The Narcissism Epidemic
It’s all about me.
That incredibly narrow statement is the opposite of the first sentence in Rick Warren’s best-selling book, The Purpose Drive Life. It begins with these words:
It’s not about you.
However, the other phrase now seems to be the reigning philosophy in the West–a terrible phenomenon called narcissism. I’d never heard of narcissism when I was a kid. But I know about it now and see it everywhere I go.
Let’s take a look at the narcissist epidemic of our time and what needs to be done about it.
In researching this subject, I consulted a favorite dictionary: Webster’s 1828 Edition–the first one written by Noah Webster in the middle of America’s Second Great Awakening. It’s yuge!, and is sitting on my desk right now opened to the “N’s.” The word narcissist or narcissism is nowhere to be found.
I wasn’t surprised. In my readings of history, I learned that “self-consciousness” and even writing in the first person is relatively new. In fact, historians agree that Augustine of Hippo and St. Patrick of Ireland (in the 5th century AD) were probably the first humans to write books through the eyes of “self.”
In other words, ancient peoples saw the world through the eyes of God, the gods, or the group they identified with. They thought about others, considered themselves a part of others, and didn’t really even think about themselves. To them, a self-centered view of life was narrow, petty, not worthy of comment. It didn’t matter what “I” thought. Life was about others and to be lived for others.
My how times have changed.
Getting back to narcissism, I pulled up an on-line dictionary and here’s what popped up:
- Narcissism. noun. 1. excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance. Vanity, self love, self-admiration, self-absorption, self-obsession, conceit, self-centeredness, self regard, egotism.
For thousands of years, the above definition didn’t apply to many human beings. Yes, there’s always been sin and self-centeredness. But at least in past centuries, it was oftentimes restrained internally and not expressed outwardly except in the case of thugs or deviants.
But in our day, many selfless concepts just as duty, moral obligation, “loving your neighbor as yourself,” or putting God at the center of your life (the first two Commandments) have gone by the wayside.
A large portion of 21st century Westerners seem completely obsessed with self.
Narcissism shows itself in many forms:
- Education – Children are no longer taught the Golden Rule, respect for authority, and living a life for the common good. Rather, life is all about having good “self esteem” and studying what you want to get what you want out of life. No wonder our schools are failing and kids are bored.
- Vocations – Young people in the West are taught that life is about “doing what you want” and making a lot of money so that you can be successful and happy. In the Christian worldview, that’s backwards: each of us should submit our lives to the Loving God and find His purpose for our lives–not what we want, but “Your will be done.”
- Marriage – Have you noticed how many young couples are no longer doing church weddings where the focus is on God bringing them together for His glory and purposes? Rather, the wedding is “all about us”–going where we want, saying what we want, and having the attention be on two human beings without reference to their Maker and Savior.
- Entitlements – Europe is already composed of many cradle-to-the-grave welfare states, and America is not far behind. Many people don’t vote for good leadership, or what’s good for their nation, but rather “what’s in it for me?” They feel entitled to food, housing, health care, even an abundance of leisure. The work ethic and personal responsibility are dying a slow death. In America, fully 20% of the population have not one family member working.
As America and Europe have become more secular (turning away from their God-and-other-people-centered roots), then narcissism has arisen. The addiction to social media by people of all ages in the 21st century says it all.
It’s all about me. My tweets. My photos. What I had for lunch. What mood I’m in. Much of what goes for healthy social interaction today is simply self-love on steroids.
Narcissism also shows up big-time in our politics. President Obama is the United States’ second narcissistic president, after Richard Nixon. But Nixon lived in a time period when Christian values were still in vogue and love of God and others, civic duty, etc. were widespread. During Obama’s term, those noble qualities have evaporated.
The rise of narcissism is also what makes the present US presidential race so alarming. Four of the five final candidates are garden-variety narcissists.
On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders is a Socialistic who wants to give “free stuff” to everybody. He’s the Robin Hood/Santa Claus of the 2016 race–and hundreds of thousands of people (especially Millennials) have been drawn to his message.
Like attracts like.
Hillary Clinton talks about “Working for You,” but her whole life has been the pursuit of power and money through self ambition.
The front-running Republican, Donald Trump, is unashamedly narcissistic. It’s all about him. Look again at the definition of narcissism above and you will find it can also be spelled T-R-U-M-P. Only difference is it’s an angry version of the Democrat form.
The only non-narcissist of the bunch is Ted Cruz. He’s the one candidate remaining with a solid Judeo-Christian philosophy and outlook. For Cruz (and Fiorina), it’s not about them. It’s about the Constitution–which was meant to be a restraint on self interest.
So what do we do about the narcissistic tidal wave enveloping us?
We do what honest human beings have always done. We pray for ourselves, our neighbors, our friends and our nations. We ask God to invade and change our hearts. The Bible calls this inner transformation conversion, repentance, being born again, or loving God supremely and your neighbor equally.
The only way to accomplish it is to die to yourself (with God’s help).
Life is not about you. It’s about loving Him and others.
In many parts of the world I have given a message called “The Secret of Happiness.” You can watch it here whenever you have the time. Putting God at the CENTER of your life is how we defeat the cancer of narcissism.
Leonard Ravenhill tells us:
“The man who has died to self has no ambitions so he has nothing to be jealous about. He has no reputation so he has nothing to fight about. He has no possessions so he has nothing to worry about. He has no rights, so he can’t suffer any wrongs. He is already dead so no one can kill him.”
The Apostle Paul put it this way:
“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).
Or Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
“The Cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise God-fearing and happy life. Rather, the Cross meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a person, he bids them to come and die.”
Here’s a final meditation on killing the narcissistic spirit:
“When you are forgotten or neglected and you don’t complain and hurt with the sting of self-pity, but your heart is happy, being counted worthy to suffer for Christ—that is death to self.”
“When your good deeds are misunderstood, when your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, your opinions ridiculed, and you don’t let your anger arise in your heart, or even defend yourself, but take it all in patient understanding—that is death to self.”
“When you near with any disorder, tardiness or annoyance, and when you stand face-to-face with greed, extravagance and abuse, and endure as Jesus endured—that is death to self.”
“When you are content with any food, clothing, climate, circumstances, or any interruption by the will of God—that is death to self.”
“When you don’t care to focus on yourself in conversation, or bring attention to your accomplishments, or seek the approval of men—when you can truly love to be unknown—that is death to self.”
“When you can see others prosper and can honestly rejoice in the good fortunes of others and not envy and question God while your needs are far greater and in desperate circumstances—that is death to self.”
“When you can receive correction or reproof from someone of less stature than yourself, and can humbly submit both inwardly and outwardly, finding no resentment or rebellion rising up in your heart—that is death to self.”
“Are you dead to self yet?”
Fittingly, the author of those insights is anonymous.
It was not about them.
How about you? It’s time to learn the lesson while there’s still hope. Because when you die, and arrive on the other side of eternity, the first lesson you face when you meet God is this:
It was never about you.
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