This article was originally posted on October 7 and 11, 2015 in two parts. It has been updated and merged.
Disclaimer: It was pointed out to me that this post may seem overly critical or stereotyping of Baby Boomers. I’m aware that the selfishness and lack of empathy we see today extends across ALL generations. Also, many Boomers were never narcissistic and some were, in fact, abused or neglected, especially toward the end of that generation (which I myself am a part of). But it is a fact that on a societal level, this was an especially indulged generation that led to an overall entitled mindset, even if many individuals never fit that trend. As far as the neglectful parenting so rampant during the 1970s that is described, most of these parents were actually Silents, not Boomers (Boomers were more likely to indulge their Millennial children).
When I was compiling my lists of songs about narcissism, it didn’t pass my notice how few songs there were prior to the 1980s that focused on it. Oh sure, there have always been a few here and there (Carly Simon’s 1972 hit “You’re So Vain” immediately comes to mind) and there were always those “you/he/she done me wrong” love songs, but songs specifically about narcissism were pretty rare.
I think the reason for this is because it wasn’t until the 1980s that narcissism became so dominant in western (especially American) culture that it became a new virtue–something to aspire to if you wanted to be financially and professionally successful. And it wasn’t until the 1990s that narcissism became recognized as a real problem and websites, blogs and forums about narcissistic abuse began to spring up all over the Internet.
But I think the problem really started long before that, back in the post-WWII days when the Baby Boomers started being born. Of course there are exceptions, but as a generation, the Boomer generation was raised to be grandiose, entitled and lack a collective sense of empathy for others. As the Boomers aged, their collective sense of entitlement bled over into everything they touched–politics, business, and the culture at large. Today this narcissism affects all living generations, but generations older than the Boomers generally frowned on it.
Ripeness for the rise of a culture of narcissism.
I need to add that America was ripe for the rise of a culture of narcissism long before the hubris created by our WW II victory and our subsequent rise to the most powerful nation on earth and the arrival of what some believe was the most indulged generation of children, the Baby Boomers.
As a nation, we have always adhered to principles of “rugged individualism” and the “Protestant work ethic.” We have always eschewed communitarian values at the expense of individual achievement. But in the past, we were nicer to each other. People were expected to at least get involved in their communities when neighbors were in need and to show some grudging respect for those with less. Today, not so much. People were generally less about themselves and more about building strong families and communities. Even in the 1920s, another era of hedonism, greed, and other holdover values of the Gilded Age, these values had less hold on the population than they have today. That’s why during the Great Depression, someone like Franklin D. Roosevelt could rise to power and his New Deal (which allowed a prosperous decade like the 1950s to happen) was able to be implemented, though it certainly had its critics. Today, I doubt anything like the New Deal would be voted in by the majority of people, which is tragic.
After our WWII victory, America became very hubristic. We had become a superpower to be reckoned with the world over, and American life never seemed better. Life was very different than it had been even a decade earlier, and most newlyweds now had TVs, new kitchens with modern appliances that made a wife’s job much easier and left her more time to spend with her children, and often two cars. Employment was high and jobs paid well compared to the cost of living at the time. Young husbands were able to afford to buy tract homes and new cars on the GI bill, and could afford to support a wife and children. Of course, these were very conformist times too, and “keeping up with the Joneses” was a thing.
Enter the victory babies born in this national mood of optimism following the war: the Baby Boomers. Raised according to Dr. Benjamin Spock’s indulgent philosophy of “feeding on demand” and “Johnny will clean up his room when he feels like cleaning up his room,” Boomer infants and toddlers were pampered, indulged, and trained to be entitled. They were given anything they wanted and discipline tended to be light and consist of trying to “reason” with children. There was an endless array of new toys and snacks marketed to children, and mothers were made to feel like bad parents if they refused to comply with what advertisers told them to buy. The kids caught onto this attitude of entitlement, and if Sally got the new Barbie doll or Eric got the new battery operated toy truck, then Debbie and Paul had to have them too. The culture at the time was child-centered. It was a given that a child’s needs and wants always came before the parents’ and children were constantly told how “special” they were.
All that being said, I don’t believe on demand feeding in itself leads to feelings of entitlement; in fact it does just the opposite: In an infant who hasn’t yet learned to separate themselves from the mother, such “indulgence” nurtures a child with high self esteem (NOT the same as narcissism) who is capable of healthy attachments to others. The problem is when the child continues to be indulged when older (spoiling), and many little Boomers boys and girls were, though certainly not all.
As they entered school, young Boomers’ attitude of entitlement and specialness carried over into the classroom. As a generation, they expected to be treated as little gods and goddesses, just as their parents had treated them.
