Cultural Narcissism Fosters Character Disturbance

Cultural Narcissism and Character Disturbance

What is Cultural Narcissism? It’s narcissism woven into the very fabric of  culture. How does it get there? In many ways, most of which are subtle, insidious, incremental. And how does it promote, even reward character disturbance or dysfunction? In ways too numerous to count. Still, it’s worth taking a look at the major narcissistic characteristics common to our culture. Doing so can teach us a lot about ourselves. And it can help us better identify the societal changes needed to promote solid character growth.

Growing in Character

No one is born with good character. (See also: Socialization is a Process.) Integrity is not a genetically-conferred trait. We have to grow in character. And all personal growth necessarily occurs within in a social context.

Depending on its nature , our environment can either foster or hinder our character development. Similarly, the character we bring to our worldly encounters shapes our environment.  Cultural narcissism, therefore, is the result of a vicious cycle. Certain aspects can arrest or impede character growth. That “enables” more character dysfunction. And the more dysfunctional characters that populate a society, the more cultural norms and values change in a negative way. Moreover, such negative changes hinder character development even further. It’s a classic vicious cycle. And the cycle has been raging for many years now. Fortunately, some, including myself, believe the pendulum is beginning to swing in the opposite direction.

To grow in character we need a firm set of guideposts from a variety of sources. Our primary caretakers have to set a model for us and properly coach us. And our families and communities have to further support and encourage our growth. The values a culture promotes and the behaviors it rewards shape not only individuals but also the society at large. Societies of noble character are built upon people of solid character.

Characteristics of a Narcissistic Culture

For many years, ours has been a narcissistic culture. And cultural narcissism results from the tolerance, promotion, and reinforcement of certain attitudes and values, such as:

  • Overvaluing of power, success, money, stereotypical beauty etc.
  • Excessive striving for position, status, and a sense of superiority
  • Excessive self-focus (i.e. egocentricity) and lack of awareness of/concern for others
  • Selfishness and greed
  • Inflated sense of worth and power
  • Expectation of favor/sense of entitlement
  • Lack of appreciation/gratitude
  • Poor sense of moral obligation

Unfortunately, some problematic cultural norms have become so commonplace and deeply ingrained that we hardly ever think of them. Moreover, we rarely think of the impact they have on character formation. And that’s a true tragedy. Developing good character is a tough enough task even in the absence of the aforementioned negative aspects of a narcissistic culture. You see, we all begin our lives with many of the characteristics described above. (See also, the “10 Commandments of Character” outlined in Character Disturbance.) Accordingly, it takes a lot of positive mentoring in other values to overcome these innate tendencies. So, as bad as it is to never learn how to do better or to be better, it’s worse still when society “enables,” promotes, or even rewards the characteristics that define narcissism. We become little narcissists ourselves. And we fashion for ourselves a truly narcissistic culture.

I’ll be saying more about the interrelationship between culture and character formation in the coming weeks.


The last two pilot episodes of the new Character Matters program are now available online. Here are the links to the podcasts: Why Character Matters       Types of Narcissism

Dates have been set for workshops in the Seattle, WA  and St. Louis, MO area early next year. You can find details at I’ll also be posting the info on the Seminars page soon.

6 thoughts on “Cultural Narcissism Fosters Character Disturbance

  1. I’m closing watching all that is happening in the US political arena and can clearly see that all of the bulleted points have come into play.
    Overvaluing of power, success, money, stereotypical beauty etc.
    Excessive striving for position, status, and a sense of superiority
    Excessive self-focus (i.e. egocentricity) and lack of awareness of/concern for others
    Selfishness and greed
    Inflated sense of worth and power
    Expectation of favor/sense of entitlement
    Lack of appreciation/gratitude
    Poor sense of moral obligation

    I am truly disgusted and frightened and shocked at the blatant lack of character of our politicians.
    I feel like I’m watching a horror film.

  2. I have been socially harmed by someone in my neighborhood. Complete smear campaign because I had to set a healthy boundary, and that violated the person’s sense of superiority and perfection. I suspect I’m dealing with a vulnerable narcissist. This person is from South Africa, and grew up with a whole staff of live in servants, as well as the day nanny and the night nanny who did all the work moms here typically do at night. In adulthood, there was a live in maid, a nanny, gardener, etc. With the current political situation over there, they moved to America. They brought their cultural entitlement with them, and show some really outrageous narcissistic traits (the whole family). I’m wondering if a culture like South Africa, where so many my age (40) were raised under Apartheid, and where 3% of the population were systematically told via their culture they are better than the 97%… is this the kind of society that would foster narcissism in it’s whites?

