Narcissism in Societies

The Attributes of a Narcissistic Society

This short article is a bit different than my usual writings but I wanted to address an important issue that has always had a detrimental effect on our world but seems to be growing and spreading like a fast-growing cancer due to numerous factors. Narcissism is usually associated with individuals but it also affects entire groups, societies and countries. Narcissism is a disease of the ego, the one who claims to possess life. The individual who defines itself as unique, separate and apart from all others and from all life. Not all individuals are afflicted with narcissism, far from it, but narcissism can only affect those who feel and identify themselves as unique and separate.

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), defines Narcissistic Personality Disorder, NPD, as including at least 5 of the following 9 criteria:

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance
  • A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • A belief that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
  • A need for excessive admiration
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Interpersonally exploitive behavior
  • A lack of empathy
  • Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her
  • A demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes

In an alternate model noted in DSM-5, NPD is characterized by moderate or stronger impairment in personality functioning, demonstrated by characteristic problems in 2 or more of the following 4 areas;

  • Identity
  • Self-direction
  • Empathy
  • Intimacy

In addition, NPD is characterized by the presence of both grandiosity and attention seeking.

We can see how this ‘scientific’ diagnosis applies to individuals but how does this diagnosis of narcissism apply to groups, societies and countries?

Consider a society that considers itself better than all others. A society that has little empathy. A society that is arrogant yet requires and bathes in the admiration of other groups and individuals. A society that believes it is entitled to benefits that it has not really earned and a society that exploits many of its members as well as others outside its group. This society could be considered a narcissistic society.

A narcissistic society produces narcissistic individuals who then perpetuate the narcissistic society. Here are some observations I have made concerning narcissistic societies.

  • A narcissistic society is usually bigoted against those it considers different than their norm.
  • A narcissistic society is often nationalistic.
  • A narcissistic society is often selfish and rewards selfishness and greed.
  • A narcissistic society is usually emotionally immature. They stagnate emotionally and intellectually even if they prosper economically.
  • In a narcissistic society its members feel they must compete with other members for goods, space, money, possessions, position and other resources. Cooperation is rare.
  • A narcissistic society is a closed society. It rarely truly accepts new members and usually only accepts new members who seem to be ‘like them’.
  • Narcissistic societies and groups have many cult-like attributes.

Like individual narcissists, narcissistic societies and groups seldom shed their narcissism. It is usually a core attribute of their identity as a group although they would never consider themselves narcissistic. They may consider this disorder pride or self-respect but it is far more extreme than normal pride or self-respect. It is toxic to the society, to the members of the group and to the world around them.

So, what can we do about narcissistic societies? How can we best deal with them and how can we change them?

Eventually, humanity will evolve beyond narcissism and the societies it infects. It might take centuries but it will eventually occur. It usually takes great trauma for a society to change and evolve. Humanity seldom makes major changes without upheaval. But the evolution of humanity is as inevitable as the sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening. In the meantime, how do we deal with narcissistic societies and groups? In most cases we must remain engaged but with caution, keeping the group at arm’s length. We should recognize their toxicity and protect ourselves accordingly. In some cases, we must disengage and isolate the group from the world at large. When we do this we allow them to implode thus bringing about the conditions necessary for their evolution beyond narcissism.

Narcissism is ubiquitous in our world. It always has been. But that does not mean that it will continue to be this way. By human standards, evolution is an extremely slow process but it will eventually transform humanity beyond narcissism or humanity will cease to exist.

© 2019 Jon Shore

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