As the Boomers entered their teens, they began to rebel against the parents who had showered attention and material comforts on them. I believe this rebellion was due to a collective fear of engulfment by overindulgent parents. They were attempting to break away by reacting against the very lifestyle that had given them so much. Of course not every child had overindulgent parents, but teenagers always try to emulate what’s popular or cool. Rebelling against “the Establishment” or the Vietnam War (which also represented the values of their parents) became hip and cool. Adolescent Boomers, having been raised to believe they were unique and special (and most of those middle class and above were able to attend college and were often the first in their family to be able to do so) embraced causes that were anathema to the values of “the old fogies” and at first, really believed their causes were superior to those of their parents. They tuned in, turned on, and dropped out. They experimented with marijuana and LSD. They dressed in hippie clothing and wore their hair long, which horrified “The Establishment.” They listened to rock music, the louder and harder and more offensive to the older generation, the better. They protested the war, attended “love ins” and participated in campus sit-ins, and eventually riots. Young Boomers believed their values were exactly what the world needed, but their attitude was based on entitlement rather than realism. They were idealists who believed the world could be changed by smoking pot and listening to the right sort of music.*
* I’ve amended my attitude toward Boomer idealism some since I wrote this post. Idealism in itself isn’t a bad thing, and some of the youth movements of the ’60s had wonderful intentions–surely there’s nothing wrong with peace and love, and the anti-war, women’s, and civil rights movements (the latter which had actually started in the late 1950s with the Silents) all had their positive points and changed society for the better in many ways. The most disturbing thing about early Boomer idealism was its shallowness–the way it was so quickly abandoned when they entered full adulthood and as a generation they were able to move so quickly from “make love not war” to its polar opposite, “greed is good.”
Due to the sheer size of the Boomer generation, anything they did got a lot of national attention. Besides the many disapproving and negative news stories about the Vietnam protests, communal living, and recreational drug use, others were also beginning to emulate them. The next-older generation (The Silents), who had been largely ignored as they came of age, tried to seem younger by emulating the Boomers in their dress, tastes, and general lifestyle. The Boomers were never short on collective narcissistic supply (both negative and positive), and this continued to feed their attention-getting behavior.
Parents wondered where they had gone wrong, and why the children they had raised so lovingly had turned so rebellious and so insistent on “doing their own thing.” They wondered why this new generation seemed to hate them so much.
By the end of the 1960s, the “hippie lifestyle,” like everything else the Boomers would ever start, had become a lucrative market. But by the time The Establishment caught on, the Boomers were beginning to move on to other things, including embracing what they had rejected.
The power was still in the hands of the older generation of course, so narcissism had not yet become a noticeable part of the culture (although hubris and conformity definitely still was). By the 1970s, the first signs of a growing narcissistic culture would begin to make themselves felt.
Boomers, now entering their 20s, had by now largely abandoned their earlier hippie incarnation for a more subdued “back to the land” movement, in which they opted for whole foods, fresh air, and healthy living. Others began to infiltrate the job market, often with degrees in esoteric subjects. Having children was something to be avoided, as Boomers wanted to prolong their adolescence or make a mark on the world. The Pill and newly legal abortion made all this possible. Around the same time, women began to demand equal rights in society and the workplace. The 70s wave of feminism was very anti-child and pro-career. If you preferred to marry and raise children, you were looked upon as a throwback to the 1950s.
Around the same time, various forms of non-traditional, humanist psychotherapies (EST, Esalen, etc.), grassroots religions, and cults became popular. Collectively known as “the human potential movement,” self-improvement and self-development became a priority for Boomers. Putting your own needs before those of others was not only normal, it was considered healthy. New York Magazine dubbed the 1970s “The Me Decade” for this reason. Couples opted to cohabitate rather than marry(because it was easier to break a commitment), and divorce was becoming very common. But the true victims of all this self-discovery were the children.
“Non-parenting” in the 1970s.
Children raised during this time (Generation X and tail-end Boomers) found themselves pretty much ignored, treated as second class citizens, or sometimes even abandoned by their self-involved Silent Generation or Boomer parents, who seemed to put their own needs ahead of theirs. This was a generation full of latchkey kids and kids prematurely taking care of themselves and their siblings while Mom attended to more interesting and “fulfilling” things.
To be fair, it wasn’t all the parents’ fault. The new “me” culture and the women’s movement, which gave women more options that just being mothers and housewives, gave them permission to turn their kids into second class citizens. Second-wave feminism especially (though this movement was probably for the most part a good thing) literally threw out the baby (Gen-X kids) with the bathwater in the 1970s. In spite of then-recent discoveries made by psychologists in the field of early attachment, women–including mothers–were encouraged to put their own needs first. I remember some “child-care” book my mother was reading that I thumbed through that actually advised mothers to not be “slaves” to their children–this attitude extended even to babies! Kids were considered to be small, demanding tyrants who hobbled women’s needs for independence and fulfillment in the outside world, rather than vulnerable little people who happen to have many needs. It wouldn’t surprise me if it were found that disorders caused by emotional neglect and failed early attachment (C-PTSD and personality disorders) are especially high among Generation X and “Joneser” (born 1955-1965)adults. Given the ages of most narc-abuse victims on the web, I suspect this is the case. These were the scapegoated kids of an increasingly dysfunctional society.
Around the middle of the 1970s, a new kind of music (disco) became associated with materialism, hedonism, and over the top sexuality. By now, Boomers had done a 180 from their emergence during the 1960s as hippies, and now embraced the crass materialism they had once rejected. They were ready for a President who would encourage their pursuit of luxury and material success.
