An Army of Narcissists? Inflated Egos Born of Self-Esteem Talk, Professor Contends

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 11, 2006 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

An Army of Narcissists? Inflated Egos Born of Self-Esteem Talk, Professor Contends

Byline: Cheryl Wetzstein, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A few weeks ago, U.S. champion skier Bode Miller turned in a stunningly poor performance at the Olympics,

with two non-medal finishes, a disqualification and two incomplete races.

Unabashed, he told the Associated Press: "I just did it my way. I'm not a martyr, and I'm not a do-gooder. I just want to go out and rock. And man, I rocked here."

Mr. Miller's exuberant self-assessment makes him "a poster child" for "Generation Me," says San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge.

Americans born after 1970 - including the so-called Generation X and Millennial Generation - have become "an army of little narcissists," says Mrs. Twenge, who explains her views in her new book, "Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled and More Miserable Than Ever Before."

Unlike their parents and grandparents, "GenMes" have "never known a world that put duty before self," she says. Instead, they were raised in a culture obsessed with self-esteem and feel-good mantras such as "Believe in yourself, and you can be anything" and "Never give up on your dreams."

The result is a generation of youths who are tolerant, confident, open-minded, ambitious - and have wildly unreasonable expectations about how they fit into the adult world.

"They expect to go to college, to make lots of money, and perhaps even to be famous," Mrs. Twenge says.

But when reality hits, and they don't get the coveted college placement or high-paying job, or they discover the high costs of housing and health care, many members of Generation Me crash emotionally, she says.

Among Americans who lived through the Great Depression and two world wars, between 1 percent and 2 percent experienced a major depressive episode in their lifetime, says Mrs. Twenge, who bases her book on decades of generational data. Suicide was more common among middle-aged people, not young people.

Today, the lifetime rate for major depression is between 15 percent and 20 percent, an increase too large to be explained by improved case reporting, she says. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24, while rates have dropped for the middle-aged.

Why should Generation Me feel so much anxiety and pain when it has grown up in relative peace and technological and economic expansion? A big part of the answer is the constant focus on the self, Mrs. Twenge says. "[W]hen we are fiercely independent and self-sufficient, our disappointments loom large because we have nothing else to focus on."

She recommends social changes that support two-parent working families, such as paid parental leave, public preschools, tax deductions for child care, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. school hours.

But her most urgent advice is "ditch the self-esteem movement." Praise based on nothing results in an inflated ego, she says.

Some people think Mrs. Twenge's ideas sound like "stinking thinking."

Despite its critics, self-esteem training and character education "are both alive and kicking," says Sharon Fountain, president of the National Association for Self-Esteem (NASE).

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

An Army of Narcissists? Inflated Egos Born of Self-Esteem Talk, Professor Contends


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?