Approximately 70% of students score higher on narcissism and lower on empathy than the average student did 30 years ago. This probably surprises very few of us - we’ve heard time and time that our generation is self-absorbed. But why exactly have narcissism rates increased over the years? And who exactly is to blame?
1. Social Media
You definitely saw this one coming, but apps like Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and even LinkedIn have turned into channels to promote “me, me, me” content. Social media platforms reinforce narcissistic tendencies through what I call a validation feedback loop. Posting a selfie and gaining a lot of attention only causes people to want to post more. Promoting your achievements and gaining likes, comments and external validation can lead to an unhealthy obsession with maintaining this reinforcement. This isn’t to say that social media use is “bad” and will lead to narcissism, but social media can prove to be a tool for people to fuel their narcissistic tendencies.
2. Our Individualistic Culture
Individualistic cultures are those that stress the needs of the individual over the needs of the group as a whole. In these cultures, people tend to be seen as independent and autonomous, with social behaviour dictated by the attitudes and needs of the individual. Western society is seen as highly individualistic and while it does have its benefits, promoting extreme independence may actually be the downfall of our society. If we grow up learning that we only need ourselves and should serve only ourselves, a self-serving attitude can develop. And if everyone only cares about themselves, narcissism is inevitably the next step.
3. The “Self-Esteem” Movement
The self-esteem movement refers to the idea that increases in teacher/parent coddling does more harm than good. It sounds like a great idea to praise your children lavishly in an effort to build up their self-esteem but in reality, this “participation medal” mindset can leave kids feeling insecure. Only when children are praised for real accomplishments are they able to build actual self-esteem. How does this tie into narcissism? A lot of narcissistic tendencies stem from a fear of failure, a focus on one’s self and a deep-rooted notion of inadequacy. While low-self-esteem doesn’t cause narcissism, there is a correlation. So, making children feel accomplished simply for participating can actually cause low self-esteem when they inevitably fail, leading to a tendency to develop narcissistic traits.
In essence, our focus on “me, myself and I” may cause the demise of our empathy.