Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Culture of Narcissism

Eight months of travelling through different cultures, writing a novel, and not doing a full-time job have given me the opportunity to revisit what I believe; to reconsider the philosophies, convictions and commitments that underpin my life and counselling practice.  And what keeps reasserting itself persistently in my mind is the awareness that Western civilization has become increasingly infected by a culture of narcissism. One of the characters in my book summarizes our history like this:

And so we see the steady progress of our decline into narcissism and superficiality. From animism, where everything is alive with magic; through polytheism, in which powerful archetypal energies are anthropomorphized into human-like gods; to today’s world, in which actors and rich socialites have become the new Olympians; and on into our probable future, in which FaceBook and Instagram and YouTube and Twitter encourage each of us to grab the fifteen minutes of fame Andy Warhol predicted for us, becoming in the process our own gods, the very false idols we were once warned not to worship.

The cult of individualism has been stretched to breaking point. All around me I see symptoms of the disease: depression, anxiety, addiction, insecurity, loneliness, failed relationships, and a pervading sense of emptiness and meaninglessness. Why? Because, from the moment we are born, we are so heavily programmed to think about ourselves that it has become almost impossible for us truly to be there for each other.  And yet we are herd animals: we are not meant to live alone, but in communities, caring for and about each other.

At the extreme end of the scale, it has shocked me just how many of my clients have been emotionally and psychologically damaged by a parent who – according to the client’s description – would merit a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. But I would also estimate that at least 90% of my clients would have been able to work through their own psychic issues without the help of a professional if only they were embedded in a support community capable of offering them unconditional love and listening to them without agendas, opinions or unsolicited advice. 

In the two blogs that follow, I will propose that the practice of unconditional love and the formation of communities are our most powerful and appropriate responses to this pernicious culture of narcissism; and that, in the meantime, counselling is the most obvious remedy to the sickness that plagues us, precisely because all good counselling is built upon a foundation of unconditional love.

In the meantime, I urge you to react to this blog, and hope to inspire some meaningful dialogue around this crucial topic.



  1. I grew up with a narcissistic parent, and for the last three and a half years, I've been becoming increasingly involved in my Unitarian Universalist community. At first, I would cry during every sermon, as the Minister spoke about how everyone is welcome just the way they are, and how each of us is part of an interdependent web of life and how we should care for and love each other, because what effects one, effects us all.

    At first I didn't get it, but it was healing to hear. Now, after three years of increasing involvement in my church, I've noticed a big change in myself. I'm more confident in my abilities, I trust, that even though I may have conflicts with some people, with some conflicts being resolved quickly, and others lingering for a bit, ultimately I know that these people are still my people, and I belong with them, and to them.

    This is the fact that gives me the strength to get up and try again after I've had a bad day, or didn't do too well at being my best self. The opportunity to do better tomorrow will always be there for me. The knowledge that I will still have my communities support and acceptance as I struggle to grown into the person I want to become, is an incredible gift, and I believe this is the unconditional love that you speak of here. It certainly feels like I'm getting that something that I alway felt was missing from my life. :)

  2. Hi Matt,

    I am grateful that, in broaching the subject of narcissism, you have suggested a viable solution in community making.

    I found M. Scott Peck's writings to be of great assistance in my personal, family and broader community development. In "The Road Less Traveled" and "People of the Lie", Peck deals directly with the problem of narcissism, along with many other psychological and social issues; later, he turns his focus to the grander solution, in:

    Peck, M. Scott. (1987). The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace . Simon & Schuster.

    I'm looking forward to reading and discussing more of your writings.