At the same time, fundamentalist Christianity, which had been “rediscovered” by some Boomers as an outgrowth of the Jesus movement of the 1960s, was becoming increasingly popular, and the new conservatism was using it as a way to attract newly saved Christian voters.
The new narcissism wasn’t lost on Christopher Lasch, who published his book, “The Culture of Narcissism,” in 1979.
Ronald Reagan popularized trickle-down (or “supply side” economics), which basically meant allowing people to pay less taxes and keep more of what they earned. This played right into the hands of financially successful, entitled Boomers, who didn’t want to share their newfound wealth. The hippies had become the Yuppies–young urban professionals who had to “dress for success,” live to impress, and have the best of everything. Clothing wasn’t acceptable unless it had a designer’s logo on it. Housewares weren’t acceptable unless they were handmade in Outer Mongolia by native women. Food wasn’t acceptable unless it was “nouvelle cuisine.”
Having the perfect body was a priority, and Boomers started going to the gym or even personal trainers to tone and sculpt their bodies, sometimes to the point of unhealthy obsession. Boomers, mostly in their 30s by now, were finally deciding to have families, but children themselves became a status symbol, and getting your child into the “right” preschool or having the “right” designer clothing, or the “right” dance instructor became all-important. It was common for Boomer parents to watch other people’s children closely, to find out what they needed to do to “one up” each other as parents.
We were all enthralled by TV shows about fabulously wealthy people. Dallas, Dynasty, and its imitators became wildly popular and its stars became icons to imitate and aspire to. With the exception of emsemble shows like Cheers (a show about bartenders) or Taxi (a show about taxi drivers), there were hardly any popular TV shows about the poor or working class or anyone else of humble means. In the 1980s, you would not be able to tune into a new Little House on the Prairie, Sanford and Son, or The Honeymooners, except in reruns. Teenagers in shows were more likely to be privileged prep-schoolers than inner city toughs like those in Welcome Back, Kotter. Situation comedies no longer focused on middle or working class people, but on the comfortably upper middle class. Even the cops on police shows were somehow (and unrealistically) fabulously wealthy and always dressed for success. The rich (or at least aspiring to be rich like the characters in thirtysomething) just seemed more interesting…and worthy of our time.
In 1987, a popular movie called “Wall Street” was released, in which its most famous quip, “greed is good,” became a national meme. While it was intended as a joke at first, “greed is good” quickly became a new philosophy of life, in which greed was not only good but became a virtue. Greed may have been one of the seven deadly sins, but even Christians made an exception for it, and we even had a Christian president who encouraged as much of it as possible. After all, it was the American way and America was a Christian nation, right?
In summary, during the 1980s, narcissism came out of the closet, with the election of a president who encouraged greed, materialism, and entitlements for the wealthy. At the same time, empathy, neighborliness, and general goodwill toward others seemed to become almost quaint, a naive relic of the past. The juggernaut was the new “greed is good” philosophy, normalized by a popular film. Narcissism was no longer something to be hidden; now it was almost something to aspire to.
The greed worshipping culture begun in the 1980s continued during the 1990s, as Boomers rose to power and we elected our first Boomer president, Bill Clinton, in 1992. Under Clinton, the economy boomed, and a new breed of Yuppies, the Dot Com entrepreneurs (who were mostly Generation X), rode on the coattails of the newly born Internet, and they made money hand over fist until they went bust several years later. But people still went shopping and the culture at large was becoming increasingly exhibitionistic, obnoxious, and in-your-face (reality shows were born during this time), while corporations grew bigger and more unwieldy (unlimited growth, like a cancer, was encouraged, and smaller companies merged into megacorporations the size of small governments). Meanwhile, government institutions built in the more sedate and community-oriented 1950s and 1960s began to splinter and crumble. The government, especially the part of the government that tried to help its less fortunate citizens and attempted to even the playing field through fair taxation, became The Enemy.
But a backlash was beginning to silently bubble under all the glitz and bling of the ’90s. Back in 1983, a psychiatrist turned born-again Christian named M. Scott Peck published his groundbreaking book, “People of the Lie.” Here, for the first time, was a self help psychology book that focused on “evil”–specifically, people who were evil. The traits described in the book are exactly those of malignant narcissism. The book resonated with many, particularly with Gen-Xers and later born Boomers (Generation Jones), who had been raised by narcissistic parents. In some cases, especially for younger Boomers and early Gen-Xers, these kids had been betrayed by initially doting Silent generation parents who suddenly, during the 1960s or 1970s, seemed to suddenly care only about their own self-development at the expense of their confused and hurt adolescent and preteen children who they no longer seemed to even like much (this is exactly what my experience had been growing up in the 60s and 70s: my parents changed and no longer seemed to care).
But in the early 1980s, Peck’s “evil people” were not automatically equated with narcissists or people with other Cluster B disorders. Until the mid-90s, narcissism–or more specifically, NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder)–was simply a psychiatric label given to certain patients with a certain set of traits, who may or may not have been evil. NPD wasn’t demonized yet.
