Millennials, those born between the 1980s and the early 2000s, have been accused of being narcissistic, but they’re just the latest—and perhaps greatest—version of the Me Generation.
The Baby Boomers once wore the Me Generation tag, and it was appropriate. We stood in sharp contrast to the Greatest Generation who scraped through during the Great Depression and sacrificed for their country in World War II. They literally carried the weight of the world on their shoulders.
Baby Boomers? We carried the weight of our own desires.
Millennials have just perfected what we started. But does that necessarily mean that group of adults is narcissistic? In fact, what is narcissism?
According to dictionary.com, narcissism is defined as “an inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity; self-centeredness, smugness, egocentrism” (as quoted in “Narcissism and Millennials in the Digital Age.”
Some scholars have postulated that millennials are in fact more self-absorbed than other generations, and the cause is social media. Others claim that teachers and parents are to blame because of an inordinate amount of praise lavished on ordinary children:
Throughout the last few decades, there has been an increase in parental coddling and the so-called “self-esteem” movement. Parents and teachers trying to instill a healthy sense of self-esteem in children by praising them lavishly often do more harm than good. In fact, studies show that children offered compliments for a skill they have not mastered or talents that they do not have are left feeling emptier and more insecure. (“Is Social Media to Blame for the Rise in Narcissism?” by Lisa Firestone)
Firestone goes on to build a case for parental causation, not social media, citing studies that indicate a person’s personality is generally in place by age 7—prior to involvement in social media. In addition, she points out what’s behind the scene in a narcissistic individual:
Self-esteem differs from narcissism in that it represents an attitude built on accomplishments we’ve mastered, values we’ve adhered to, and care we’ve shown toward others. Narcissism, conversely, is often based on a fear of failure or weakness, a focus on one’s self, an unhealthy drive to be seen as the best, and a deep-seated insecurity and underlying feeling of inadequacy.
In essence, Firestone is saying that a child who has been told he is the greatest and can be the best at whatever he wants, develops anxiety about achieving those expectations.
The great concern, however, is that the narcissistic behavior of millennials is creating a make-over of our society.
Author and Time editor at large Jeffrey Kluger argues that the popularity of the “selfie” is just one way that our culture is becoming more narcissistic. In fact, he says, narcissistic behaviors today aren’t just more accepted; they’re celebrated. “We’ve become accustomed to preeners and posers who don’t have anything to offer except themselves and their need to be on the public stage,” he says. (“The Persistent Myth of the Narcissistic Millennial” by Brooke Lea Foster)
Of course there is debate that the Millennials are actually more narcissistic than their predecessors. In fact studies indicate only one percent of the group would fit the clinical definition of narcissistic. Society has co-opted the word to reflect “traits people deem unpleasant or unlikable in a person” (Foster).
Unfortunately, I think Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton might be one of the glaring examples of narcissistic behavior, celebrated. Newton led his team to an impressive 15-1 record in 2015, then swept through the playoffs and entered the Super Bowl with his team favored to win it all. Along the way, he picked up the league’s MVP award.
But Newton had his detractors because after every score he celebrated . . . well, himself. When asked by a reporter if he was the Lebron James of the NFL, he answered, Why isn’t Lebron James the Cam Newton of the NBA?
In fact, Newton does have some similarities with James who readily accepted the designation “King James.” Cam Newton went one better, embracing the title “Superman.”
The narcissistic traits reared their ugly heads after the Panthers lost the Super Bowl. Newton pouted through a mandatory post-game press conference before prematurely walking out. If that weren’t bad enough, he followed up the next day by embracing his behavior. He wasn’t sorry. He was a sore loser, he said. And anyone who is a good loser is a loser.
His behavior was perfectly in keeping with narcissistic tendencies, but here is this role-model athlete telling his fans and followers that the new acceptable, and even preferred, behavior after losing is to pout, be rude, and show disrespect to whomever is in your way.
The thing is, such behavior is consistent with our sin nature. We all think more highly of ourselves than we ought because our sin nature has us believing that we can be like God, that if given half a chance, we might actually be better at His job than He is.
How in opposition is this position to Scripture:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and turn away from evil. (Pro. 3:5-7)
Rather than putting ourselves forward, we are to acknowledge God. Rather than following our own wisdom, we are to trust the LORD. Rather than depending on our own perspective, our own plans, our own desires, we are to reverence God.
The two worldviews couldn’t be more diametrically opposed.
Selfism or Narcissism is taking firm root in the hearts of people in our society, not as something we need to grow out of but as something acceptable and celebrated. Thank God that He still gives new life to those who turn to Him. That He still rescues us from the dominion of darkness. That He still makes it possible for us to lay aside the old self with its evil practices.
But I have to wonder if narcissism doesn’t make it harder for a person to see himself as a sinner in need of a Savior.