We live in an era where every self-indulgence is justified, and selfishness is touted as admirable. While there are of course boundaries and healthy choices that everyone needs to make, we have taken things way too far in this current age of self.
Narcissism is defined as “excessive interest in or admiration of oneself” or “selfishness, involving a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration.” Excess, entitlement, lack of empathy, and a need for admiration. If those don’t sum up the flaws of our modern culture, I’m not sure what does. We have become obsessed with ourselves; we live for likes, want sex with no consequences, post videos of our shopping hauls, and justify every indulgence as “self-care.” Self-serving pleasures and actions, regardless of the cost or detriment to others, are not only justified but glorified no matter how selfish and disordered.
Narcissism is defined as selfishness, involving a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration.
We should all agree that narcissism is bad
There are very few things left that everyone objectively agrees on. Basic tenets of morality are no longer universally accepted, and sadly the days of common standards for decent behavior have passed. As an elementary school teacher, one of the biggest rules in my classroom is the golden rule; treating others only in ways in which you would want to be treated. This is more than a rule and is instead a theme that I work tirelessly to incorporate into as many lessons, activities, and daily discussions as possible.
Developing empathy and an awareness of the needs and feelings of others is one of the most important duties I feel I have as a teacher, and I know many other teachers who feel similarly. While there are plenty of my own morals and beliefs I have to keep out of my public school classroom, the golden rule is one of the last moral teachings that is objectively agreed upon and without controversy. Why then, is this a fundamental expectation of children, but not of adults? Narcissistic behavior and the obsession with oneself limits a person’s ability to truly think of the needs of another, and those who act on narcissistic impulses are disregarding others at best, and causing harm through their lack of regard at worst.
Narcissistic behavior and the obsession with oneself limits a person’s ability to truly think of the needs of another, and those who act on narcissistic impulses are disregarding others at best.
What narcissism affects
There is a fine line between taking care of yourself and setting healthy boundaries and complete narcissism and disregard for others. I fully admit and understand that caring for yourself is important. Ensuring your basic needs of survival are met, maintaining a lifestyle you enjoy, and having careers and relationships that bring you joy and fulfillment are all positive things. All of these good things in your life should ultimately make you better and hopefully, enable you to make this world a little better. Narcissistic behavior takes all these good things and disorders them, be that through excess, inappropriate prioritization, entitlement, or downright disregard for others. Narcissism creeps into our careers, our relationships, and ultimately leaves us with a constant desire for more self-gratification.
Narcissistic behavior takes all these good things and disorders them, be that through excess, inappropriate prioritization, entitlement, or downright disregard for others.
Our true desires in life involve purpose and relationship, and narcissism destroys both of these by nature. Love, or willing the good of another, is directly opposed to narcissism. It requires that we think of someone else before ourselves, which is frequently one of the most difficult choices to make. Even outside of relationships with friends and loved ones, we should still seek to be keeping “the good of others” in mind, even if it means going out of our way to be kind to that annoying co-worker down the hall. It is a choice, and often a very difficult one, to put the needs of another before ourselves.
However, if we are following the golden rule like our kindergarteners, isn’t that how we would want to be treated by those around us? It may take some discomfort, but the virtue of sacrifice is far undervalued and underutilized in modern society. We have come to reject everything that brings the slightest discomfort or inconvenience. I am not saying we should stay in abusive relationships or hostile work environments and be doormats for everyone around us, but that sometimes giving up some of the pleasures and comforts we may believe we are entitled to may actually be a very noble and worthwhile pursuit.
It may take some discomfort, but the virtue of sacrifice is far undervalued and underutilized in modern society.
Why it is so difficult to overcome
I get it, we are naturally more in tune with our own selves than with anyone else. It is not easy, it is not a natural reaction to detach from your own emotions and desires and think about the needs of someone else. Just the other day I left my to-go coffee cup at work, and immediately thought of using my husband’s the next day. We only have the two, and rather than thinking I would go without for the day, I immediately assumed it was him who would go without. Although I didn’t act on it, I was immediately ashamed and saddened by the fact that my knee jerk reaction had been so selfish, but I was also reminded that I still had the choice to act on my selfish impulse. This is the difference our modern society refuses to acknowledge: do we all have selfish impulses and desires? Of course, but just because we have them does not entitle us to act on them whenever and however we wish.
Living in a narcissistic world but not being of a narcissistic world
So how do we rise above these feelings that would seemingly make our lives so much easier if we gave in to them? We must make a choice. Every day, we must decide whether or not these desires will ultimately be detrimental to ourselves and detrimental to others, and then we must choose to act differently. Yes, these desires, sometimes disguised as good, can be harmful even to ourselves.
Every day, we must decide whether or not these desires will ultimately be detrimental to ourselves and detrimental to others, and then we must choose to act differently.
Contrary to what the rest of the world may say, you do not have to give in to every whim and desire that crosses your mind. Just like the natural consequence of getting sick from overeating, so too do the natural consequences of narcissism start to affect you negatively. Is a huge Instagram following really going to bring you true confidence? Is meaningless sex ultimately going to fill that void in your life?
Your relationships crumble, your career becomes unfulfilling, and you start to lose the aspects of life that truly bring joy and growth. It may feel like you are climbing that ladder of success, but ultimately the lack of relationship and fulfillment in your life catches up to you. Whether you feel entitled to sex, wealth, freedom from consequence, or whatever excessive or selfish choice you feel is justifiable, you are still left wanting more, and it becomes easier to do whatever it takes or hurt whoever it takes to get more.
Relationships with others take work and demand that you put the needs of someone else before yourself. While there are many times when this is unpleasant in the moment, it is what ultimately brings the love you so deeply desire. Narcissism offers only cheap and short-lived imitations of the happiness and fulfillment that comes from thinking of and loving others.