    1. Celeste,

      I don’t think it only applies to white folks. I also don’t believe it only applies to those folks who have grown up with all the privileges that money can buy. I believe narcissism comes from an attitude that is not always caught and trained OUT of us. I believe you don’t have to teach people how to behave badly, but rather people need to be taught how to behave properly. Not everyone wants to hear what is written in the bible but there are many scriptures teaching us “not to think too highly of ourselves, but rather think of yourselves with sober judgment”. I think this means we do think too highly of ourselves and not so highly of others.
      Just a thought.

  3. I enjoy reading such takes on things. I just copied a document that is an Australian Mental health organizations report of Workplace Bullying in Australia – Beyond Blue is the name of the organisation. I was pleased to read opinions based on research that inadequate leadership is a major culprit in workplace bullying.

    …This theory confirms my own observations. …And I consider it analogous to observations of third world countries, where women and children will suffer most because of overall poor conditions in the country. -Namely, the bulk of the burden is on the workers, and the victim. -This suggests that the “blaming the victim” approach, that is tell tale of a dysfunctional system/society is back to front.

    For me, I have observed this phenomenon among my own family unit, and also a workplace I was in as a young woman.

    This belief of “blaming the victim” is often the result of unconscious dysfunctional patterns that are held BY ALL INVOLVED -but most especially those in authority.
    Just as in a third world impoverished country, those of “lowest” status -workers and often those targeted with bullying will bare the burden of the dysfunction that in fact BELONGS TO ALL INVOLVED.

    This also goes back to basic understandings of morality:- an old, interesting it is “old” now, notion or value was that “the eldest must set the example”
    ….This is also the SOLUTION to bullying and dysfunctional vicious cycles: namely, those in a position of power or authority must be emotionally competent and mature enough to effectively not be bullies or in-line with a bullying outloook THEMSELVES!

    And they must be competent enough to understand, or certainly emotionally “get”, the NECESSITY of siding more FOR the victim.

    The reason for this is inherent within the way that I have come to understand life works… and I have experienced this for my self, when in fact BULLIED and mobbed at a job (!!!) … but I have also read of this understanding in spiritual texts and in a quote of Carl Jung’s. ….The reason is because there IS an inherent inequality that is at the heart of our experience -and it is what fuels bullying behaviour.

    It is also what is at the heart of ‘narcissistic dysfunction’. …But narcissists are in fact merely ordinary people whose emotional intensity is of a great degree… and ironically, they APPEAR more evil than most people, when in fact MOST people have the same awareness often and are privy to the same faulty black-and-white thinking.
    …In other words, this is the reason that BULLYING behaviour is enabled. (Just as Hitler came to power only because people were willing to listen to him.)

    Unless people, and especially those who are in authority “get” the emotional understanding behind this, then there will be temptation to sweep it under the carpet, and again have it so that the burden is by default dumped onto the target (just as women and children in 3rd world countries will suffer through default).

    It is pretty much to do with level of consciousness.

    But I understand that this inherent unfairness at the center of conflict is a real paradox.
    I find that a person has to be able to accept both opposing points of view as having equal merit or value, whilst at the same time recognising that life requires that only ONE side is actually going to be allowed value at any given time.

    Akin to being able to do two things at once …and I really don’t believe that most of the time most people can do this. Or at least, that whenever there are stronger feelings involved that the individual’s difficulty in doing this is more apparent, as it is with narcissistic or egocentric individuals.

    I understand it like this: egocentric perception is tunnel visioned or highly focused (and likewise also simply highly sensitive -which is a kinder way to view an egocentric individual), whilst the above, Mindful and holistic perception, is being able to see the whole or two sides at once (whilst still retaining ego, or focus).

    Mindfulness and spirituality would help with all of this.

    This is my take on things based on my observations of my self and others.


    1. Elisa,

      There are many ways of looking at this, I see this as an epidemic of CDN overrunning society today. Narcissism has been written about in depth by the top research scientists throughout the last decade. One can make their head spin trying to take in all the different results of these scientific studies. In the end nothing hasn’t changed and CDN is at an all time high.

      I think the dilemma of what to do about the CDN problem will continue to exist due to the overwhelming extent the CDN now are the owners of all the major companies and positions of power. The prevalence of CDN is now seen at all levels of society and is becoming a norm.

      To me CDN is a sickness of ones soul which then plays out in every avenue of the CD life, overflowing to everyone they come in contact with. CDN is continually overthought and the result is simply the same just stated another way. I see no cures, only partial ways of how to exist alongside the CDN for now.

      The CDN are like a rampant disease that will have to run its course and will destroy whoever and whatever comes into their path. This has happened in societies since the beginning of time and I think we know the end results. Life is still a choice and we can choose the latter, we can choose to be decent people of character who care for one another.

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