Millennials: Narcissism or Anxiety?

The word “narcissism” certainly gets thrown around a lot these days. Donald Trump and all the analyses around him has helped normalize the word and helped the average person identify narcissistic traits in themselves and those around them. However, the word is at times, thrown around too loosely — particularly as it relates to millennials.

This opinion piece correctly and without simplification, presents an alternative to the distorted narcissistic label for Millennials. Instead the author says “the issue isn’t personal narcissism” but instead anxiety and “extreme perfectionism“, which I too have observed, produced in large part by a hyper-consumerist, hyper-capitalist society that is “fixated on material wealth” in a precarious job market…, that “forces a ‘sink or swim’ mentality” aided by an erosion of a social safety net, prizing the individual over the collective. It is a society, they argue, that “over-inflates the value of wealth and reduces personal worth to external achievements and credentials”…leading to the “sadly reasonable” conclusion that “a young person’s sense of self-worth…[may] become distilled into the never-ending pursuit of the perfect look, resume or dating profile”. The author argues that “our mediated lives are populated with images of what we aren’t, what we aspire to be, and what is impossible to achieve”.

The work then in counselling and psychotherapy, is to address deeply held beliefs about a person’s sense of worth (or lack thereof) in relation to themselves and others. It isn’t easy since many of the messages we have internalized started with our own families and we have come to believe them as being true. The effects can be paralyzing for many who, awash in shame for perceived deficits, self-punish in many ways; remaining isolated from activities and people they might otherwise enjoy, and refraining from what shame and vulnerability researcher Brune Brown would call “whole hearted living”. I suggest reading this article as a great reminder to stay compassionate and curious when jumping to the narcissistic label. Instead, think about how you might reach out, show curiosity, kindness, compassion, empathy and care to others who “appear to have it all together”. Also, keep in mind how you too may be affected by judgment and a feeling of being “never quite enough”.

Do you suffer from those thoughts or beliefs about yourself? Reach out. I’m here to help.