FIRST-PERSON: The increase of narcissism

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) -- "Narcissism is increasing," concluded W. Keith Campbell, head of the department of psychology at the University of Georgia, "notably in the form of grandiose narcissism and NPD [narcissistic personality disorder]."

Campbell made those observations in a recent article for the British newspaper The Independent, titled "Are we more narcissistic than ever?" He noted that American college students in the 2000s were more likely to be narcissistic than their counterparts in the 1980s.

Narcissism, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is "an excessive self-admiration; excessive self-love; and exceptional interest in and admiration of yourself."

Campbell, who along with Jean M. Twenge wrote the book "The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement," believes there are three types of narcissism.

"Grandiose narcissism is the outgoing, extraverted form," Campbell wrote in The Independent. It "starts with an inflated image of oneself. The narcissistic individual believes he or she is smarter, better looking and more important than others. And, of course, deserves special treatment for this fact."

The second form, "vulnerable narcissism," is "harder to see than grandiose narcissism. Vulnerable narcissists think they are entitled to special treatment ... but actually have low self-esteem and are not typically extraverted," Campbell observed.

A vulnerable narcissist is likely to be argumentative and is a prime candidate to become an Internet troll who is hyper critical of others. The vulnerable narcissist seeks to display expertise without the risk of criticism or failure, Campbell wrote.

"The third form of narcissism occurs when narcissism is extreme and causes clinically significant problems in a person's life -- marriages fall apart, friends are lost, a career gets derailed," Campbell wrote.

"When this occurs narcissism can be diagnosed as a personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder (also known as NPD)," he wrote. "NPD contains a mix of both grandiose and vulnerable narcissism, but researchers are still debating the ideal grandiose/vulnerable ratio."

Few would argue with the professor concerning the prevalence of narcissism. Evidence abounds to support his conclusions.

However, the Bible first pointed out the reality that academics refer to as narcissism. Scripture used a much more succinct term to describe man's adoration of himself: sin.

I believe the Bible goes further than psychologists and psychiatrists in describing man's propensity for self-love. I believe it depicts men and women as addicted to self. They live for self in every way possible.

While Campbell believes narcissism is on the increase, I believe its rate of incidence has held steady for thousands of years. Indeed, every single person must contend with the siren song of self. Sin infects every person from the moment they are conceived.

But I do believe the unabashed, unashamed display of narcissism is on the rise. One reason for this is that social media has provided more outlets than ever to parade self-absorption. Self-addicted people saturate social media with constant comments, photos and videos about one thing -- themselves.

Another reason for the increased display of narcissism is that people encourage it. Parents used to discipline toddlers for their self-absorption. Now too many view self-centered behavior as cute, video it and share it via Facebook and Twitter.

What is the answer to the rising tide of narcissism in our culture? How can it be stemmed?

Socialization of toddlers can help keep narcissism in check, and we can try to ignore adults who take pride in their self-addiction. But the only remedy, according to the Bible, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

People must confess that their sin and selfishness are destructive and offensive to God. They must repent of this addiction to self, seek the forgiveness of the Lord and cry out for deliverance and change.

Jesus died on the cross to set people free from an addiction to self, which academics call narcissism. The Bible calls it sin.


Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention's office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).