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What Is the Narcissism Epidemic?

By Britt Archer
Updated Feb 06, 2024
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Narcissus was a mythological Greek hunter who was so proud of his beauty that he forsook his family and loved ones. The Greek goddess Nemesis, patron of divine retribution, led him to a pond where he saw his reflection, fell in love — and into the pond — and drowned. It is from this tale that the term "narcissism" gets its name. The term “narcissism epidemic” refers to the increasing appearance of this mental illness in society.

Narcissism is classified as focusing wholly on oneself and one's needs and desires to the detriment of others. Symptoms of narcissism include self-focus, a boastful nature, lack of guilt, decreased empathy for others, hypersensitivity to criticism and a reduced capacity for remorse or gratitude. There are different types of narcissism, each with varying symptoms that relate back to the central theme of self-importance and entitlement.

People with narcissism are not inherently unhealthy. Various psychological theories propose that a certain amount of the trait is necessary for individual survival and success. It is only when narcissism becomes extreme that it is classified as a mental illness. The narcissism epidemic refers to a rise in unhealthy levels of narcissism within society, even among individuals who are not inclined toward self-centeredness.

The causes of narcissism are variable. Some types of narcissism depend upon environment. Having narcissistic parents, for example, can cause children to emulate this behavior. A sudden onset of wealth or power can cause acquired situational narcissism. Any time self-esteem and self-worth are decreased and shame or guilt is increased, conditions are ideal for narcissism to rear its head. The narcissism epidemic is a cultural phenomenon thought to stem from the individual-centered nature of modern society.

Just how big a problem the narcissism epidemic poses is unclear. One out of every four college students identified with traits on a narcissistic personality test. An American study found that one out of every 16 people surveyed had narcissistic tendencies. The global ramifications of this phenomenon are widespread, affecting both narcissistic people and those who interact with them.

There is no clear-cut answer to the narcissism epidemic. Treating narcissism involves psychotherapy. Individual therapy sessions help narcissistic individuals develop a sense of self without having to put down others or focus solely on themselves. Group therapy sessions can help narcissistic people learn how to relate to others in a healthy manner. Some doctors use medication to aid in the treatment of narcissism.

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