Why is narcissism so “hot” these days?


I haven’t seen any official studies or statistics, but it seems like narcissism is possibly the most popular psychological topic on the Internet in recent years. Blogs about narcissism are spreading like wildfire (though it’s possible they may be on the decline now). The subject of narcissism seems to be brought up regularly even in articles and sites about other topics, especially entertainment, big business, and politics, where narcissism is rampant. Narcissism is a buzz word, and it’s because we children of the Baby Boomers and Silent Generation–parents who bought into narcissistic values way back in the 1960s and 1970s–are finally having our say.

In a society-wide twist of values, Narcissism has become a virtue. Old fashioned virtues like altruism and empathy are seen as liabilities that hold people back from achieving success, rather than prosocial traits that keep us civilized and human. Ayn Rand, who idealized narcissism in her philsophy of “objectivism” (and was most likely a narcissist herself) has become a cult hero; her mediocre torch romances “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead,” both featuring selfish, narcissistic “heroes” as their protagonists, have been enjoying enormous popularity.

Ayn Rand.

I believe all this started in the 1960s and 1970s, during the Consciousness Revolution. Certainly the 1950s were mind numbingly conformist and rife with racism and sexism, but things went way too far in the other direction, as Baby Boomers and younger members of the Silent generation began to rebel against all the conformity. They popularized the idea of “doing your own thing,” whatever that thing was. Having and raising children became something to be avoided and any woman with a brain avoided pregnancy as if it were a disease. Abortion and The Pill became legal–and cool. Of course there’s nothing wrong with women having control over when and whether to have children, but I think the general attitude toward children in the 1960s and 1970s was negative. Young Gen X children were not wanted or valued. They were demonized in movies like “The Omen,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Exorcist.” I remember an Esquire article from March 1974, “Do Americans Suddenly Hate Kids?” Well, it did seem that way.

Their parents, the Boomers and Silents, were encouraged to put their own self-growth and advancement of their careers ahead of child-rearing. At the time, this was even thought of as “good” for children, providing them with a positive example of a parent with a high self image and lists of achievements a mile long. Unfortunately, for many children growing up during this time, the attitude that adults were more valuable than children backfired and we felt like we just weren’t that important in our parents’ universe. We grew up with collective low self esteem.

Hippie parents.

The 1970s were dubbed “The Me Decade” and adults were encouraged to do and be whatever they wanted, even if this meant neglecting their own children and turning them into latchkey kids with far too much freedom for their own good. Promiscuous sexual behavior and drug abuse among adults was rampant. Women everywhere (including my own) joined consciousness-raising groups that encouraged them to put themselves over their families. The fallout rained down on the lives of their Generation X and Gen-Jones (late Boomers born at the end of the 1950s and early 1960s) children, and we suddenly found we had to fend for ourselves, without much parental support, even when our parents were not narcissists.

While attitudes toward children improved during the 1980s as Millennial children began to be born, the Boomers and younger Silents who had spearheaded the Consciousness Revolution and Me Generation, were suddenly in positions of authority in politics, business and entertainment. We had Ronald Reagan, with his “trickle down economics” and support of the “supply side” and big business over the people. Tax cuts for social programs commenced with his election and increased over the next 30 years (and show no sign of letting up). Reagan was popular and charismatic, and so were his draconian economic policies that hurt the poor and later, the middle class. New college graduates during the 1980s and 1990s realized they could make unlimited amounts of money in the stock market and suddenly the “helping professions” were unpopular and considered far less lucrative than making a killing on the stock market or in investment banking. These became the infamous “having it ALL” Yuppies.

Yuppies were better parents than their hippie predecessors, but they micromanaged everything their children did, to the point the kids became stressed because they weren’t free to just be kids. These overcontrolled children were sent to the best private schools, given lessons in everything from piano to karate, and had no free time to just play and learn on their own. Millennials grew up stressed out and expecting to achieve in life, only to find when they first entered the job market during the 2000’s, they could not find decent jobs.

Yuppie mom.

