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Dawn of the narcissists

From the myriad of characters in Greek mythology who have influenced universal culture,  there is, among others, Cupid, god of desire and an enduring icon of romantic love; Oedipus, immortalized by Freud with his “Oedipus complex,” which is a psychosexual stage of development among children; and Narcissus, a handsome fellow cursed to fall in love with his own reflection.

Thanks to him, we have the word “narcissist.” Of course, the word has been around for a very long time. Nonetheless, it has experienced quite a resurgence lately, used loosely to describe toxic persons.

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The internet is rife with articles on how to identify, avoid and respond to narcissists. Strange, this sudden peak in interest. But then, we may already have applied the characterization to many people in our life—a teenage neighbor, a friend on Facebook, a driver on the highway, that celebrity on the magazine cover. They seem to be everywhere.

Narcissists may be found at home or in the workplace. They manifest in various groups, even in our closest relations. In our romantic pursuits, we encounter them. Heck, they are in governments and in other leadership positions. And we also have narcissistic tendencies in our own selves.

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Early this year, psychologists Dr. Jean Twenge and Dr. W. Keith Campbell released the book “The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement.” In the book, Twenge and Campbell extensively discuss the huge impact of narcissism not only in our relationships, but on the macro scale—in economics, culture and politics. The authors say narcissism has become an epidemic. It’s no longer a mere personal problem, but a societal one.

For instance, as noteworthy as the seemingly narcissistic traits exhibited by the youth are the narcissistic tendencies engendered by helicopter parenting—a form of parenting so pervasive that children of such households turn into individuals who are unable to manage on their own. It renders children prone to narcissism and anxiety, and the cycle continues.

Narcissism has also been linked to bullying. The pervasiveness of school bullying and cyberbullying highlights areas of concern not only for victims of bullying but also for the bullies themselves. Lack of empathy, strong feelings of self-importance and unhealthy image consciousness are narcissistic traits that propel a person to hurt, ostracize or humiliate others. Whatever goes on inside a bully’s mind, it definitely isn’t a pretty and healthy picture.

Dating a narcissist or being in a relationship with one is an extremely exhausting endeavor. Spotting a narcissist before you date one has almost become a  competitive sport. It is a tough task, considering how many narcissists are also charming, charismatic and enigmatic. That is, until their narcissism impairs them from extending empathy, and drains one with their constant need for validation and admiration. They promise everything and deliver nothing.

Workplace narcissists are also an active species. These are the sort of people who do not positively deal with criticism and who feel superior over everybody else. In fairness to them, they are usually extremely good at what they do. Except that they simply expect others to agree with them and meet all their needs most of the time.

Recognize these familiar images? The bully, the charismatic guy, the superior or infallible coworker—they are also the people in positions of certain influence or control: public figures, role models, even loved ones.

Narcissism, mainstreamed and normalized, has become powerful and influential. But we endure narcissists, because they are also all of us, at one point or another, in this day and age.

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TAGS: narcissists, toxic persons
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