Then along came Sam Vaknin in 1995. Vaknin, a former white collar criminal and self-confessed narcissist, had written a tome about narcissism called “Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited.” Written initially to obtain supply and a guru-like status for himself, Vaknin’s book actually helped many of the narcissistic abuse victims who read it and recognized their abusers in its 600+ pages. Vaknin’s idea of NPD didn’t fit that described in the DSM: he mixed in with NPD several traits of psychopathy, antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), and Borderline personality disorder (BPD), to describe a particularly dangerous type of malignant narcissist that made the toxic people described in M. Scott Peck’s book seem almost tame in comparison.
The book was successful, and soon Vaknin started his own website, and discussion groups, and abuse victims all over the world jumped on the bandwagon. Vaknin, exactly the sort of person they sought to avoid, had become their savior and guiding light out of darkness.
Until the 2000s, Vaknin’s was pretty much the only voice on the Internet about narcissistic abuse. But in the very late 90s, a few books were beginning to be published about this “new” type of abuse that didn’t necessary include physical violence (but could). Parents, particularly mothers, were the focus, and a subset of the narcissistic abuse community–one that focused on narcissistic mothers and the damage they had done to their now-adult children–formed the template for the explosive ACON (Adult Children of Narcissists) movement.
For a brief time, after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, it looked like Americans just might start to care about each other again. There was an outpouring of support for the victims of the 9/11 disasters, and solidarity shown among all Americans. For the first time, regional differences and even racial differences didn’t seem to matter, and Americans were united by their flying of the flag. No one seemed all that concerned by the curtailment of certain freedoms and and increase in xenophobia–after all, it was for the protection of the country, right?
But as a result, the economy was suffering, so George W. Bush Jr. (“Dubya”) gave us all permission to “go shopping.” And so we did. It was back to the bread and circuses and the shallow, materialistic culture of the 1980s through pre-2001.
Reality shows rose in popularity and the badder the behavior, the more popular they got. New celebrities were famous only for “being famous,” having a famous parent, or just for acting badly. People aspired to be just like Snooki and The Situation from The Jersey Shore, or Tiffany “New York” Pollard from Flavor of Love. All of these characters were narcissists, or at least acted that way for the benefit of the camera. And people loved them for it.
During the 2000s, Millennials, the rising young adult generation, born in the 1980s and 1990s, started being being accused of being narcissistic, but if they are, you can blame their parents for having taught them these values. In addition, a lot of gaslighting is going on by older generations, who blame the Millennials for their inability to find jobs that pay a living wage and provide benefits, forcing them to live at home and be dependent for longer than earlier generations–and accuse them of being “lazy,” “spoiled,” and “entitled.” But what about their mostly Boomer and Gen-X parents, who modeled this sort of behavior?
Politicians became more blatantly narcissistic and their lack of empathy sank to new lows. One politician said if you weren’t rich, you should blame yourself. Blaming the victim became increasingly popular, and was even seen by some conservative politicians as a “Christian” way to behave–for if you were favored by God, He would bless you with wealth and material comforts. Religion itself became a way for narcissists to rise to positions of great power, and use their “favored status” in God’s eyes as a way to abuse their flock of followers.
Meanwhile, the narcissistic abuse commmunity continued to grow, and blogs written by abuse survivors were beginning to pop up all over the Internet. The abuse community developed their own lingo, some of it borrowed from earlier movements such as 12-step programs (codependent, enabling, people-pleaser are examples), some from pioneers such as Sam Vaknin (narcissistic supply, confabulation), and some from mental health experts going all the way back to Freud. Some terms were taken from popular movies, such as “flying monkeys” (The Wizard of Oz), and “gaslighting” (Gaslight).
Now we’re nearly 7 years into the 2010s. While it’s hard to see any patterns yet, it does seem that the problem of narcissism is finally being noticed by the general public. Pundits and media critics write about the narcissism of politicians and celebrities and “cluster B type” reality TV stars. Now there’s a call by many for more empathy and community spirit over selfishness, self-aggrandizement, and greed. 2011’s Occupy Wall Street movement enjoyed a flurry of popularity, especially among Millennials (though older generations had their fair share of supporters) before it was ultimately silenced. But at least it was a start.
On the other hand, the problem is even worse now, with the possible impending presidency of Donald Trump, who has even been remotely diagnosed with NPD by psychiatrists (breaking their own rule never to diagnose anyone who hasn’t been formally evaluated). Sam Vaknin has called him a Malignant Narcissist (and I do believe he is one) and even publications like Psychology Today and news media have picked up on that and written about it. The news is peppered with so many articles about Trump’s malignant narcissism that it’s a wonder he is still a contender. But Trump has a powerful bloc of supporters (mostly “angry white men”), who seem to be in denial about how dangerous this man could be should he become President. I don’t think he will win. But no other presidential candidate in living memory showed the same level of arrogant, entitled, and grandiose behavior that Trump has shown in his campaign–and politicians are by nature a narcissistic bunch! Can you imagine someone like Trump making it this far 30 or 40 years ago? I can’t. Even ten years ago, someone who acted that way would have been booted from the race during the primaries. We as a nation have normalized the type of pathological behavior someone like Trump displays.
