The “Me” Generation

I’ve been wanting to post on this for a while; now, prompted by a new post by the excellent violin teacher and life coach, Violin Teacher’s Blog, I think the time is right.

A while back my oldest informed me to my bass surprise that she and her class were being referred to (by teachers, I’ll presume) as the “Me Generation”.  The most selfish generation yet.

This has me baffled.  Seriously.  After generations that exploited child-labour, that enslaved people in grand scale and that plundered the Earth for minerals and waged (and still wage) war on others for oil and for money, to call our innocent, not-yet-adult youngsters “the most selfish generation yet” – after generations that smoked up their (and their descendants’) futures in pot, generations that stashed their kids in boarding schools or left them with nannies because it was inconvenient to do the raising oneself – of all generations the young one that hasn’t done any of that yet should be the most selfish of all?  Pardon me!

So why this trend?

I suspect it has to do with two main phenomena.  One is a bit localized:  Entitlement attitude among the classes that have received and are still receiving social help by the government system (yes, the children of the newly rich tend to have an entitlement attitude, that the world owes them something), and the second:  Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook encourages telling your friends about yourself, and posting photos.  Twitter encourages letting your every thought be known.  Both are media that live off other people (the users) putting their time and effort into making them interesting.  Both, conspiracy theorists have it, are designed to pump information about absolutely everybody out into the open so that people can be monitored more easily (“Big Brother is watching you” – Orwell, your fault that there are conspiracy theories around!).

Violin Teacher’s post talks about how over-praise can turn young performers into narcissists, and how it is therefore the job of the teacher not to over-praise the student.  (The way I see it, both praise and crit are tools – a chisel and a saw – to improve the technique and attitude of the student violinist.  False praise is never called for!)

So, before we condemn a whole generation that hasn’t yet declared war on anyone, let’s first investigate what narcissism actually is.

Mayo-Clinic defines Narcissism with the following symptoms:  [highlights & comments by me]

  • Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it [does this mean that if you can stave your expectation to be recognized with genuine achievements, it is not narcissistic?]
  • Exaggerating your achievements and talents
  • Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate [very vague – every young person has dreams of the above]
  • Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
  • Requiring constant admiration
  • Having a sense of entitlement
  • Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
  • Taking advantage of others to get what you want [aha – here we get to the manipulative part]
  • Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Being envious of others and believing others envy you
  • Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner

(If you just read this list and are thinking, “oops, that might be me”, you’re probably quite safe.  Acc. Mayo Clinic, narcissists rarely if ever self-diagnose because they usually don’t think there’s anything wrong with them.)

According to DSM-5 (the psychopathological diagnostic tool) :

“Status is very important to people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Associating with famous and special people provides them a sense of importance. These individuals can quickly shift from over-idealizing others to devaluing them.”

[Wow, a whole lot of lights just went on in my head why I’m so extremely uncomfortable around people who claim to think I’m “fabulous”.  I’ve seen that coin flip before.]


And then there is Narcissistic Rage:

Quote from

A Universal Reaction to Feeling Unseen or Misunderstood

Narcissistic rage is a universal reaction to feeling unseen or misunderstood. When the mirroring selfobject fails to provide the desired admiration and empathy, the student not only feels hurt, but also angry and indignant. We will discuss three points in relation to this narcissistic reaction: what occasions its arising, its functions, and its specific characteristics. Narcissistic rage might be a chronic feature of the self. For severely disturbed individuals, it is a typical mode of experiencing and expressing themselves. This hard rage is one of the main ways such individuals relate to the world; they easily feel slighted and unjustly treated, and are thus chronically angry and indignant, as if something to which they feel entitled has been taken from them. They are angry most of the time, and are quick to explode at the slightest signs of incomplete empathy or mirroring. The normal individual will react in this manner only occasionally, in response to a gross lack of attunement. But when the student’s narcissistic structure is vulnerable due to lessening identification with the personality structure (what we call “thinning away of the shell”), or due to the mirror transference, then the narcissistic sensitivity is close to the surface, and this rage reaction happens more readily and more frequently.

The Point of Existence, p. 323   •

[I’m thinking, for instance, of road rage.]


What causes Narcissism?

They don’t know.  What a disappointing answer!   However, “Abnormal Psychology and Modern Life” (Carson & Butcher) notes that usually a deep insecurity underlies narcissism.  Both over-praising and over-criticism in childhood are under investigation as prime suspects.

[Didn’t we just cover this?  A narcissist will switch in a heartbeat from idealizing you and making you feel super special to denigrating and blatantly disrespecting you.  So then, over-praising and over-critting can be flipsides of the same parental behaviour?  If the parent is a narcissist.]

Still, I find it a little hard to believe.  Most hard-core personality disorders (which real narcissism is; with it’s lack of empathy it overlaps with psychopathic disorder) have more than merely opinions as a cause!  In the case of multiple personality disorder, for instance, severe emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse at toddler age has been identified as a primary cause.  As a contrast, a psychopath (mainly lack of empathy, self-aggrandization and the ability to fool people into thinking you are showing specific appropriate emotions) seems to be a birth anomaly.


