Earlier today I had the chance to visit the home office of Awana, a program designed to introduce children to the Bible. I let some people know I was going, and they went gaga--people who have experienced Awana are crazy fans of it.
I was there today to talk about issues related to my book Deliver Us from Me-Ville. How do we explain the apparent rise in narcissistic tendencies in contemporary culture? How do these trends relate to more fundamental spiritual conditions that we can identify? And if a culture of narcissism is in some ways an outcome of a spiritual state, how do we contend with it and help people (and ourselves) recover from it?
This was the stuff we talked about. The book is its own thing, but I thought folks might appreciate some supplemental material, so I made a handout available. I post it here for the convenience of folks who listened to the podcast, and for those of you who might be interested in such things.
• “In data from 37,000 college students, narcissistic personality traits rose just as fast as obesity from the 1980s to the present.”
• “By 2006, 1 out of 4 college students agreed with the majority of the items on a standard measure of narcissistic traits.” (The Narcissism Epidemic, p. 2)
o Grandiosity and exaggerated self-importance
o Fantasies of, and obsession with, personal exceptionalism
o A deep sense of personal uniqueness and “special class”
o A desire to be admired and/or feared. (Michael Scott of the Office: “Would I rather be feared or be loved? Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.”)
o A sense of entitlement
o Manipulative and exploitative
o Devoid of empathy
o Aggressively envious and paranoid
o Arrogant, magical thinking and behavior, and prone to rage when frustrated
• Two types of narcissism: the “cool” and the “vulnerable.” The vulnerable form can lead to, among other things, eating disorders and other self-destructive behaviors.
• Such behaviors also manifest in people who are victims of a narcissistic culture, with its impact on body image and perfectionism, and so on. (Note: I’m not a psychologist, and self-injury and other self-destructive behaviors require clinical assessment and care.)
• The authors of The Narcissism Epidemic identify “five key causes of the rising narcissism in American culture”: a focus on self-admiration; child-centered parenting; celebrity glorification; an exhibitionist Internet; and easy credit.
• Contemporary cultural narcissism is more tornado than virus; it’s a force with its own momentum in technology, educational models, national identity, etc. People suffer from cultural narcissism, but we also suffer through it.