Christian Counseling: Contributions to the Growth of Narcissism

This brief writing focuses on a couple of the factors that contribute to the increase in narcissistic tendencies and the disorder.

Joel Stein wrote The New Generation: Why Millennials Will Save Us All (Time magazine, May 20, 2013) in which he discusses the positive and negative characteristics of millennials or Generation Yers (those born between 1980 and 2000). As other writers and researchers have suggested, the key descriptor of these young people is narcissistic, which is accompanied by a sense of entitlement. In evidence, Stein quotes studies showing a significant rise in the general population of narcissistic personality disorder over the past 40 years and college student test results that reflect higher scores of narcissism over the past 27 years.

One of the contributing factors to narcissism is gleaned from Stein’s view that in the 1970’s people focused on building self-esteem in young people, and then went on to say, “The problem is that when people try to boost self-esteem, they accidentally boost narcissism instead.” To only tell a child he or she is special, a star, and “There is nothing you can’t do.” is to encourage self-esteem without realistic limitations. It is not true that just any child can become anyone or do anything they want. This one-sided teaching builds esteem, but without realism and humility—a deadly combination. It leads those who believe in their own greatness to feeling resentment and great disappointment; that is, when they enter the world and find others don’t view them and don’t treat them the same way they expect and feel they deserve.

As adults, some will grievously learn, over many hard years, to adjust to the truth and reality that they are special only because they are part of the human race or special only to those who care about them and not to the whole world, save an incredibly talented few. Some other adults will angrily set out to prove they are right and deserving of such recognition and even demand it, generating self-misery and sometimes even lifelong relational conflict.

Parents can contribute to narcissism by centering their world on their children, even to the point of putting them before their marriage, which is the most important relationship in any family. A marriage is the backbone of family life. Also, there are parents who over cater to children’s wants and push to keep up with the Joneses in things, such as: transporting their children to multiple events, both parents working to afford the best in material good and education to the detriment of marriage and family life and even health (stress and fatigue), and giving in to the immediate requests or demands of children without balancing it by teaching them patience in waiting and that others or even themselves are sometimes the priority. Balance is key for the development of healthy children and a happy family.

The worlds of infants and young children naturally center on themselves. We are born self-centered. Parent’s responsibility is to steer children through the waters of self-centeredness to a balanced other-centeredness. Giving children what they want, when they want it without significant and appropriate boundaries increases the likelihood of children growing up with a sense of entitlement. Parents also need to teach their children from early on they are not only acceptable and loveable, but they are imperfect and have a sin nature. The lack of knowledge and understanding of their sins and limitations may well prove to be a contributing force in many young people who tend to be more self-minded and less spiritually-minded. If they are special, great, can achieve anything, then why do they need God?

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