Are Love and Romance Possible in a Narcissistic Culture?
Thomas G. Plante
We seem to be living in a more and more narcissistic culture. Evidence from numerous sources suggests that self-centeredness and narcissism are at an all-time high. Research by Professor Jean Twenge at San Diego State University, among others, has demonstrated that our culture has become more and more interested in the self and less and less interested in others. Furthermore, our Hollywood celebrities, sports stars, and politicians are the epitome of complete self-focus. The frequent narcissistic comments of so many people in the daily news are really quite breathtaking. A selfie and Facebook culture provides venues for additional reinforcement of self-focus.
If you are so self-centered and focused on your own needs and desires to the exclusion of others how can you possibly negotiate the important give-and-take that goes with any healthy, loving relationship?
One of the unintended consequences of our increasingly narcissistic culture is the lack of interest in others, the common good, and quite possibly romance as well. After all, if you are so self-centered and focused on your own needs and desires to the exclusion of others how can you possibly negotiate the important give-and-take that goes with any healthy, loving relationship? How can a narcissist maintain interest and concern for anyone else, and do so in a sustainable way? We know that traditional dating culture – e.g., like back in the 20th century when you asked someone of interest to a movie or dinner to get to know each other and see where things might develop from there – among today’s youth is much less common than it used to be, with casual hook-ups being much more commonplace. The widespread use of and rise in online pornography also fits this more self-centered approach to sexual behavior and the lack of cultivating personal relationships.
Therefore, as our culture and American community (more specifically, Silicon Valley) become more narcissistic—and where egoism rules the day—the interest in and ability to engage in collaborative, loving, giving, and sometimes selfless intimate relationships become more and more challenging to negotiate and sustain.
What is the solution? While there are no easy answers, it appears that everything that we can do to discourage narcissism in our society would be a welcome step in the right direction. More focus on compassion for others (and not just self-compassion, which is so popular now), empathy, and the common good is key. Self-compassion highlights compassion for the self, rather than compassion for others. It doesn’t really encourage going out there in solidarity with others who struggle or encourage helping and nurturing others.
We must work to move away from our “me” culture toward a “we” culture
We must work to move away from our “me” culture toward a “we” culture, reinforcing those who are good examples. And we should not reinforce or ignore those who perpetuate self-centeredness and narcissism. We also need to educate our children on these solutions early in life to ensure a better future for us all.
Yes, it is easier said than done but we must try and try hard.
So, what do you think?
*A version of this article was originally published by Psychology Today on Jan. 25, 2016.