In the Freudian Era, Narcissism was a central psychiatric concept and diagnosis. In the last several months, the likelihood that the American Psychiatric Association will drop this diagnosis from it’s new, 5th edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has been the subject of a string of articles in prominent newspapers and other news outlets including the New York Times and NPR. Though the debate is one about professional discourse and diagnosis, it extends well beyond this realm and begs the question of whether or not this change represents a larger trend in the US wherein Americans no longer see putting themselves before others and thinking of themselves as better and more capable than others (even with little evidence to back it up) as a problem.

In her book, Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable than Ever Before, Jean Twenge somewhat satirically describes an increasing focus on the importance of self-esteem in American Society. From birth, she argues, children are steeped in the notion that they are important just for being them and that they must make themselves feel good at all costs. Ultimately, Twenge argues, this rather ironically leads to more unhappiness and even mental illness, as the current generation of young adults does not learn how to live in the real world. Their entire educational experience can be captured by several of Twenge’s examples: children receive trophies just for doing their best, rather than for being the best player or the hardest worker on the team; they are content with C grades because teachers tell them they’re good no matter what their grades are; they earn pretty stickers for effort rather than genuine achievement. While there are some wonderful outcomes of the self-esteem movement (for a description of the functions and theories of self-esteem, see the linked article below) that started with the Baby Boomer generation – namely that kids do feel more liberated and, in moderation, self-esteem is certainly beneficial – Twenge argues that the level of self-esteem present in today’s kids is harmful to both them and society more broadly. Ultimately, over-inflated self-esteem can result in narcissistic tendencies that lead to much more than feeling overly good about oneself; narcissism can ruin relationships, cost people their jobs, and even lead to increases in violence.


Sociology Compass

© Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Volume 4, Issue 12 Page 999 – 1078

The latest issue of Sociology Compass is available on Wiley Online Library

Crime & Deviance

Parole Revocation in the Era of Mass Incarceration (pages 999–1010)
Jeffrey Lin
Article first published online: 1 DEC 2010 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2010.00335.x


Men and Erotic Oases (pages 1011–1019)
Richard Tewksbury
Article first published online: 1 DEC 2010 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2010.00343.x

Science & Medicine

Fat Studies: Mapping the Field (pages 1020–1034)
Charlotte Cooper
Article first published online: 1 DEC 2010 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2010.00336.x
Regulating the Medical Profession: From Club Governance to Stakeholder Regulation (pages 1035–1042)
John Martyn Chamberlain
Article first published online: 1 DEC 2010 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2010.00338.x
Critical Theory and Medical Care in America: Changing Doctor–Patient Dynamics (pages 1043–1053)
Sophia Lyn Nathenson
Article first published online: 1 DEC 2010 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2010.00339.x

Social Psychology & Family

Transnationalism over the Life Course (pages 1054–1062)
Sean R. Lauer and Queenie Wong
Article first published online: 1 DEC 2010 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2010.00337.x

Social Stratification

Impoverished Clientele and Influential Institutions: Perspectives on Neighborhood Poverty near Harvard Yard (pages 1063–1078)
Katarzyna Skuratowicz and L. Janelle Dance
Article first published online: 1 DEC 2010 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2010.00331.x