Posted on | February 15, 2014 | 16 Comments
Everything you need to know about the entitled mentality typical of Millennials can be explained by Christopher Lasch’s 1979 book The Culture of Narcissism. Lasch was a man of the Left and enthralled by Freudian categories, so conservative readers must be prepared to endure occasional jabs at “modern industrial capitalism” and references to obsolete psychoanalytic nonsense. With those caveats, however, Lasch’s critique of what became known as the “Me Generation” of the 1980s is an invaluable primer in the causes and effects of a syndrome that has plagued American society for decades.
What the narcissistic personality lacks more than anything else is an objectivity about the relationship between the Self and others. The narcissist is unrealistic about himself because he cannot step outside himself and view his own flaws and failures as they actually are. The gap between who he thinks he is and who he really is, and perhaps more importantly, the gap between how others see him and how he sees himself, creates an existential crisis which he attempts to evade through various rationalizations and psychological defense mechanisms.
The narcissist becomes so obsessed with “image” — that is, the superficial facade he presents to others, in an attempt to elicit their admiration — that his life becomes a sort of performance, reducing others to the role of spectators whose applause is expected.
If the narcissist has sufficient abilities and personal attributes (beauty, charm, wealth, etc.) to “succeed” in this performance, that is often problematic in several ways that we could discuss. However, inevitably, even the most highly capable and personally attractive narcissist must sometimes fail, and it is the inability to cope with failure that leads narcissists into destructive patterns of behavior.
The narcissist’s devotion to self-image — what he thinks of himself, and what he wishes others to think of him — blinds him to his own faults and errors, so that he must always find scapegoats to blame for his failures. The narcissist can never take responsibility for failure, because his damaged ego is so fragile that it is impossible for him to accept that he is the cause of his own problems.
Of course, I use the generic “he” in discussing this, although female narcissists are at least as common as their male counterparts, and what is important to understand is that, as the Culture of Narcissism has become embedded in our society, many people are incapable of seeing how unhealthy and harmful this worldview is. A phenomenon that psychologists recognize as a personality disorder has become so common that it is almost The New Normal. If you’re not a narcissistic image manipulator, constantly striving to impress others and elicit their admiration, you must be some kind of weirdo.
All of this is preamble to an excellent item published last fall, “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy.” A brief excerpt:
Paul Harvey, a University of New Hampshire professor . . . has researched this, finding that Gen Y has “unrealistic expectations and a strong resistance toward accepting negative feedback,” and “an inflated view of oneself.” He says that “a great source of frustration for people with a strong sense of entitlement is unmet expectations. They often feel entitled to a level of respect and rewards that aren’t in line with their actual ability and effort levels, and so they might not get the level of respect and rewards they are expecting.”
For those hiring members of Gen Y, Harvey suggests asking the interview question, “Do you feel you are generally superior to your coworkers/classmates/etc., and if so, why?” He says that “if the candidate answers yes to the first part but struggles with the ‘why,’ there may be an entitlement issue. This is because entitlement perceptions are often based on an unfounded sense of superiority and deservingness. They’ve been led to believe, perhaps through overzealous self-esteem building exercises in their youth, that they are somehow special but often lack any real justification for this belief.”
Read the whole thing. Feelings of entitlement and unrealistic expectations based on an inflated sense of superiority — this is classic narcissism. And when narcissists fail, their reaction is always predicably to engage in evasive blame-shifting and scapegoating.
But really, I’m bored with discussing President Obama . . .