Why Are We Becoming So Narcissistic? Here’s The Science

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THE SUBJECT OF NARCISSISM has intrigued people for centuries, but social scientists now claim that it has become a modern “epidemic”. So what is it, what has led to its increase, and is there anything we can do about it?

In the beginning

The term narcissism originated more than 2,000 years ago, when Ovid wrote the legend of Narcissus. He tells the story of a beautiful Greek hunter who, one day, happens to see his reflection in a pool of water and falls in love with it. He becomes obsessed with its beauty, and is unable to leave his reflected image until he dies. After his death, the flower narcissus grew where he lay.

The concept of narcissism was popularized by the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud through his work on the ego and its relationship to the outside world; this work became the starting point for many others developing theories on narcissism.

So when does it become a problem?

Narcissism lies on a continuum from healthy to pathological. Healthy narcissism is part of normal human functioning. It can represent healthy self-love and confidence that is based on real achievement, the ability to overcome setbacks and derive the support needed from social ties.

But narcissism becomes a problem when the individual becomes preoccupied with the self, needing excessive admiration and approval from others, while showing disregard for other people’s sensitivities. If the narcissist does not receive the attention desired, substance abuse and major depressive disorder can develop. 

Narcissists often portray an image of grandiosity or overconfidence to the world, but this is only to cover up deep feelings of insecurity and a fragile self-esteem that is easily bruised by the slightest criticism. Because of these traits, narcissists find themselves in shallow relationships that only serve to satisfy their constant need for attention. When narcissistic traits become so pronounced that they lead to impairment this can indicate the presence of narcissistic personality disorder. 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders describes narcissistic personality disorder as “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy that begins by early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts”. People with narcissistic personality disorder show a grandiose sense of self-importance, are consumed by fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love, and are extremely sensitive to criticism, among other things. 

Younger people and men seem to be most affected. The exact causes of narcissistic personality disorder are unknown, but childhood abuse and neglect may be possible factors involved in its formation. 

What has led to its increase?

In the clinical setting, about 2% to 16% of people suffer from this disorder, while in the general population, less than 1% of people are affected. Some suggest that narcissistic personality disorder is quite rare, but study estimates vary widely depending on sample sizes and the ways that narcissistic traits are assessed.

Others have labelled narcissism a “modern epidemic”, pointing to the rapid change in society that occurred in industrial and post-industrial times as the cause. The past few decades have witnessed a societal shift from a commitment to the collective to a focus on the individual or the self. The self-esteem movement was an important turning point in this. It determined that self-esteem was the key to success in life. Educators and parents started telling their children how special and unique they are to make them feel more confident. Parents tried to “confer” self-esteem upon their children, rather than letting them achieve it through hard work.

The rise of individualism (with its focus on the self and inner feelings) and decline in social norms that accompanied the modernisation of society also meant that the community and the family were no longer able to provide the same support for individuals as they once did. And research has shown that being embedded in social networks – for example, being actively engaged in your community and connected with friends and family – has major health benefits

As the social fabric deteriorated, it became much harder to meet the basic need for meaningful connection. The question moved from what is best for other people and the family to what is best for me. The modernisation of society seemed to prize fame, wealth, celebrity above all else. All this, combined with the breakdown in social ties created an “empty self, shorn of social meaning”.

The rise in technology and the development of hugely popular social networking sites, such as Facebook, further changed the way we spend our free time and communicate. Today, there are nearly 936m active Facebook users each day worldwide. Internet addiction is a new area of study in mental health and recent cross-sectional research shows that addiction to Facebook is strongly linked to narcissistic behaviour and low self-esteem.

So what can we do about it?

Treatment for narcissistic personality disorder exists and this includes pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy. Meditation has also been shown to have positive effects on mental health. Further research, however, is needed on the effectiveness of various treatments. 