Narcissism is a fashionable topic now. Maybe it’s just a fad, but it’s making people pay attention. I’ve noticed a number of Christians–at least online–who are abandoning the fiscally conservative values held by groups such as the Tea Party, who are about as collectively entitled as you can get (they better get their social security, but to hell with that child who needs special medical treatment but can’t get it because his parents are too poor). It’s probably too soon to tell whether the “social gospel” is making a return, but there does seem to be a greater desire for an increase in empathy, kindness, and community spirit instead of just building up the Almighty Self. The enormous popularity of Bernie Sanders, especially among the Millennials, proves this. Of course a Sanders-type figure wouldn’t have solved all our problems (it took decades for us to get to this point and it won’t be changed overnight), but the fact one made it so far and people actually paid attention gives me a little hope that the tides may be turning. It will be interesting to see what the rest of this decade holds.
For further reading:
1. Are Millennials Really the Most Narcissistic Generation Ever?
2. Why is Narcissism so Hot These Days?
3. Generations Explained
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Thanks. I like this myself, so I decided to put it out there again, with revisions.
You really are a brilliant, insightful thinker and an amazingly articulate writer.
At the beginning of this great piece I felt a little upset, because my experience growing up was nothing like you characterize the typical Baby Boomer. My parents despised Dr. Spock, they were all about not spoiling the child and over using the rod. They did not in any way indulge me with Barbies, etc — quite the opposite, when we went shopping, they told me never to ask for anything I wanted, because “only spoiled brats ask for things” and “money does not grow on trees.” Not only that, they actually spanked me several times for simply staring at a toy or at some candy that I liked, because “staring at something you want is the same as asking for it, and only spoiled brats ask!”
Once, when I was about three years old, we were in a checkout lane in a grocery store. I was standing behind my parents’ backs, so I knew they could not see me as I looked at a gumball machine. I remember that I was simply enjoying just looking at the many different colors and imagining what each color might taste like. Well, an older woman at a nearby cash register saw me. She took a penny from the change she had just been given, put it in the machine and handed me the yellow gumball that came out. “You want one of these, don’t you, Honey,” she said.
My parents waited until we were in the car, and then they spanked me for “staring at the gum machine like a starving beggar!” After that, I had to stare at the floor when they pushed me in a cart in the grocery store, which took all the fun out of it.
They hated spending money on me for any reason. My grandmother sewed my school clothes every year, until junior high, when she stopped. So then I had to take my beloved flute to a pawn shop, and with the small amount of money I was given, I bought two dresses and a pretty but cheap pair of shoes that fell apart the first time it rained.
Speaking of shoes, I wore my shoes every year until I had to curl my toes in them to get them on. I remember having bleeding blisters all over my feet because of my ill-fitting shoes. This was my “normal.”
But… even though I did feel a little upset as I started reading your assessment of the spoiled and over indulged boomer generation, I swallowed the feeling, because i know YOU. I know how brilliant you are. So I read the entire post with an open mind, and by the end, I came to the conclusion that it is genius!
As I read, I thought about my contemporaries, the boomers I went to school with. And I realized that you were right about the vast majority of them. They did have almost everything. They were very pampered and spoiled. They did grow up feeling superior and acting entitled. I was one of the rare exceptions, the disenfranchised, shunned by my peers in their stylish new clothes and their shiny shoes that actually fit. My peers mocked me for having so little, for wearing “home made” clothes sewn by my grandmother that were so very old-fashioned, and later, when no one was providing me with clothes, I was laughed at and bullied because my few dresses were much too tight and too short, after I outgrew them the year before, but still had to wear them.
Although you did briefly address the exception to the rule, the outsider, the ignored boomers, way down in this article — maybe you could do a post someday on just that, on those of us who were on the outside looking in on, the disenfranchised of our boomer generation? No one could write it as brilliantly as you can, I have no doubt. 🙂
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I wasn’t raised like the opening description either, well, not for long anyway. I was raised more like the kids of the 1970s, except when I was a very young child. But I was never “indulged” the way Spock kids were. As for the critique about Boomers, I do realize it might seem as if I’m stereotyping. I know you and many Boomers are not that way (I’m at the tail end of that generation myself). I was generalizing for the sake of convenience, but the selfishness you see is pervasive across ALL generations. Maybe I’ll put a disclaimer or a footnote in explaining this and that it shouldn’t be taken personally by any baby Boomers.
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I just put a disclaimer in front of the post. Hope that helps.
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My parents were from just before the Boomer generation, and we were blue-collar middle class with farming roots, so I (thankfully) seem to have escaped the worst of it for the 70s-generation. My parents still believed in spanking and paddles, but they were neither neglectful nor abusive.
But we Gen-Xers still had to deal with the clash between the conservative and liberal Boomers, one side throwing everything out and the other trying to hold onto it, new morality and old morality, parents divorcing, etc. etc. Even in 2004, the conservative and liberal Boomer politicians were still fighting Vietnam. Remember that? “Swift Boat” etc. etc. A while back I discovered that much of today’s politics links back to the 60s.
It’s no wonder the Gen-Xers rebelled. But notice that Gen-X is no longer a bunch of “slackers” and seems to have settled down quite a bit–for example, I go on Facebook and find religious posts by people who didn’t seem at all religious in high school. Or people who were liberal in college, posting in favor of the Republican Party.