Narcissism continues to be a “virtue” and our policies increasingly glorify the self and unlimited financial achievement over humble, old fashioned values of community and compassion. Children who were born or who were children or teens during the 1960s and 1970s are now adults, the oldest of us now in our 50s. I’ve noticed most blogs by ACONs seem to be written by women in their 40s and 50s: these are the Generation X and late Boom/Generation Jones children who suffered the most at the hands of parents who bought into the selfish ’70s and greedy ’80s. Even back in those days, the shift of narcissism from a vice to a virtue was not unnoticed. In 1979, cultural historian Christopher Lasch wrote his treatise “The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations,” about the danger of narcissistic values for American society. His book remains popular today.

We may be a bunch of middle aged fuddy duddies, but we’re no longer scared and we are not shutting up. We call out everything we see wrong with the culture we were raised in, a culture that has become just as unhealthy for our own Millennial children. We were the scapegoats of a society that didn’t value us, and now we are the truth-tellers who are boldly talking about everything that was done to us, everything that went wrong and why. It was us who spearheaded the ACON movement (and yes, it is a movement) and are bringing narcissism out into the light where it can be seen for the disgusting and ugly scourge on humanity it really is. We are doing our best to nurture our own children according to more humble, old fashioned values, although that’s hard in a society that still only values personal gain and material wealth, and still tries to keep us down.


14 thoughts on “Why is narcissism so “hot” these days?

  1. I loved the part about Reagan’s trickle down economics. He really did have some draconian policies that hurt the poor and middle class. Reagan actually began his campaign down South with a very racist tone to segregate people in order to win votes.

    Liked by 1 person

      • And they have this hatred towards Jimmy Carter…who was probably the most honest President they’ll ever see. I don’t understand many Americans. They say they want an honest leader but they really don’t want that. They just want their taxes lowered..even if it means Abandonment of our veterans, our elderly and cutting all social programs.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jimmy Carter was one of the very few non-narcissistic presidents we’ve had in recent years. Probably due to that, he had very little charisma and everyone made fun of the humble Georgia “peanut farmer.” I think Carter was a man with a good heart who tried to do the best he could for the country but had too much going against him. I think people are beginning to appreciate him more for the honest person he actually was. Politicians like him are a rarity and we need more of them.
          I think the abandonment of veterans is probably the worst thing I can think of — if any group deserves government support, it’s these heroic people who put their lives and sanity on the line for their country.

          Liked by 2 people

          • More still, regarding Mr. Carter: he was an officer on a nuclear submarine – and spent time in the *back half*.

            It is said among foundry people that “cast iron takes NO prisoners. I find this quite easy to believe – but compared to one of Rickmans ‘seagoing atomic teakettles’ – cast iron in its superheated state is as harmlesss as chilled milk.

            One mistake with such a creature – everyone dies, and dies horribly.

            In that situation, there is no room for anything of the pathological. Keeping a reactor functioning demands knowledge, care, good judgment, and sobriety – which is the antithesis of Narcissism.

            Liked by 1 person

            • That’s pretty interesting. I never knew that about Carter. Youre right, keeping a reactor functioning should never be a job given to anyone on the narcissist /psychopathy spectrum. The scary thing is that so many of those characters are running everything today, and that probably includes maintaining nuclear reactors.


        • Our taxes could indeed be lowered if we didn’t have such corruption and graft, yet still fund the programs that deserve it.

          Liked by 1 person

    • There was no decrease in government spending on social programs during the Reagan presidency, nor was there any increase in poverty. If you check the facts, you’ll see that employment increased, worker productivity increased, and median household income increased during the Reagan years. Inflation, which had been in the double digits under Jimmy Carter, decreased sharply under Reagan; and since inflation hits low-income people especially hard (while to the wealthy it’s at most a minor nuisance), taming it is one of the most important things that can be done to help the economically disadvantaged. Carter tried to reduce inflation and failed. Reagan succeeded.

      As for so-called “trickle down economics,” that was never a Reagan policy, but a pejorative invented by Reagan’s opponents in an effort to demonize his economic program.

