The New Trinity: Me, Myself and I?

According to the Times’ John Tierney, some researchers are concluding that narcissism — which they apparently define as self-centeredness and a tendency to self-promote — is on the rise:

Two of Dr. DeWall’s co-authors, W. Keith Campbell and Jean M. Twenge, published a book in 2009 titled “The Narcissism Epidemic,” which argued that narcissism is increasingly prevalent among young people — and possibly middle-aged people, too, although it’s hard for anyone to know because most of the available data comes from college students.

For several decades, students have filled out a questionnaire called the Narcissism Personality Inventory, in which they’ve had to choose between two statements like “I try not to be a show-off” and “I will usually show off if I get the chance.” The level of narcissism measured by these questionnaires has been rising since the early 1980s, according to an analysis of campus data by Dr. Twenge and Dr. Campbell.

That trend has been questioned by other researchers who published fresh data from additional students. But in the latest round of the debate, the critics’ data has been reanalyzed by Dr. Twenge, who says that it actually supports her argument. In a meta-analysis published last year in Social Psychological and Personality Science, Dr. Twenge and Joshua D. Foster looked at data from nearly 50,000 students — including the new data from critics — and concluded that narcissism has increased significantly in the past three decades.

During this period, there have also been reports of higher levels of loneliness and depression — which may be no coincidence, according to the authors of the song-lyrics study. These researchers, who include Richard S. Pond of the University of Kentucky, note that narcissism has been linked to heightened anger and problems maintaining relationships. Their song-lyrics analysis shows a decline in words related to social connections and positive emotions (like “love” or “sweet”) and an increase in words related to anger and antisocial behavior (like “hate” or “kill”).

Read rest of article here:
I have no idea what to make of this. It did strike me, though, that one metric cited in other studies was the frequency with which various pronouns appear in popular songs:

Now, after a computer analysis of three decades of hit songs, Dr. DeWall and other psychologists report finding what they were looking for: a statistically significant trend toward narcissism and hostility in popular music. As they hypothesized, the words “I” and “me” appear more frequently along with anger-related words, while there’s been a corresponding decline in “we” and “us” and the expression of positive emotions.

Granted, the idea of a whole generation walking around in a blood-drinking mood is a little scary. But speaking as both a reader and a writer, I have to say that a certain amount of self-consciousness — if not self-centeredness — has its value. Many spiritual writers, or so I’ve noticed, tend to default to the first-person plural: “We should do X”; “We know well that Y.” Personally, I’ve always found that very off-putting; I have a bad case of “we-ennui.” At best, it sounds too normative and prescriptive — in a nutshell, preachy. If the writer slips, switching from objective truths to subjective experience, it sounds presumptuous. Who’s ‘We,” lady?

Phillip Lopate has written that a good personal essay involves an interrogation and dissection of self. The writer should question himself constantly, digging for the real reasons he believes this or does that. To be sure, that sort of writing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s mine. I find it very comforting to know that someone so much cleverer than I is no less a confused clod.

C.S. Lewis does a splendid job of this in A Grief Observed, the book-length essay he wrote about coping after the death of his wife, Joy Gresham. On every page, Lewis shares in agonizing detail what HE’s going through, not what the rest of the world ought to be going through. Coming from a professional moralist, who normally dealt in teh abstract, it was jarring, and better, convincing..

Maureen Dowd once wrote that George H.W. Bush mangled his sentences so badly because his WASP upbringing forbade him to rely overmuch on “the almighty ‘I’” — kind of a noblesse oblige thing. Loath to use the readiest pronoun, he used none at all…and sounded like he was suffering some kind of neurological impairment. When it comes to writing, I at least — get it? I? — shall try to avoid making that mistake.

  • DWiss

    I teach Confirmation to high school sophomores, so you’re not telling me anything new. I had one nice young girl tell me that she didn’t want to be Confirmed because she wants to get married on the beach. I was speechless. She’s definitely thought things through – that’s good – but her conclusion was…well…narcissistic.

  • Victor

    Dear Anchoress,

    Even with a little problem with my heart nowadays and before I continue, I must thank everyone for their prayer cause we just got a call from our heart specialist and long story short, “IT” will be checked out soon.

    Anyway, Anchoress, I have to laugh at this post cause I’ve just found out that I’m a narcissis and like i’ve heard so many of my old girl friends of the pass say in so many words when I was younger, stuff like, we’ll if you’ve got “IT” flaunt “IT” but to be fair to me and myself, I honestly don’t think that “IT” is as bad as some would want U>S (usual sinners) to believe.

    I still smile somewhat when I see your title of “The New Trinity: Me, Myself and I which I’ve been using for years and like you I’m sure we don’t use “IT” to be conceited or do we?

    Are we to apologize because I, me and myself believe that we are children of “The Trinity” and someday we might become in The Image of God, The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.

    I may not have “IT” right on as to who me, myself and i might be representing during eternity but I’m sure that God’s Angel will set U>S (usual sinners) on the straight and narrow in God’s Good Old Time. :)


  • Sally Thomas

    Re G.W. Bush and the personal pronoun: I used to teach in a big public high school with a principal who was similarly allergic to the first person. Every day he’d make announcements over the PA to this effect: “Teachers, wanna remind you . . . Students, wanna tell you . . . ”

    “WHO?” I always wanted to shout at the loudspeaker. “WHO wants to remind me?”

    He was very much a nonentity as an authority figure; I’d send disruptive students to the office (I was 21, looked 15, and was a lousy disciplinarian), and they’d laugh all the way, because they were going to get a no-first-person kind of talking-to, dawdle back through the halls to make trouble in class again (lather, rinse, repeat), and partay in detention after school.

    To me at the time, the no-first-person thing seemed emblematic of all that, though the vice-principal who liked the royal we fared no better:

    “Students, we have noticed that some of you think it’s funny to put milk in the salt shakers. We have removed them, and if it doesn’t stop, we’ll take away the ketchup and mustard, too.”

    I like Phillip Lopate and like what he says about the personal essay. Write what you know, right? And what do I know better — and at the same time, find more utterly mysterious, perplexing, risible, and maddening — than myself? And while I guess it can be solipsistic to write about the self — the I — the alternatives aren’t that great. You can sound like Queen Victoria — “We Are Not Amused” — or Prince Charles — “One Enjoys a Nice Polo Match; One Is Forced To.” Either alternative sounds artificial, and as if the writer were afraid to own his or her experience, or to risk being laid bare. Sort of like making a not-good confession . . .

  • kelleyb

    i am not surprised. We teach the children that they can not fail. Their games are not scored. Their acedemics are not muscular. their grades are hyper inflated. We teach them that others are at fault, not them. Like little helicopters in protective hover mode, we run to aid and to comfort their every move …and then those same experts are amazed they are narcissistic? Me, myself and I.

  • Max Lindenman



    – Max Lindenman, Deputy Anchoress

  • ElizaJane

    That’s funny – I actually thought of C.S. Lewis when you mentioned writers saying “we should”. It seems like he does that much more often than “I”. I don’t think Mere Christianity would have had the impact it has had if it was all “I think we should” rather than “we should”.

  • nan

    I just saw a TV pundit blame Mr. Rogers for making all children feel so “special” that they grew up to feel entitled. Interesting! However, I don’t think the current crop was exposed to him.

  • jason taylor

    I would have to disagree about A Grief Observed. Being able to read what he felt can be comforting when I’m feeling bad.