So when I hear the complaints about Millennials, they sound much the same as what they used to say about us Gen-Xers, so I don’t take them too seriously. But there are definite differences between the generations, what they accept as “normal.” The Millennials are complaining about things that I just accepted as a matter of course.
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Oh, an amendment: make that “alleged slackers.” I never much liked being called “slackers.” 🙂
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LOL! I remember the negative “slacker”stereotype — dressed in black and “grungy” clothes, apathetic, disaffected and cynical, all listening to Nirvana on their headphones.
X’ers are middle aged now and most are anything but slackers. They seem to have aged into leading pretty “normal” lives, devoted to their kids almost to a fault. Many are super-religious. I suspect their overprotectiveness and tendency to be religious and conservative at least in social matters is a reaction against the way most of them were raised.
And yet they get called entitled! It sucks, because they never had the opportunities that earlier generations (even Generation X) had! They are just protesting against a system in which they are programmed to fail and that doesn’t allow them them to make even a living wage or have any kind of social safety nets. They are being gaslighted and told they are to blame because they are so narcissistic and entitled, when the reality is, they are VICTIMS of a narcissistic system that hobbles them in their chances to become successful adults.
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I know a Millennial who graduated from college a few years ago, but *still* works at places like grocery stores and restaurants, not able to find anything in his chosen career. He also has never struck me as feeling “entitled.”
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It’s an epidemic. I really feel for my kids. They are 23 and 25 and both are working in the low paying service sector. My son lives in a nice apartment complex, but he coudn’t do it without his two roommates there also. The apartment is crowded. My daughter still lives with me most of the time. These kids, even with a college education (as my son has), just can’t get a foot in the door. But it’s not only them who suffer. People much older are affected too. If you are in your 50s and lose a job, you might have to take a job bagging groceries for minimum wage if you can find a job at all. Many once-successful people fall on hard times, say an illness or a lay off, and sink into poverty with no hope of escape. And they too, are blamed for their “failures” as if they’ve done something wrong to deserve it.
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You are awesome sauce! ❤
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Thanks. Unfortunately because this article is about the entire society, a lot of assumptions are made about large groups of people, not taking individual differences into account. I hope people reading this understand I had to take “shortcuts” in order to get my point across about an entire society.
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Yes, join us. 🙂 Discussions on generations and experiences are, quite intriguing.
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You both should read these 2 books by William Strauss and Neil Young: “Generations” (covers all the generations dating back to the founding of America) and “The Fourth Turning” (about cycles in history — we are in a 4th turning right now and that’s why everything is so crazy)
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Cool! Thanks for the book recommendations. I’ll check them both out…see if the library has them. 🙂
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I have read both of them several times. Definitely check them out! They are also available on Amazon in both new and used versions. I also like the dates they use for the generations better than the ones commonly used by the media and advertising (there’s no way someone born in 1964 is a Boomer!)
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Haha, right? I could never really wrap my head around those cut off dates. I was born in 65 so thinking of someone as a boomer who’s just a year older than me does not make sense.
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Hah! I don’t even think someone born in 1958 is a Boomer. I agree, the 1946 – 1964 birthdates are ridiculous. Strauss and Howe have them at 1943 – 1960, which is a bit better (though I think the cut off should be 1957). Their dates are getting more popular in mainstream media, which is good.
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Ok I know you’re talking about overall cultural narcissism here, but it still starts at home right?
For example, my mother missed being a boomer by 2 years. However, her father served in WW2. She didn’t actually meet her father until she was two though since he’d been away at war when she was born up to that point.
Imagine waking up one morning, at the age of two, walking into the living room and seeing a strange man you’ve never met sleeping on the couch that was empty the night before.
From that day onward, her life changed drastically. This man was an abusive asshole who cheated on my grandmother and they didn’t divorce until my mother was 19. My grandfather moved his family around quite a bit for his job as a newspaper reporter so my mother changed schools often. The last move I believe to be the hardest for her as she had to leave a high school in one state where she had quite a few friends to come to the area I actually live in now to a much bigger high school that she never really adapted to.
I guess my point is that not all boomers or those raised by the generation before that were spoiled rotten with material things. In fact my grandmother would go without her meals at times so that her children could eat.
So abuse and poverty is also a major cause of narcissism as well.
On the point of being rebellious as teens to simply oppose their parents… In adolescents, kids are developing their own opinions and thought processes, no matter the background they are from.
They are also beginning to really see that their parents aren’t the perfect gods they believed them to be when they were little and looking up to and at them, again, whether abused or not. But if these adolescents were abused, they will especially look for a place…a group to belong to and feel accepted in. During the 60s it was easy to find that. So I don’t think all those hippies were from wealthy families but also from less privileged teens who were looking for a family of their own choosing because they were treated badly by the families they were born into.
Not all boomers (my mom’s brother was born 7 years after my mother, so he’s one) or those born to the generation prior were wealthy or even middle class. So there are other causes and aspects as well.
My father, also a narcissistic borderline (I believe) came from a middle class family and had an older brother that from what I understand was favored by my grandfather because he was big, strong and served in the military. (Korea).