So what can we do about all this and how can we lead a happy and purposeful life? One of the largest studies on happiness was conducted by a group of Harvard researchers who followed a large cohort of people over a period of 75 years. What they discovered – unsurprisingly – was that fame and money were not the secrets to happiness. Rather, the most important thing in life and the greatest predictor of satisfaction was having strong and supportive relationships – essentially, that “the journey from immaturity to maturity is a sort of movement from narcissism to connection”. 

So maybe it’s time to take a break from that smartphone, shut off your computer and meet up with a friend or two. Maybe, just maybe, you might feel a little better – and boost your self-esteem.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published at The Conversation and is republished here under Creative Common License.


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Psycho-Emotional Abuse: The Essential Guide

Psycho-Emotional Abuse | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

PSYCHO-EMOTIONAL ABUSE: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE was made to provide you with greater knowledge of this fundamental component of narcissistic abuse.

This information will give you a clear understanding of:

Let’s get started.

What is psycho-emotional abuse?

Psycho-emotional abuse describes any non-physical pattern of behavior that intentionally harms an individual’s mental state and undermines their ability to reach their full potential. It is a portmanteau of psychological and emotional abuse.

This kind of abuse can occur within a variety of contexts. For example, it can take place in intimate partner relationships, in family relationships, in friendships, in the workplace, etcetera.

Above all it is used to manipulate and control another person or people.

Neglect, hostility, sabotage, indifference, false concern

Other definitions of psycho-emotional abuse

Dr. Marti Tamm Loring defines psycho-emotional abuse as, “An ongoing process in which one individual systematically diminishes and destroys the inner self of another.”

Professor Dorota Iwaniec describes it as hostile or indifferent behavior which:

  • Damages the individual’s self-esteem,
  • Debases their sense of achievement,
  • Diminishes their sense of belonging,
  • Prevents their healthy and vigorous development, and 
  • Takes away the individual’s well-being.
Dorota Iwaniec

Characteristics of psycho-emotional abuse

Psycho-emotional abuse is subtle and can be tricky to spot – even by the person experiencing it!

Abusers often disguise their malice as good intentions, which confuses the person they target and deceives most bystanders.

At times, the aggression is overt and takes place in front of witnesses. However, in these instances most people do not understand the nature of this kind of aggression and so they fail to recognize that abuse is taking place. 

Some of its characteristics are:

  1. It is a pattern of behavior.
  2. The harm it causes is deliberate and intentional.
  3. The target experiences the behavior as harmful.
  4. The abuse may be overt or covert.
  5. It may or may not occur in the context of conflict.
  6. It may not immediately seem aggressive.
  7. The aggressor may camouflage the abuse as caring, love, or humor.
  8. The targeted person’s vulnerabilities are exploited to cause them to feel confused, insecure, and unsure of themselves.
  9. It may manifest as neglect.
  10. The abuse causes harm to the targeted individual’s well-being.

Abusers are cunning enough to understand that psychological abuse is a bloodless crime which usually enables them to escape accountability for the harm and devastation they cause.

This is because the theatre of the abuser’s aggression is not visible to the naked eye.

While the recipient of the abuse has no physical symptoms, the emotional wounds may be catastrophic.

Pattern of behavior, malicious, deliberate, exploitative, camouflage

What causes psycho-emotional abuse?

There are many reasons why psycho-emotional abuse may occur. The abuser’s behavior is often rooted in envy, fragility, and aggression.

A common occurrence is when an aggressive and/or narcissistic person feels intimidated by the presence of someone who they believe has qualities or privileges they do not. They may seek to resolve these painful feelings by asserting dominance over the person they regard as a threat. 

In some instances, the abuser is externalizing their toxic shame and placing their burden on the victim. In this way, the abuse strips away the authentic identity of the target and assigns to them a new one that encompasses the parts of the abuser’s persona which they despise and reject.

What are the effects of psycho-emotional abuse?

The cumulative effect of psycho-emotional abuse is the erosion of the recipient’s self-worth and trust in their judgment.

