A preacher recently spoke to his congregation about a conversation he had with his wife, who is a psychologist; his wife saying that the psychological disorder of our current generation is narcissism. She is not alone many today are convinced that we are a culture obsessed with me, me, me, everyone vying for their 15 minutes of fame, everyone rushing to accumulate more and more stuff. The backlash being minimalists who live in portable, self-sustainable homes, create 21st century communes. One author commenting that people think they have nothing inside, grit, fortitude, substance, so it makes for a greedy consumerism driven society. Confronting social problems has become a series of buzzwords, one-word answers, simple phrases and no real explanations of the given causes and no real solutions; talking about said issues is more about grumbling and complaining or some over the top appalled response, nothing more.
However looking through the decades of history one cannot help but wonder if this is the first generation with anything close to a healthy me mentality, the mentality geared toward taking care of oneself; also, when examining social norms throughout several generations, there is an argument to be made that the greatest psychological disorder present in them all is trauma. And everything else can be seen as an outgrowth or reaction to that, not only in the trauma we see today with various kinds of abuse, abandonment on several levels, world events, but trauma very nearly woven into our social fabric by common expectations. For example if you examine the 1950’s what adults consider the hay day of manners, civility and family life, many had alcohol problems because they could not keep up with the button down repressive social structure, resulting in many wives and children being abused physically, emotionally, others coming away with unhealthy habits and coping mechanisms like drinking too much.
The 1960’s and the counter culture that came forth is a trauma or stress response to the repression present in society, a reaction from those who grew up in houses that were the opposite of “Leave it to Beaver” piping through the television. Influences from around the globe also came into play, people appalled by the goings on in Vietnam, terrified by the daft and the idea of fighting in a war where they would have to kill people. The ’70’s became a continuation and a jumping off point from that on into the 80’s until we hit the 90’s. By this time sexual abuse has become a far less taboo topic, being brought out of the closet so to speak, but is unfortunately all too common place, partly as the abused turn into abusers. As these types of abuse grew more heinous for the victims the turn around is abusers are more craven in their acts. Physical and emotional abuse or otherwise abandonment and neglect simultaneously grow into fixtures of the latter mentioned generations due to a pooling of multiple factors.
People look upon drug abuse, parental abuse and risky behaviors as evidence of a culture focused on selfishness, me, me, me, and nothing else, yet clearly, regarding too many cases, it’s a way to cope with trauma be it abuse or societal pressures on a so called lower level, the social norms, expectations and attitudes effecting individuals, like it or not. The drug use popularity is traced back to the ’60’s of course; hallucinogenics like LSD were common forms of escapism in the 1970’s, persons still reeling from Vietnam. The feminist movement began in this decade; originally designed to give women equal pay and opportunity in the workforce, from the 1980’s to present times has created a devastating backlash. Society has long programmed everyone to believe you must have a child to be a complete, functional, woman or provide for and raise a family to be a complete, functional, normal man. Individuals were pressured into marrying when they perhaps did not want to and the children that came out of such dynamics were ripe for abuse, neglect from parents who didn’t want or know what to do with them.
On a lesser scale children in this type of situation in our society during these decades up to current times may very likely grow up with parents who are emotionally unavailable, who are cold, aloof and spend their young years feeling unloved so they do drugs or have teen sex looking for the love they never got at home, then becoming teen moms. The feminist movement challenged at least the first half of the normal gender roles, resulting in a transitional generation that is looked down upon on one side that they do not want to be barefoot and pregnant and looked down on the other for not wanting a career. Likewise drug addicts and the consequences that come out of it come from social stresses; currently what we have is a society that looks down on you if you can’t be a super mom or umber human who can do it all, have a family have a career, hints enraged soccer moms shooting someone who cut them off on the freeway, parents known to take their children’s ADD medications to get all the things done they need to in a day and the alarming trend of drinking moms picking up their kids from school, driving around while intoxicated.
In concert with the trauma responses seen over the years, today there is an almost forced narcissism; you have to be “selfish” because you have to be self preservationist to survive. Basic manners like please, thank you, excuse me are cues for unscrupulous individuals to take advantage of you. Dysfunction is the other side of that coin; kindness, patients, tolerance, discipline which, when employed, has given way to people on the other side of sales counters and organization’s front desks thinking they have a license to lose your paperwork, your order, lie to you or play dumb as to procedures to do or apply for certain things. You have to be rude, abrasive and aggressive just to get what you are supposed to get wherever you go. Then people from the preacher’s wife’s school of thought blame it on a typical social ills like greed, selfishness placed in the context of a psychological disorder or psychological make up at least to get people’s attention, to create awareness; the public on the other hand believe that the plethora of psychological disorders are merely an excuse for people to act any way they choose avoiding consequences. Unfortunately both lines of thinking avoid all the larger issues.
It has become survival of the fittest in the western world, where the opening premise originates, social Darwinism at its worst; we wonder about kids who are depressed, who self medicate and self mutilate, suffer from anxiety, yet we create an environment of cutthroat competition beginning in preschool never understanding that some can’t be on all the time, can’t keep up, are made for different things. High school kids are looked down upon if they can’t manage school, activities, a job and some sort of relationship all at once; focusing on one important thing like education is apparently no longer allowed as employers are encouraging them to get jobs now for what it will do for them later. Risky behavior carries with it today a different additional cause or meaning; young people looking to feel alive, feel something in a world where you have to feel nothing to function.
On top of that, despite all the competition for the best, schools, the best education, the best jobs teens and 20 something’s are being pulled away from dreams and fulfillment and shoved into jobs they care nothing about to be productive members of society, to support themselves, shoved into the mind numbing, soul crushing jobs only to barely be able to pay their bills, barely be able to get by. Individuals, families are forced to scratch and claw to get anything with onlookers wondering why they don’t give to their neighbor; people are working more hours, more jobs and while analysts point to our sudden lack of care for others almost as if they haven’t noticed people don’t have time for themselves, their families never mind the lonely man down the street.
Contrary to popular opinion there are positives to the me generation mentality, the willingness to strike a balance between responsibility to self and responsibility to societal expectations, for instance. Putting contentment and happiness before the latter, doing what works best for you and yours rather than what others tell you should work. Required self care and self-nurturing has made it back on the map especially for women known for taking care of family and friends but never themselves. People who know what they are worth and are willing to fight for it in the work place, in their relationships can only lead to happier unions, better cared for children. Those willing to stick to their guns and remain childless if they so choose rather than caving to adult peer pressure ease the burden on themselves and others by not making their child societies problem. And they seek to make things better, by if nothing else living their lives true to themselves.
Many times it’s not selfishness, narcissism but damage and addiction that plague this generation; and until it is properly identified, the causes properly attributed there is no hope of fixing it. Until we stop chalking it up to “bad” behavior simple one-word answers, phrases like greed, selfishness, instant gratification, then we have no hope of fixing it, no hope of making things better.