Millennials: Generation Narcissus

“They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb the corporate ladder. They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial.” Time Magazine

This is a short diagnosis of a generation that sounds all too familiar to us Millennials…except, this excerpt from Time magazine isn’t about us. That quote isn’t bemoaning Generation Y, but rather Generation X back in 1990. Earlier, in 1985, Newsweek had a cover showcasing a group of people with heavy camcorders over their shoulders titled “The Video Generation.” complaining that all these people wanted to do was capture their lives on video. Before that, The NY Times called the baby-boomers the “Me” generation in the 60’s. Now? “Me, Me, Me,” says Joel Stein from Time about Generation Y.

We are the Selfie Generation, focused on plastering our every move on social media in order to gain more likes, followers, and ultimately approval. It seems that Facebook is our pond and we are all Narcissus. For all of the stereotypes we get, this one is most commonly thrown around and believed, yet the most inaccurate of them all. It’s clear that every generation is the “Me” generation. The young will always be more self-centered than the aged because our priorities simply become different as we get older. We are currently focused on finding ourselves, our careers, our partners; Yes, we like to take selfies, but humans have always been this way, we just have the technology now to exploit this. You don’t have to be King Henry VIII to get a portrait of yourself. You can just pick up your relatively cheap smartphone and take a picture of your good-looking self right there. Hell, take ten til you get the perfect one. If they had the chance, I’m sure the flappers would’ve been snapchatting their underground, rebellious dance parties in the 1930’s and the baby-boomers would’ve uploaded all of Woodstock to YouTube.

The most popular article that really sparked the conversation of whether Millennials are the most narcissistic generation yet is Joel Stein’s article for Time titled “The Me, Me, Me Generation” His article was one of the first to put Millennials in the spotlight as a group of lazy, entitled, self-centered and shallow youth. But wait, says Stein, “I have statistics!” According to the National Institute of Health, the incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their 20s as for the generation that’s now 65 or older. 58% more college students scored higher on narcissism in 2009 than in 1982. But these statistics simply aren’t empirically accurate. Let’s take a closer look at the NIH’s finding of NPD being three times higher for those in their 20’s compared to those now 65 or older. As mentioned before, this has much more to do with age differences rather than differences in generational characteristics. People in their twenties simply have different priorities compared to those in their sixties. The methodology used in the study for NPI, or Narcissistic Personality Inventory, isn’t the most solid methodology, either. Interviewers sat down with both age groups and interviewed them about their behaviours. The younger group were asked to describe their current lives and how they behave now while the older group were asked to recall and describe how they behaved decades ago. How accurate can their memory be of events that happened over 40 years ago? The NPI questionnaire is also very black and white. Respondents must choose one statement from two which best reflects their views. Questions include “It doesn’t make a difference if I’m a leader or not” or “I would prefer to be a leader” as well as “I am assertive” or “I wish I were more assertive.”

Furthermore, the NPI test uses positive traits that are attributed to a healthy self-esteem as indicators for narcissism. What could be considered narcissism is also what could simply be individualism, high self-esteem, and a desire for self-expression. There is such a fine line that it’s no wonder we get this claim.These tests have blurred the line between self-improvement and malicious self-obsession. In actuality, less than 5% of the American population can be properly diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder.
To Steins credit, he doesn’t solely put down our generation. After numerous paragraphs describing the data collected about our heightened narcissism, Joel rounds it off by offering that there’s still some good in us. He admits that despite any fear of a narcissism epidemic, we are a very kind generation who accepts all types of people. We may have a higher focus on ourselves and improving our own lives, but an extension of that self-esteem is the desire for others to have it, too.

It’s true, our generation is all about loving yourself. But this movement for self-acceptance is a desire to celebrate and embrace everything that makes us different from each other rather than having it separate us. If genuine narcissism was a trademark of our generation, this movement for acceptance wouldn’t be. The majority of us have a very positive attitude about the future. We want rewarding and inspiring work, we crave authenticity and creativity, and we like to share this with the world. We all, on some level, desire to change the world. We care deeply about the environment, we tend to buy local and organic goods (regardless of income), and our focus and care is about family, friends, and helping the community. So it seems that this claim that Millennials are a group of self-obsessed narcissist’s proves to be shallow. It has become an over-used catchphrase to throw at younger crowds that older generations simply find annoying or don’t understand, but holds little truth about who we truly are.

What do you think? Are we the most narcissistic generation yet, or do we just have healthy self esteems coupled with social media?

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