Lack of empathy

A key characteristic of Narcissism seems to be that the narcissist cannot put himself in another’s shoes, and has no empathy for other people.

A key difference between the narcissist and the psychopath is that the psychopath, while not giving a rip about the other person, is capable of faking genuine concern and interest as long as he needs until his goal is achieved.  (Unsurprisingly a lot of politicians fit the description of “psychopath”.)  The significant difference to a genuine, empathetic person is that the empathetic person will care for you even if there is no “reward” in it for them and no “goal” they are working to achieve with you.


Is Facebook and its “selfie” culture turning people into narcissists?

Anyone who has a genuine answer to this, is welcome to leave it in the comments.   There are behavioural scientists and psychologists who point out how Facebook isolates people from each other by promoting false “web posturing” over genuine, face-to-face friendships.

Facebook is certainly a weird and wonderful place.  To me, it feels like reading the comics section of a newspaper, over, and over again in various iterations, interspersed with cuteness, “causes” (Rescue Jack The Puppydog), and people’s babies or cats.  You don’t keep up with friends by posting a circular (I once had an acquaintance who actually did just that – sent “circular” emails to all friends and family “updating” them with her life – when I sent her an email back in the same superficial and self-absorbed tone and style, she took me off her mailing list.  I haven’t heard from her since 😀 ).  Anyway if you consider how many stalkers and pervs there are on Facebook, you don’t want to post your children’s photos on there.  The only people who are genuinely interested are those predators.  For the rest, it’s “yeah, whatever *grin*”.


Is over-praising turning kids into narcissists?

Another such hard-to-investigate question.  Certainly over-praise seems to have created some unique brats in the past; but can we honestly say today that it’s parental over-praise – or was it Facebook?  If you think of every Facebook “like” as a pat on the back, how much back-pattery does it take to turn a teenager into a narcissist who thinks she’s oh-so-perfect?

It’s a weird culture today, with parents being warned not to damage their children’s self-esteem by saying the wrong thing. The media pop-trend for parenting that is advertised everywhere, of over-lauding and under-challenging kids, looks designed to produce a generation of brats; but I haven’t met any parents personally who have actually fallen for that trend.  We seem to have an instinct.


Why pick on the Millennials?

I know many, many people who are selfish, self-interested or self-centred.  I even know a few (isolated) narcissists – but they are a different species entirely, you’ve got to experience them to spot the difference and you’ll never confuse a basically selfish person with a real narcissist again.  (It is not the same.)

Every animal on Earth has a certain amount of selfishness (which is usually in the interest of survival, with humans too).  Humans and a few other species have this weird phenomenon called “altruism”, which is usually the urge to protect those who are small and helpless, even if they are not related to you or not even of the same species.  No, humans are not alone in this.  (Sorry, did I pop a bubble here?)  There are bird species that look after unrelated individuals or even birds of other species – I’m not referring to the cuckoo’s foster parents here as that is a con game.  There are mammals too – often, either herd animals or the more intelligent species, though some of the most intelligent can also be the most selfish and cruel.  (Once again, no, humankind is not unique in its cruelty, either!  Sorry about popped bubbles.  Why are we so desperate to be unique?  Isn’t it enough that we’re living on the only planet that has chocolate?  😉 )

So if we differentiate between the universal drive of selfishness and its balance, altruism, versus the psychopathic phenomenon of narcissism, a different picture emerges.

I would say, absolutely no, the Millennials are not ever the “most selfish generation yet”.  Many previous generations are marked by extreme selfishness.  Do the Millennials have more narcissists than other generations?  I would have to see actual medical statistics backing such a statement.  I remain sceptical.



32 thoughts on “The “Me” Generation

  1. I get angry if I think I’m unseen or misunderstood. People have been failing to see me and misunderstanding me since I was a girl. I don’t believe I’m a narcissist. I believe a hell of a lot of people don’t look, and a hell of a lot of those who do don’t see; and I believe a hell of a lot of people don’t listen, and a hell of a lot of those who do don’t hear. I know narcissists think this way too, but I still don’t think I’m a narcissist.

    • 😀 Kvennarad, it would never occur to a narcissist to wonder “does this actually apply to me”. They are usually labouring under the illusion that they are perfect. Narcissists don’t self-diagnose. (You can tell by the way I say “they” and “them” that I most definitely don’t include myself in this diagnosis! Haha)

      Having said this, I think the fudge-factor of this post is too high – the writing sucks a little, I’ll follow it up with a less Kleistian post. 😀

  2. I cannot speak with much experience of other cultures but having grown up in New York City throughout the 20th century and been familiar with the virtues extolled in the USA about the individual in contrast to the community is a basic factor in US culture. The traditional rat race is well acknowledge and the government and economic disdain for collective instead of individual effort where it is every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost is fundamental in destroying empathy for people in real trouble. Government and big business is rife with destruction of community solidification since the individual is totally vulnerable to the monstrous selfishness exhibited by the wealthy and powerful. Individual protest over the criminality of the powerful is useless and those organizations which protest over sexual and race discrimination are demeaned as unpatriotic and persecuted by those in power. This is not only current. Even the founders of the country feared the common man and set up institutions like the electoral college and voter privilege only for property owners. It is a long and firm tradition in the country.

