Tell any member of the Slackoisie that they’re narcissistic and they’ll tell you that you’re wrong. They deserve it all. As with the Dunning-Kruger Effect, it’s almost definitional that the narcissist denies he’s a narcissist. But the joint study by Jean Twenge from the San Diego State University and the University of South Alabama shows that narcissism has reached epidemic proportions in college students.
The study, led by SDSU psychologist Jean Twenge, sought to settle a hot debate in psychology over mixed results of studies examining the prevalence of narcissistic personality traits among tens of thousands of American college students. These traits include an unfounded sense of entitlement and overly high self-regard.
There is debate about the underlying causes of any increase in narcissism. Theories implicate parents, teachers and the media, which either allow or celebrate overly permissive attitudes toward individualism, and lead to an inflated and unwarranted sense of self-importance.
A key question in determining narcissistic personality traits has to do with “respect”. The old “bromide” is that respect is earned. The new view is that respect is due. The distinction was made abundantly clear to me in a recent exchange with a first year law student, My attempt to explain that her opinion was not the equivalent of that of someone with, oh, experience fell flat, and indeed was taken as a personal attack. I felt badly about it, not because it was consequential, but because I had failed to help a law student expand her grasp. Instead, I evoked a knee jerk narcissistic reaction.
When I was a law student, I attended any event I could to meet real life lawyers. When they would deign to talk to me, I was thrilled. I offered them nothing; they offered me stories, experiences, insights that would help guide me. I was very appreciative of the fact that they would spend a few minutes of their time on me. Why should they? I was a mere gnat in their world. They were gracious to do so, and I was thrilled to be the beneficiary of their grace.
Following my effort to explain the relevance of experience and achievement on the worth of an opinion, I was informed that I failed to show my Slackoisie law student “respect”. I was surprised by this, and responded that I showed her the utmost respect: I engaged her. This ended our exchange, with her dismissing me as being unworthy of her further interest. I failed miserably to help her, and it saddened me that I could not break through the narcissism. Though she had earned nothing, she was entitled to her vision of “respect”, and there was nothing I could say to change that.
Twenge’s study raises frightening questions about what we are looking at down the pike:
This rise [in narcissism] could prove problematic for American society in the near future and may have already had a negative impact. Some researchers believe that the current credit bubble plaguing the American economy and the global financial crisis are the result of the risky decision-making and sense of entitlement associated with narcissism. As the number of narcissists grows, the United States could experience even more social problems as a result.By writing about the Slackoisie, I hope to accomplish two things. First, to encourage others to make the effort to stem the tide rather than enable it, feed it, acquiesce and take the path of least resistance by throwing ice cream parties and giving them trophies for merely showing up.
“What this means is that we have generations of people entering the workforce that expect special treatment, are demanding of others and making risky decisions — ones that could be quite costly when you consider recent business fiascoes,” says Amy Brunell, an Ohio State researcher unaffiliated with the study.
Second, those on the cusp, with the ability for a little serious introspection, will recognize their mistaken belief in entitlement and chose to realize that they will have to earn whatever they want from life rather than expect it on a silver platter.
I’ve got some strong allies in this effort, no less a man of substance than Dan Hull, who has no tolerance for the sound of shattering teacups. But the battle to save our children from themselves, even if their narcissism is our fault as boomer parents, will be a long and difficult one. Even though I lost one to the Slackoisie, the fight goes on to save the children. Some day they’ll thank me for it.