How we accidentally created the narcissism epidemic. And what research says we can do to fix it.

boys playing in water

boys playing in water
“Daddy, look what i did!”

“Wow, you’re so smart.”

“Babe, I read we shouldn’t say that to him. Puts too much pressure on him”

“Good job, buddy”

“No, they said we shouldn’t focus on the outcome, either”

I saw a movie where they told a girl  ‘You is smart. You is kind. You is…’ Something. I think she turned out ok. Or she grew up to be a racist….”

Bombarded with advice on how to spare the world another narcissistic young adult, I’m unsure of what to say. Older generations accuse new parents of being too soft. Bring back corporal punishment, they tell us.

They were spanked as kids, and they turned out ok. If the definition of “ok” is an adult lacking the skills to respectfully influence the behavior of tiny humans.

The Narcissism Epidemic is not the result of sparing the rod. Research shows our obsessive pursuit of self-esteem produced a generation of young adults rating 65% higher in narcissism than prior generations.

An overabundance of praise for being human artificially inflates self-esteem and leads to narcissism. Healthy self esteem is the byproduct of overcoming obstacles, taking risks, and recovering from mistakes.

We can’t give self-esteem it to our children. But we can lay the groundwork for it, according to Dr. Kristin Neff.

Self-compassion is a prerequisite for healthy self-esteem. It is to understand being human is to be imperfect. To forgive ourselves when we make mistakes. And to recognize when we know better, we will do better.

Your child’s inner critic will take on the voice of their harshest parent in childhood. Modeling self-compassion lays the groundwork for your child to be their own best friend. Not their own worst enemy.

Self-compassion offers all of the benefits of artificially inflated self-esteem, with none  of the downsides.

Studies show increased self-compassion in adolescents results in:

Compassion is not coddling

When your child is upset after falling down, instead of making a crisis out of it, or telling them to man-up, validate their feelings. “You’re sad because you fell down”. Or a simple “I’m here” while putting yourself within arm’s reach.

Be present. Let them feel what they feel. When they feel it. Free of judgement.

If they beat themselves up for making a mistake, offer them compassionate language. Model self-acceptance and forgiveness. When they’re done being sad, teach them to leverage the mistake as a learning opportunity.

The Compassion Epidemic

Those with self-compassion freely offer compassion to others.  Let’s create a compassion epidemic with this next generation. That is what will make America great again.

Concerned you might be at risk of raising a narcissistic child? There’s a test for that. Or maybe you’re a narcissist yourself? There’s a test for that too.

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