    • You said it: “every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost is fundamental in destroying empathy for people in real trouble”. Yes, America and much of civilization has these destructive habits in this present day. Also, if you look at the history of poor whites in America (“trailor trash” etc, brought over as child-slaves from orphanages during the industrial revolution, and abandoned to fend for themselves later), it starkly shows up the rift between dirt-poor, working-poor; relatively well-off and stinking rich.

  3. Very interesting, but there is a big difference between someone who has the mental illness Narcissistic Personality Disorder and someone who has just plain old narcissistic tendencies. Statistically, narcissistic tendencies are on the rise in our youth and one of the causes is not overpraise but overvaluation of children. So we should praise our children all we want for genuine accomplishment and give all the warmth possible, which is how you build self-esteem. Telling children how wonderful, special, intelligent and talented they are – and especially telling them they have more of these qualities than others is what is doing the damage. A person with NPD is someone with self-esteem issues. A person who is a narcissist or has high narcissistic tendencies is someone who thinks he or she is awesome. Period.

    • I got 10. There were questions where I really felt they were actually asking: “So which kind of narcissist are you – the overt bragging kind or the kind that applies false humility?” 😛

    • There was one question where option A was “I’m always right” and option B was, “I usually don’t know what I’m talking about” or something very similar. No third option. Just very curious: How did you answer that one?

    • According to Psychologia, the terms “narcissist” and “NPD” are commonly used interchangeably. Acc. a Dr Schwartz (, the difference is that the one (NPD) is a mental illness and the other is not. Quoting from that article:

      “It’s probably safe to say that anyone with narcissistic personality disorder is a narcissist, but not every narcissist has a narcissistic personality disorder.”

      “Another indication that Dr. Schwartz’s article has more insight is the existence of another term, “healthy narcissism”. Healthy narcissism simply means healthy and realistic self-esteem with no damage to one’s emotional life[3].”

      Quoting from another source though,

      “”There are people who are narcissistic but who do not have a mental illness. These people are experienced as obnoxious because they feel superior to others and see nothing wrong with that. They have little or no empathy with the feelings, conditions, situations or plight of others. These are people who feel entitled to the best of everything while looking down on those who show admiration for them. They also have no difficult exploiting others in order to get what they want. It’s important to understand that they have no awareness and no insight into what they do. As a result, they feel no shame or remorse.”

      So gathering from this, preoccupation with self is not enough to be called a narcissist. There also has to be that defining lack of empathy for others.

      This is another conversation that keeps coming up, and came up just yesterday. How do you define a person’s value to society?


  4. p.s. when I publish the post on this subject, you will find the research in the footnotes. Actually, if you want to take the test and see the statistics: ** (I’ll tell you what my score is if you’ll tell me yours!!!)

    • Took the test and scored pretty average; but to be honest the questions really annoyed me. After years of life-coaching on how not to be a doormat, I have an internal resistance to making statements that put me down. Yes, I aspire to greatness, why? Because mediocrity is simply not enough. I’m not the type that is content to be mediocre. This is at the basis of ongoing practice, continued learning and seeking for better and more information, trying out new teaching techniques and writing techniques to become better in these areas, etc. If I were to lean back and say, “oh well, this is as good as it gets, I’ll just accept that I’m nothing special and live an ornery little life”, I’d be throwing everything back at life that life has already given me. It’s not an attitude I teach, either! If I were to tell students at the outset, “you know, most beginning violinists never really progress past the third position and in fact the vast majority stops before they can really handle a bow”, how many kids do you think would be motivated to practise?

      Striving to improve, i.e. reaching for greatness, is not the same as saying one is already there; but the test makes it sound as though it’s narcissistic to even reach higher. It only gives 2 choices on each question: The one, a clearly narcissistic and pompous statement (“I’m the best there is” -style), and the other, completely self-denying, and you have to pick one of the two.

      This opens another interesting question:

      Is Life-coaching turning people into narcissists?

    • It’s interesting. When I started reading motivational books and listening to life-coaching tapes and emails, it initially put me off how we were supposed to train our minds to think we were better than we thought we were. Btw all the life-coaching hasn’t yet made me a better salesperson 😀

    • Btw I’m sorry i jumped the gun, before checking if you’d posted yet. I hoped it would be up already, but people can definitely benefit from following your blog in general!

    • Huh? Nope – I had just hoped to link to your post, so I went ahead & posted and then looked… and whoops, no post yet. No, your post is excellent. Beaten up? Did I say that?

    • Nonono, I must go back and read, I’m sure I expressed that wrong! (Wrongly?) I do however observe that there are people in the Violin groups that make a point of beating you up no matter what you post. Maybe that’s what I was thinking of. Otherwise I don’t know.

    • Ha – found it! I was referring to the much debate it will be inviting. Your posts have that effect. 😀 It means people are actually thinking about them, and finding themselves challenged. This just shows you what high quality you keep on giving us! It certainly challenged me when you asked – wait, whoops, no spoilers here! 🙂

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