The battle between self-esteem and narcissism is a constant point of discussion, especially in the United States. Partisans on both sides have their strong points of view, and they are never willing to budge an inch from their particular point of view. It’s like the old debate about chivalry versus the bravery of modern woman. Each side has a strong, vested interest in the outcome, so naturally they are never willing to compromise. And this makes the resulting tension within the United States more intense than ever.
One of the core arguments against self-esteem or narcissism has to do with the erosion of democratic norms in modern society. Many citizens in modern societies feel that they are “left-leaning,” and there is a widespread belief that the current social order is unfair and unbalanced. Not only do people in many countries have different views about the fairness of social arrangements, but their ideas about the nature of reality are also very different. Those who are on the left tend to see a world in which people are treated with respect and accord and those on the right believe that people deserve to be treated with entitlement. The two sides also have very different visions of what a healthy and prosperous society looks like.
For much of human history, humans lived in a relatively peaceful society, guided by the shared values of religion, community and individual freedom. As we are seeing now, however, some citizens are rebelling against these values and trying to make their voices heard. Concerns about the health of the planet and concerns about the breakdown of the democratic order are driving many people to support causes that are contrary to the interests of ordinary citizens. In a country where self-esteem and narcissism are believed to be widespread, the erosion of societal harmony and the rise of authoritarianism or other forms of resentment are real threats.
Concerns about the environment and global warming, two hot topics of the present era, are motivating many people to move away from traditional, collectivist social values and towards a more individualistic, democratic society. At the same time, a sense of insecurity about job security and economic security is causing some people to turn to the support of a strong national identity and a national community. Concerns about the security of their home and family are also leading citizens to look to collectivism as a solution for societal ills. Narcissistic personality disorders, in other words, are the product of these shifts in public attitudes. There are clear implications for educational and therapeutic intervention when it comes to self-esteem and narcissism in the United States and throughout the Western world.
A major factor behind the increased prevalence of self-esteem problems in societies around the world is a lack of trust in government and in institutions of higher learning. People are less likely to have faith in government, to be taken seriously and to trust large institutions such as the military, the church, and the educational system. Lack of trust can lead to a decrease in productivity, a lower level of output, and lower levels of satisfaction with one’s work. These issues have become much more acute in the United States. Concerns about insecurity and unemployment are creating a vacuum that is filling with people who adopt an entitlement mindset and who believe that they are entitled to the benefits of a better life than people who are less fortunate.
Self-esteem is related to socialization, which is how we learn what it means to be a socially competent person. One of the best ways to increase self-esteem and narcissism is through positive social experiences. Insecure people are not socialized at all. They avoid other people, they feel incompetent, and they worry that they might hurt someone’s feelings.
On the other hand, confident and secure people are very sociable. They participate in group activities, they get a lot of attention, they look good in group activities, and they feel that they deserve all the rewards that come their way. They also take criticism and conflict fairly well and handle defeat gracefully. A healthy balance between these two extremes is the starting point for building high self-esteem and a healthy dose of narcissism in the right individuals. If you find yourself feeling this way on a regular basis, you might be working towards developing a narcissistic personality disorder. Taking the time to get to know yourself is the first step.
Narcissistic personality disorders can only be overcome if we understand ourselves. If we understand what makes us successful, we can work towards making those things better. If we understand that people are basically like us, and if that includes having a good sense of self-esteem vs. narcissism, we can start making changes. The road to a healthy level of self-esteem and narcissism isn’t easy, and there are plenty of professionals out there that can help us to get over it. The key is that we take action, and that we keep looking until we find a solution.