But my father as a boy was sick in bed for a year and as a result lost a lot of weight and became a bit scrawny for a while. He was also born with something that made him legally blind in one eye, which kept him from passing the physical for the draft at the time.
Because of this, I believe his father treated him much differently than he did his other son…my uncle. Although it must’ve done less damage because my father always held a job while we were growing up and my uncle was always looking for the next get rich quick scheme and then would pull my father into it. My uncle died of liver disease, still very much hooked on hard liquor. What I get from one of my cousins, he was much worse than my father was, one reason being that he never really held down a job and it was my aunt who supported them all…they had 5 kids.
I think these are perfect examples from the (at least close to) boomer generation of not being children who got whatever they wanted when they wanted but in fact were abused and brought up in toxic environments, which when they married, they continued the cycle.
I’m not arguing your point of view at all though, I just think it is contributed to, via more than one means and abuse by parents, is one of the biggies.
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I am going to read over both yours and Linda Lee’s comments more carefully later (I have to go run some errands) but just for now, I’ll say I agree that not all Boomers were indulged or spoiled, and you can count me as one of those, being that I am technically in that generation even if at the tail end. In fact, many of us, as you have described, were abused and suffered severe emotional damage, so it’s not just a Gen X thing (and there are certainly narcissists among that generation too). The problem with writing articles like these, is you have to generalize a bit, and generalizing doesn’t take individual experiences into account. Maybe that’s why I don’t write these kind of posts too often.
I also want to add that I don’t personally consider people born in the late 1950s to be Boomers, but that’s a whole other post so I won’t get into my reasons. I consider them part of Generation Jones, which they are.
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I understand about the generalizing. And agree how difficult generalizing can be in articles like this. But it’s still interesting to discuss it from other viewpoints and from other experiences.
I picked the Boomer part to talk about because it really was such a significant part of history and although my parents weren’t part of it, they were close. My father though fell into a weird spot being born in 1938. (What generation is that part of?)
In fact I found it interesting to read about how this came about from a class my family was not a part of. I also am fascinated with the years and how they correspond to each generation and what they are called. Keep writing about it please…by all means. 🙂
I have always been fascinated with the boomer era I am part of the lost Generation X although many I graduated with don’t seem to be lost at all and have successful lives.
I was abused as obviously that’s what my blog goes into and come from middle class. I was one to not go without material things, usually, although not what people refer to as spoiled.
But alas children need much more than material things and a roof over their heads. Love, guidance and true nurturing was lacking. And there were the rare times I went deprived of things, like one year, for some reason my mom neglected to get me a Winter coat…the only year, and if I’d spoken up I probably would’ve gotten one. But seriously, a kid, even at 16 shouldn’t have to speak up on that when living in a cold climate. At least that’s my opinion.
Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent here but just wanted to say that even coming from another viewpoint, I just really enjoy the discussion. This post helped me because it made me think about some of where I come from and some of why my parents were the way they were and in my mom’s case still is.
I love the exploration of it all.
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Go off on tangents all you like — that makes for interesting discussion. A 16 year old definitely shouldn’t have to ask for a winter coat. That should be the parent’s responsibility to make sure one is provided for.
I love talking about this kind of stuff too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience. I can definitely relate. While I had material things because my parents weren’t poor, I was definitely lacking in the truly important things such as love and nurturing and true caring.
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Very interesting and ambitious survey of the development of our culture. I had to re-read it to do it justice. Now I want to offer areas of disagreement. First, I don’t consider “demand feeding” of infants in any way encouraging feelings of “entitlement” or even unnatural. The very term “demand” suggests some hostile and antagonistic attitude on the part of the baby. Babies cry when they are hungry. It is natural to feed them when they indicate need. I don’t think any other species of mammal tries to put their offspring on a schedule. Authoritarians like Ezzo (Babywise) condemn feeding the baby when he is hungry (in favor of forcing an arbitrary schedule on him) because our culture is very sick. Otherwise, I agree with your characterization of the way Boomers were raised. Of course, this is only white, middle-class children. You mentioned how reasoning with children came into vogue then. I remember reading about it in The Lonely Crowd. Ever read that? He talked about how this habit of discussion and negotiation developed the kids into being argumentative and also reasonable. He also mentioned that these children were more sensitive to disapproval than previous generations. He said something about how a dirty look from a parent could inspire more fear in these kids than a 20 minute beating in the kids of the last generation.
My second area of disagreement is how you characterized the 60s. Where you see rebellion, I see idealism. There were basically two movements among the youth. One was political. The opposition to the War in Vietnam was fueled by sincere horror of the enormous divide between the ideas we were taught characterized our country and what was really happening. That war was an abomination which violated everything we had believed America stood for. Young people who opposed the war displayed a commitment that often verged on the sacrificial. I’m thinking especially of Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers who lived underground for years and even had children while underground. The other wave in the 60s was, of course, the hippies, as you said. The hippies were also idealistic. They hoped to transform society with the values of love. Many tried to live this value. Of course, like all things, it got corrupted. I know. I was there. But the hippies managed to create a true counterculture as opposed to the beatniks who rebelled against straight society but only in a limited way. The hippies recycled, lived communally and dropped out of the economy. They didn’t take jobs. They worked at things they could do independently or collectively (but apart from society). They ended up moving to the land. Working the land, living off it organically and raising children were serious goals. A lot of what we did wasn’t practical but that doesn’t diminish the gravity of it’s purpose.
