Apparently Narcissism is Contagious

I never learned in school that narcissism could be contagious. In fact, I would have genuinely laughed at the sentiment if someone asked me (ten years ago) if narcissism was contagious.

It’s not funny anymore.

I’ve known all along that fear is contagious, and I’ve written much about that. Fear is an intense emotion, and emotions are not necessarily rational. It takes logical thought to interpret the emotions. Fear unexamined and acted upon is dangerous. I’ve seen rampant, unexamined, contagious fear of anything different or not well understood in the last few years. What I didn’t see coming, in all honesty, is that the fear has morphed into malignant narcissism.

What I mean by this is that the fear is driving people to become so self-involved that they have little regard for anyone else. This is putting it mildly. Fear-based narcissism is not just a disregard for others’ welfare, rights, and humanity. It is attempting to extinguish those rights. Fear-based narcissism has become an obsession.

I could write a book of examples, but let me name two in particular. The number of appalling stories I have heard from health care providers who have been threatened with bodily harm while just doing the work of saving lives is beyond comprehension. This work is incredibly hard at baseline and at times sucks the life right out of a person. Now, let’s throw in a dangerous workplace because fear-driven, selfish folks feel permission (in our current environment) to act abusively. Forgive my own self-centeredness as I wonder who is going to be there to take care of me when I get sick because everyone has left the profession.

The other and perhaps even more outrageous example (no offense to health care providers) is what is happening within education. Educators are charged with providing basic literacy and learning skills to future generations — the long-term effects of which are profound. These educators have pursued higher education, studied theories of epistemology and learning styles, chosen a content major, and specialized in an educational field. They racked up a lot of debt and are incredibly underpaid to do the hardest kind of work. (I have to tell you that the idea of planning the best ways to teach a room packed full of hormone-filled, brain-developing, chatty, unengaged, acting out, hungry, insecure (and so on) kids literally brings on personal feelings of despair.) Yet we have amazing people who choose to show up and do all of these things.

I am hearing stories from educators who — on top of personal concerns about health and safety — have parents passionately questioning teaching methods, curricula, policies, etc. with a sprinkle of personal attacks. The all-consuming, underlying fear has led to the narcissistic mindset of feeling like one knows more about teaching than the trained experts. I have kids in public education, and I absolutely believe in parental involvement. There is no success without parents on the team. At the same time, I do not know more about school curricula and how to share it than the educators whose entire professional background is dedicated to just that.

And, by the way, I have long objected to excessive legislature interference into school curricula. The legislature is there to set a floor of standards. They are not there to micromanage local, expert educational teams as they should have other things to do.

You may think I am referring to the history curriculum, but in fact, I am focused on history, health, science, and even literature. (At times like this, I find myself reflexively thinking that this is the beauty of public education. If one doesn’t like it, the parent can withdraw the child and homeschool or privately school. At the same time, I understand that this thinking only compounds the problem. Kids end up only being exposed to one point of view, which promulgates single-mindedness.)

The point of education is awareness, enlightenment, and understanding. Most importantly, education is to teach cognitive flexibility — the ability to tolerate different ideas, think critically, and be open-minded to possibilities. I simply do not know how we will survive and thrive as a species if we are not open-minded enough to listen, civilly discuss, and thoughtfully engage around a wide range of issues.

While we all have topics we are afraid of and do not understand, we need to have a safe space to talk about those ideas in a fact-based, scientific way. Those places are schools. When we begin to ban topics that create discomfort, there will be nothing left to discuss, and there will absolutely be no one educated left to teach.

Schools are already under attack for being in person, being virtual, masking, enacting Covid policies. They are the repeated sites of violent acts. It’s too much.

Here is my basic question: When did we become a society where untrained persons have the right to threaten, intimidate, and coerce trained professionals into doing their bidding without consideration for everyone else? I believe this is narcissism fueled by fear, and it has crossed the line into abuse.

There is debate, and then there is abusive behavior. I am hearing about abusive behavior — infringing upon the rights of others. (As you are trying to figure out which side gets to call it infringement, consider which side is being inclusive.)

Let’s talk about the definition of abuse in case you doubt me. According to Dictionary.com, verbal abuse is “harshly or coarsely insulting language.” While I agree that this definition is subjective, lines are being crossed.

When people engage in narcissism, they expertly create doubt among those they want to control and manipulate. They gaslight. They pull out all of the stops to get what they want despite the costs to others. They do not see beyond their selfishness. If only the world were as simple as getting one’s way.

My job on a daily basis is to help people self-reflect and solve personal problems. I cannot fix this societal illness that I see. I can, however, call attention to it. I can create awareness by giving what I see a label. I’ve found that labeling behaviors as abusive and narcissistic gives those on the receiving end a sense of validation. (No, you aren’t losing your mind even if you attempts are being made to make you feel like you are losing your mind.)

I can also say THANK YOU to everyone out there who is showing up to work despite rampant fear-based narcissism. THANK YOU for your wisdom, your grit, your conviction, and your strength. Clearly, your sense of mission comes from within. You are not alone.

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Author of Move on Motherf*cker: Live, Laugh, and Let Sh*t Go. Using CBT, mindfulness, humor, and profanity to feel better. jodieeckleberryhunt.com

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