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Are We Really the Narcissistic Generation?

Rumors of Millennials’ self-obsession might be greatly exaggerated

Ask a random group of people to describe the Millennial generation in a few words and you get an interesting mix of positive and negative adjectives.

I tried it, asking people from their twenties to their sixties, and the answers I got ranged from hopeful to critical:

“Innovative, knowledgeable, savvy.”

“Privileged, apathetic, socially concerned.”

“Self-absorbed world-changers who long for authentic connection.”

“Passionate but passive, hopeful but cynical, connected but distracted.”

“Entrepreneurial, spoiled narcissists.”

It’s obvious that Millennials—roughly those born between 1982 and 2004—tend to be a polarizing topic. They have been dubbed by some as the next greatest generation, but others note disturbing trends among Millennials that paint a far less rosy picture.

Characterized as “lazy, entitled narcissists” on the cover of Time magazine (May 2013), this generation is used to getting a bad rap. With record numbers unemployed or under-employed, trends toward delayed marriage and childbearing and a high percentage boomeranging back home to live with Mom and Dad, Millennials are easy targets.

Millennials have grown up with messages of high self-esteem and high expectations. But critiqued for flailing during “adultolescence” (prolonged adolescence into young adulthood), Millennials are often portrayed as self-obsessed, tech-addicted, and directionless. But is all this bad press true? Are Millennials really narcissists?

Peeling Back the Label

Narcissism is characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a craving for attention from others, an exaggerated sense of entitlement and a fixation on personal pleasure at all costs.

In more extreme cases, individuals who have been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder are arrogant, lack empathy, self-centered, tend to exploit others and can be aggressive.

One doesn’t have to look far to see evidence of what looks like narcissism in this generation. A preponderance of selfies on Instagram and vlogs on YouTube seem to indicate self-obsession. But is “narcissistic” really a fitting label for Millennials? There is some evidence that suggests it is, but perhaps not enough.

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