Yes, the feminists were an angry lot and they turned their fury at their compulsory roles against their own children. I personally found them often repellent even though I agreed with some of their complaints. They also created a value system where a woman wasn’t just free to work outside the home. She was supposed to work outside the home whether she wanted to or not. Women who stayed home to be with their children were downgraded to “just a housewife.” They were oppressive to women who didn’t fit their ideal of what a liberated woman should look like. I don’t know how narcissistic they were. They seemed more militant than narcissistic. They were hell bent on proving themselves.
Yes, I remember Reagan. He is the only person I genuinely hate. The New Deal wasn’t just the outcome of belief in community. It was also the result of hardship the people went through in the 40s. Communism was actually a popular idea in those days, not the “abomination” it became in the 50s. The New Deal actually saved capitalism. It made our lives livable. I loath Reagan. He started a trend to destroy the New Deal. Some hippies “evolved” into Yuppies. I wasn’t one of them.
The Millennials couldn’t get jobs to move out of their parents’ homes because of the stinking economy. The Occupy Wall Street movement was put down by ruthless police brutality. But this isn’t really new. The Black Panthers were similarly broken. Black people live in a different society than whites. As Charlie Manson said (although he wasn’t black), “The man who gives you a ticket beats me over the head.” Fred Hampton was murdered in his bed by the police. Shot while he slept. All the leaders were either murdered or jailed. Working with the Occupy movement, I got to experience some of this for myself although they were still easier on us than on black militants. I mention this to show that it’s not just a bunch of narcissistic middle-class people. It’s a brutal system enforced mercilessly. The real power behind this is the 1% of course. And we can’t exempt the stupidity of voters who let these people manipulate them. I think they encourage narcissism as a distraction. But, now that the middle-class is all but disappearing, I don’t think that kind of hedonistic culture will prevail much longer. Hopefully, the people will start demanding better. Even Trump supporters are, in their own confused way, trying to fight the machine. Personally, I’m burned out. But it’s up to the Millennials.
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No, I don’t think on demand feeding leads to feelings of entitlement either –in fact, just the opposite! You will not spoil a baby by feeding it when it wants, instead if will develop the ability to form healthy attachments. In fact, neglect is more likely to lead to narcissism. But spoiling a child is something different — and many Boomers (and a lot of Millennials too) were spoiled as they got older. I was pointing out the indulging nature of the Boomer’s parents in general (though I realize the way they parented them as infants would not have led to entitlement on its own).
The only real hope for this country, in my opinion, is the Millennials (who, even though most experienced better parenting than X’ers did, are being shit on by the culture even more so). They show promising signs (activism, the Occupy movement, their support of Sanders), but they are being silenced by the Powers That Be. Hopefully as they get older and even more of them vote (not all are of voting age yet, the youngest being only about 13) they will start to have more of an impact. In fact, in their book “The Fourth Turning,” written in 1997(!), Strauss and Howe predicted this would be the next “Greatest Generation” (Hero archetype — the GI’s were the last of this archetype) who would bring us into a new era of prosperity and rebuild our institutions and government and usher us into a First Turning (the last was the post war years up to the early 1960s). There would be more conformity and it might seem a bit boring to some, but we would not revert back to the sexism/racism of the 1950s–the lessons of the civil rights, gay, and women’s movements would be incorporated into the new era of prosperity, with maybe the legalization of marijuana as well. It would be a lot more peaceful than today is.
Of course, it could fail too, and that’s what I’m afraid of. This young generation might never get a chance to have a chance to reverse the direction civilization is heading in, and in fact civilization as we know it could be destroyed or damaged beyond repair, which could happen with someone like Trump in office.
Oh, and for the record, I didn’t like Reagan either. I disliked Bush II even more.
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I also see idealism in the 1960s. Maybe there was some entitlement, but mostly it was idealism. The problem was it was given up on as these folks grew older in favor of money and the corner office. I see more narcissism (or at least some sort of attention deficit) in the hypocrisy of a generation being able to switch so easily from an idealistic “love and peace” mindset to a “I need the most expensive designer label, a million dollars, and the corner office too” one, than in the 1960s/early 70s movements themselves (some which were better than others — the “free love” and “tune in, turn on, drop out” movement were definitely questionable, but thumbs up to the war and civil rights protesters).
The system today really does suck. 😦 I agree many Trump supporters believe they’re fighting the system too, in their own way. They’ve just picked the wrong guy as their savior.
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Very educational comment. Thank you. I tend to come from an experiential viewpoint and my visibility tends to be short sighted, by my own admission. Not to mention I’ve been rather sheltered. So much here to be aware of, including those who don’t fit into the small bubble I was exposed to.
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I just reblogged an older post, “Generations Explained,” based on Strauss and Howe’s theories and the birthdates they use.
Reblogged this on My Soapbox.
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Fantastic post. Love how you break it up and I will read again when it’s a bit more quiet around here… need to be focused a little bit more to take it all on board. Well done on a great, informative post.
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