The cultural epidemics of narcissism and extramarital affairs
The recent admission of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s affair with the housemaid, along with the salacious list of athletes, politicians and entertainers revealed in the theatre of extramarital affairs, makes one wonder if the norm is changing. Remember the bell curve? The explosion of admitted affairs, combined with the separate epidemic of narcissism, makes one wonder if we are setting a new cultural tone. Our entitled and “all about me” behavior is becoming rampant in our society too. Do the trends of narcissism and extramarital affairs have something in common? What is normal now?
Let’s unpack it a bit starting with the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.) ANew York Times article featured on November 29, 2010 titled: A Fate That Narcissists Will Hate: Being Ignored by Charles Zanor, discussed that the upcoming new edition of the DSM will be eliminating 5 out of the 10 personality disorders. Narcissistic personality disorder is one of those deleted. It appears that narcissism has become so common that we no longer can view it as an abnormality? Given the complications and grievous ramifications to relationships caused by narcissism, this is cause for concern.
Because it is likely that people tend to lie about sex and money,understanding the true statistics on extramarital affairs is challenging. Let’s take a look at this. It’s a good bet with the statistics we do have, often based on self-reports… that the numbers are much higher in reality. So, this too is becoming the norm? Recent studies reveal that 45-55% of married women and 50-60% of married men engage in extramarital sex at some time or another during their relationship. (Atwood & Schwartz, 2002-Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy.) According to a Time-CNN poll, 50% of Americans say President Clinton’s adultery makes his moral standard “about the same as the average married man.” But, according to one poll, 90 percent of Americans believe adultery is morally wrong. Is this picture skewed?
There are different kinds of sexual misbehavior from child sexual abuse, to rape (which involves violence and lack of consent) to power differential cases with bosses. But, I refer here to consensual affairs, which involve both men and women. It takes two to tango. Therefore, the media discussions of men behaving badly, wealthy, powerful people feeling entitled, and Time Magazine‘s story of what makes powerful men act like pigs… is only a part of the story. Yes, we see the microcosm of the exposed celebrity stories, but this is everyone’s world. Something is different.
In our rampant narcissistic culture with raging sexual infidelity, is there a common thread? Television and radio anchors, psychologists, and social scientists are musing and defining as they contemplate various theories. While they give us much to think about, I think it boils down to three simple words: Lack of Empathy. Clinical experience tells me the art of empathy is becoming extinct. Addictions, making mistakes, acting impulsively, inability to tolerate intimacy, feeling entitled, self-sabotage, and others, are all reasons given to explain these epidemics. But, at the base of narcissism and infidelity is the lack of empathy. The ability to step into another’s shoes and think about how one’s behavior can affect others is a theory forgotten and a lost dinosaur that has become swallowed up by the entourage of a self-absorbed culture. The most difficult part of this is the effect on children. Adults are suffering, but children are watching.
In the recent movie, The Dilemma, the story unravels about yet another affair. While the story is really about what you should tell your best friend if you find out his wife is cheating, the best line in the movie was: “Great moments are born from great opportunities.” If we see epidemics like narcissism and raging infidelity becoming the norm and changing the bell curve, could this be an opportunity to gain some great lessons and interrupt the patterns? Or will we go on viewing it as “it’s a no moment,” we just expect it and it gives us something to talk about so we don’t have to be accountable for our own issues and behaviors?
We hear about the “dumbing” down of America and does that now include the “dumbing” down of morality so we don’t care about the next guy? The lack of empathy could be as important as the much discussed economy because it, too, has an overwhelming influence on our next generations. We want to believe we are working together in America. If we don’t practice empathy and care about the next guy, we are not really in this together, eh?
Survey: Is This My Mom? Use this to assess if your parent has narcissistic traits. It is applicable for men as well.
Research: Interview You? http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/for-men.php
FB Parties for Adult Children of Narcissists:http://www.facebook.com/DrKarylMcBride
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