great doing it’. Obviously, an emphasis on looks is about as deep as a rain puddle. In a non-narcissistic culture, the emphasis would be on doing good for others and the planet, being genuine, caring human beings who do not harm or take advantage of others.
Disturbingly, there is also evidence of a growing trend of parents buying enhancement surgery for their teen daughters. Mothers are supporting the belief that looks are the most important asset to have. Breast augmentations in teens increased 55% in the year 2006-2007; proof of the culture of narcissism. In 2014 in the United States, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) report the top3 cosmetic surgical procedures as:
- Breast augmentation (286,000)
- Nose reshaping (217,000)
- Liposuction (211,000)
Want more information? Dr Maguire’s book Selfies, sexting, suicide and savagery: Welcome to the era of narcissism will be released at the end on 2016. You can pre-order by emailing email@example.com. Want a Now Generation consultant to speak at your conference, school, organisational masterclass? Contact Lynette on firstname.lastname@example.org