      It’s okay to hate Reagan if you want to, but it’s not okay to misrepresent his policies or his achievements.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t hate Reagan and right now I don’t want to get on my political soapbox (I’m really kind of apolitical tbph) — I just feel he is incredibly overrated as a president. I don’t feel like his policies really worked, personally I think Clinton did a better job with what he had to work with–until he made that stupid gaffe in the oval office. I don’t even know what he was thinking. Obviously his brain was *ahem* somewhere else momentarily.

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  2. Narcissism has been a big topic on the internet since the late 1990s, really since the internet started. It has simply expanded as the internet has. I realize your article takes a longer view.
    Allow me to take an even longer view. Narcissism in various forms has always existed. I’m sure there were many Popes, kings, leaders like Caesar, Napoleon and Genghis Khan, and so on who could be deemed narcissists.
    Before them there were probably Bronze Age and Stone Age narcissist-cavemen who made life hell for those around them by boasting about their exploits with woolly mammoths and so on. And then looking even further back, there were probably narcissistic gorillas who wouldn’t share their bananas, and narcissistic Tyranosaurs boasting about how many Apatosauruses they hunted in the Jurassic era. Ah, for it is the nature of life since its inception to be selfish and self-involved.
    Maybe I’ve gone a bit too far back. Sorry 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • I know narcissists have been around since the dawn of time, and occasionally rise to positions of great power (well,probably more than occasionally). But I don’t think there’s been a time since The Gilded Age that narcissism was a value to be cultivated and idealized the way it has been since the Reagan years. Before that, in the 60s and 70s, narcissism as a virtue was being explored, but didn’t take off as a national mood until the early 80s.
      The Gilded Age–the 1920s–were probably almost as bad. Robber barons were the narcissistic CEOs of today.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post! You are so articulate and an amazing wordsmith. I appreciate all the hard work and energy you put into this blog. It’s very comprehensive and valuable. Thank you!

    I think you’re absolutely right about the history of narcissism in the United States and could go back even further – certainly the cruel plantation owners were, as were their Northern counterparts – but as someone mentioned above, it has always been a trait among humans (can we call narcissists humans? Are they?) There are fascinating stories throughout time – Cleopatra (murdered her brother!!) Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, (and one of his K/Catherine wives, at least), Shakespearean characters (consider the adaptation of King Lear by Jane Smiley in A Thousand Acres). The list is huge!

    And yes, the internet has been a great tool in connecting the dots. Without a name for something it’s much harder to define and pinpoint; now we can say “Oh! He or she is a narcissist!” and there’s much more power than when we were alone in our lives thinking OMG he’s going to kill me. Am I nuts?? He’s such a nice guy usually. Blah blah.

    The last (and final) narcissist I was with actually defined himself that way. He was fairly cognizant of his manipulations. That doesn’t mean he was less pleasant when riled, but in the two years I was with him he never showed me a hint of that dark side. But then, I would deal with him on his level, calmly pointing out what he was doing, and he would stop. So maybe having more information available is helping the epidemic in the long run. Haven’t thought this all through. Ideas?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your kind words.

      I agree narcissism has been around a long, long time. I just think it’s become more prevalent (well, really, just more acceptable) in recent years.

      I think labels, while possibly not accurate all the time (only mental health professionals can diagnose anyone as having NPD or any other disorder) do help those of us coping with or escaping from abuse to better handle our abusers.

      Even if NPD isn’t their problem (other disorders can mimic narcissism and not all abusers are necessarily narcissists), it helps us disengage if we can slap the N label on them at least during the time we need to go no contact. Narcissists are not likeable and it’s an easier label to “hate” than, say, Borderline PD or Schizophrenia or OCD (people with these disorders can also be abusive, among others) because those other labels imply a person who is a victim of their disorder and hasn’t made the choice to be an asshole. Not that narcissists aren’t also victims of their disorder, but it does seem like more of a “choice” and they have a reputation of causing others to suffer more than they suffer themselves. It’s easier to be angry at a manipulative person you can call the N word than it is to be angry at someone whose brain is just wired all wrong, as it is in schizophrenics. And sometimes we need that anger to keep from being sucked in by their mind games.

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