Where narcissism and unrealistic self awareness can lead to problems

It’s a much commented-upon trend, the growth of narcissism in today’s western society, part of what people call the “me first” culture.It received yet more treatment the other day in this article on this link.

Narcissism is associated with conceit, vanity, selfishness and egotism. Just to read those words doesn’t seem to be good. Yet the real narcissist would not even get that far, because it implies something negative about themselves that they just don’t want to know. Narcissism is also about the false self, something one convinces oneself one is but which in fact hides a lot of hidden and unresolved personal stuff. It gets a lot of comment today because of the huge emphasis in today’s culture on the individual and putting oneself “out there” as one who is important. It has almost become de rigueur to speak openly and vehemently about yourself, where you are coming from and what you want.

In a way this has been encouraged by many a keen parent, to help young people to stand up for themselves, to believe in themselves, express their emotions and assert their worth. And now it’s getting some criticism. One might almost think one can’t win!

So it comes as no surprise that, as in the article in the first link above, there’s also criticism of the self-esteem movement, with the implication that it doesn’t work. Yet such an assertion in the article is debatable when simply stated, since it can lead people to infer that self-esteem doesn’t matter. It does not make clearly enough the point that believing in oneself needs to be accompanied by effort, commitment and staying the path to realise one’s goals. What is clear is many people make an unrealistic self-appraisal, and this is a narcissistic trait not uncommon among young people. What is key is to learn from experience and feedback from others, so that one gains a more realistic picture of one’s abilities and where exactly one needs to learn and grow in order to be really successful.

Developing real talent involves a learning, feedback and coaching process, with a more grounded sense of one’s capabilities, along with self belief, determination and effort. Self belief is then a necessary part of the process. Here’s where people learn to counter their own negative inner dialogue and work on telling themselves that they are worth it, have potential and “can do it”. Self-belief, realistic self awareness and commitment to the path all go together.

Reading the above-mentioned article will no doubt irritate many readers who know by experience that self belief does play a part in one’s success. Yet, at the same time it serves as a cautionary note about narcissism and unrealistic self-assessment. It also flags up that there’s work to be done to help restore in our culture an awareness of others, of service, of empathy, of concern for community and for the greater good of the whole. After all, as holism teaches, the whole is greater than, and different from, the sum of its parts. We can forget that at our peril.