Narcissism, The Epidemic

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.

The typical Slackoisie reaction is to blame external sources for their failures.

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.

This does them no good, however, as efforts to identify the root cause of their unwarranted sense of entitlement does nothing to fix their narcissism.  Blame the boomers may make them feel better (and isn’t that really what it’s all about for the narcissist?), and may well be correct, but they remain every bit as narcissistic as before.  For those inclined toward laziness and an aversion to facing problems, the Twenge study makes one point clear: This is not another example of the older generation looking down on the younger generation.  This is not the same old thing.  Let’s put a stop to that lie now.

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.

“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.
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. 

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.

14 thoughts on “Narcissism, The Epidemic

  1. Norm Pattis


    I’ve never understood all this stuff about the slackoisie. Every time I see you start on it, I start wondering whether it’s just our generation’s version of Grumpy Old Men.

    My sense is the at the Internet and really contributes to narcissism, and that it is cross-generational. The net certainly appeals to my sense of self-centered entitlement. Hence, I blog and pretend that the world cares.


  2. SHG

    There is definitely something narcissistic about the internet, blogs and all that, as if anybody cares what we have to say.  But we’re talking big picture here, not individual.  I don’t know that you or I are particularly representative of anything beyond a small group of lawyers who write stuff online, as if we matter.  On the other hand, if we don’t matter, then it’s no harm, no foul.

  3. Brian Gurwitz

    Be careful about posting blogs where you implicitly praise your own traits and knock others (let alone a whole generation of others). It could be proof that you’re an incompetent person suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect.

  4. SHG

    It’s a very controversial topic, and one that gives rise to some very hard feelings.  I’m not sure that there is any fan group in favor of narcissists (NA, maybe?), nor does this implicitly praise boomers at all, one of the hardest things for the Slackoisie to understand because of their inability to isolate problem from blame. 

    Let’s assume all boomers are totally worthless.  That does nothing the alleviate the problem with the Slackoisie. It simply deflects the blame to the boomers.  If you have been following my prior posts on the subject, you would know that this isn’t a “whole generational” issue at all, and there are millenials who have refused to succumb to narcissism and entitlement. But it is a pervasive issue that needs to be discussed and addressed.  Instead, we have a lot of excuses and deflection, usually by those who feel it too acutely.

    I’ve spent a lot of time with this subject. Looks like you need to bone up a bit before Dunning-Kruger bites you back.  There’s plenty to read here

  5. Harry Styron

    Lack of deference and viewing respect as an entitlement are not necessarily signs of slackoisieosity or narcissism. These are bumps on personalities that haven’t been ground down by experience. No need to indict a generation as being mostly whippersnappers.

    Language Log (no connection to me) recently explored the “Kids Today” complaint tradition [Ed. Note: Link deleted]. Are your complaints something different?

  6. Brian Gurwitz

    For the record, I was joking. I would have made that clear with a smiley emoticon at the end of my comment, but I assumed all SJ readers were smart enough to understand this. My bad, and proof that I’m a genius per D-K. 🙂 😉 :>)

  7. Hull

    It IS hard to believe but generally speaking employees–lawyers, paralegals, assistants–under 35 are very different. I don’t know why. But the vast majority are by and large not people who should work at any shop in any profession where one’s work actually “counts”. The situation is expensive for employers, demoralizing to other workers, and threatening to clients and customers.

    Sounds nuts, I know. But it’s true. Most of these people–even Coif or Law Review–would not last a week at a self-respecting Walmart store. Volunteer work and working with the severely handicapped sounds like a plan.

    No guts, no gospel, no passion. It’s very very weird.

  8. Hull

    Just trying quickly to think of occupations where (1) results at work will never matter or (2) you are highly respected for failing.

  9. Hull

    Outstanding, Scott. We now have 3 “professions” on our list for The New Looters.

    Let’s call placement offices at high schools and universities.

  10. Jonathan C. Hansen

    Jeez, you guys are going to have to put a glossary in the side bar so, if I ever encounter the need, I’ll know how to spell all these new words, and I don’t mess up their use. “slackoisieosity”??

  11. Autumn

    HAHA I LOVE that you said you “engaged her,” which was showing respect… that cracked me up! I absolutely agree and in my experience, narcissists think showing them respect is merely listening to their B.S. and not saying anything in response. They are only interested in hearing themselves talk. Thank you for writing this article. I have encountered so many narcissists out here in LA and they’re all under 30. In ten years, they’ll probably figure it out, though we non-narcissists would prefer for it to happen sooner. Maybe 2012 is the year!

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