Some of the specific consequences may include:

  • Confusion
  • Self-blame
  • Depression
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Lack of motivation
  • Procrastination
  • Low self-esteem
  • Fear of failure
  • Hopelessness
  • Worthlessness
  • Self-sabotage

Abusers often compound the damage they do by refusing to recognize the right of the targeted person to feel hurt, wronged, or angry.

They use a variety of tactics to convince the person they target that they brought the abuser’s aggression on themselves.

They defend their aggression and escape accountability through the process of scapegoating. This is done by using the targeted individual’s vulnerability to excuse the abuse. By blaming the person they victimize, they absolve themselves of any wrongdoing.

Abusers often silence targets by using threats and intimidation. They enlist agents to gang up on the target. The result is that the targeted individual may experience fearanxietydread, and panic

Prolonged psycho-emotional abuse can lead to adverse health outcomes. It may cause chronic anxiety which can impact the targeted person’s physical and psychological well-being. Over time, this may cause depressioncomplex post-traumatic stress, and auto-immune disorders.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

Comparisons to Coercive Control

Coercive Control and psycho-emotional abuse are both power- and control tactics.

Psycho-emotional abuse may refer to harm inflicted on men, women, and children by abusive men, women, and children.

Coercive Control originated as a descriptor, Dr. Evan Stark, used to describe the entrapment and subjugation of women. It points to a specific kind of gender-based violence, namely how abusive men prevent women from “freely developing their personhood, utilizing their capacities, or practicing citizenship.”

Coercive Control may include isolation, monitoring, sexual abuse, financial abuse, and bodily harm.

Dr.Stark underscores that Coercive Control is more akin to hostage-taking and kidnapping.

“We must stop characterising Coercive Control as only psychological abuse,” Forensic criminologist Dr.Jane Monckton Smith of Gloucestershire University explains, “Psychological abuse is a method used by controlling people to exert and maintain control. Coercive Control is a campaign made up of any or all of these things which then trap people in a relationship, and make it impossible or dangerous to leave.”

Gaslighting is the distortion of another person’s reality. It’s purpose is to undermine their sense of self-mastery. It is a feature of Coercive Control and psycho-emotional abuse.

Psycho-emotional abuse has legal status in France and Canada as harcèlement moral and harcèlement psychologique ou sexuel. It was criminalized in 2010.

The United Kingdom recognizes Coercive Control as criminal behavior. Laws prohibiting coercive and controlling behavior came in to force in 2015. The legislation is gender-neutral and applies to anyone experiencing entrapment and domination.

The Kingdom of Sweden recognizes Coercive Control as the crime våld i nära relationer.

Relationship to narcissistic abuse

Psycho-emotional abuse is one of the two fundamental components of narcissistic abuse. The other is Coercive Control.

Now It’s Your Turn 

That wraps up Psycho-Emotional Abuse: The Definitive Guide.

Now, it’s your turn to have your to say:

What part of this guide resonated with your lived experience?

Do you think you have a better understanding of this kind of abuse after reading this guide?

Do you understand how it works in the context of narcissistic abuse?

Share your insight by leaving a comment below.

Bibliography

Loring, Marti Tamm. “Emotional Abuse: the Trauma and Treatment.” San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass Publishers, 1998.

Iwaniec, Dorota. “The Emotionally Abused and Neglected Child Identification, Assessment and Intervention; a Practice Handbook. Chichester: Wiley, 2008.

Strecker, Peter John. “I Wish That He Hit Me: The Experiences of People Who Have Been Psychoemotionally Abused and Have Psychoemotionally Abused Others.” Victoria University, March 2012.

Stark, Evan. “Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Monkcton Smith, Jane. “Coercive Control is Not Just Psychological Abuse.” Forensic Criminology: Working in Homicide Prevention, 2020.

“C-PTSD Academic Research Material.” Out of the Storm. Accessed May 5, 2020.

* Editor’s Note: This is article is an except from the book ‘Are You In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship.’ To download your FREE copy, subscribe to our Mailing List.