The ego epidemic: Us women have an inflated sense of our own fabulousness
Us women are more egocentric and narcissistic than we ever used to be, according to extensive research by two leading psychologists.
More of us have huge expectations of ourselves, our lives and everyone in them. We think the universe resolves around us, with a deluded sense of our own fabulousness, and believe we are cleverer, more talented and more attractive than we actually are.
We have trouble accepting criticism and extending empathy because we are so preoccupied with ourselves.
Am I making you angry by telling you this? It figures. Narcissistic or egotistical women do have an overwhelming sense of entitlement and arrogance.
Of course, I joke, but researchers say there is growing evidence of an epidemic of ego-itis everywhere.
Once a traditionally male syndrome, narcissism generally begins at home and in schools, where children are praised excessively, often spoiled rotten and given the relentless message that they are ‘special’.
Psychology professors Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell analysed studies on 37,000 college students in 2006.
In a survey, 30 per cent of them said they believed they should get good grades simply for turning up.
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And it’s not just about how intelligent they think they are. In the workplace, in friendships, even in motherhood, the pervading culture seems to have become one of competitiveness, superiority and one-upmanship.
But the sphere in which the signs of self-obsession are perhaps most obvious, and the consequences most immediately felt, is the dating one.
In a recent magazine article, four women in their late 20s and 30s shared their thoughts about why they were still single. A 39-year-old beauty director claimed to be too independent for a relationship.
A 38-year-old music agent attributed her single status to the fact she was an alpha female – independent, feisty, strong-minded, high-achieving and intimidating.
She pointed out that she owned a gorgeous flat with gorgeous things in it, had a nice car, was a member of a fancy gym and wore designer dresses. ‘I do what I like, when I like,’ she said.
She’d been told, and appears to believe, that she’s too successful and too well-educated for most men.
The third woman, a 30-year- old arts writer and curator, has been having too much fun to settle down.
Another, a 29-year-old, said she was too picky. She was looking for a guy who is (just) tall enough. And (just about) good-looking enough (but not too good-looking so that she’d play second fiddle).
He needs to be successful, solvent and driven. He must also be long on genuinely good jokes, with a decent sideline in bad ones that only she finds funny.
He needs to ‘speak good restaurant’, to have no special dietary requirements and to always be discerning without ever being fussy.
He needs to be clever without ever making her feel stupid. He needs to ‘get’ but not ‘know’ fashion…and so the list went on.
She concluded that she would rather eat wasps than share her Sunday with anyone who fails to measure up to her idea of Mr Perfect.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with having high expectations. But being delusional and having a totally unrealistic blueprint are an altogether different matter.
And they often go hand in hand with acute ego-itis. As Margot Medhurt knows only too well.
She is the founder of Yours Sincerely, an Edinburgh-based personal dating and introduction agency for professionals. She has almost 30 years’ experience in the industry and has noticed a significant rise in this phenomenon in recent years.
‘It used to be that most women who joined a dating agency had a pretty good idea of where they stood in the eligibility stakes,’ she said. ‘But in the past few years, I’ve noticed that there are a significant number of women who don’t.
‘They tend to be in their 30s, and there is a wide discrepancy between how they perceive themselves and how others see them.
‘They are often very plain, but see themselves as being absolutely fabulous, exceptional people.
‘They invariably reject every guy’s profile I send them. But if a guy rejects their profile, there is all hell to pay. There is disbelief. They are really saying: “I’m so fabulous. How dare he turn me down?”
‘In the past few years, I’ve noticed a real sense of entitlement among this small group of women. The idea that a guy might not find them as amazing as they find themselves doesn’t enter their head.
‘They often become indignant and angry towards me, demanding to know why a guy dared to turn them down. Most people simply accept the facts of the dating game: some people will find you attractive and others won’t, in the same way that you’ll be drawn to some but not others.
Women today think the universe revolves around them and have a deluded sense of their abilities
‘These women, however, are unable to get their heads around the fact that the rest of the world might not share the distorted, inflated view they have of themselves.’
She said she had a eureka moment when she read a recent article about the rise in narcissism among women.
According to the American research, there has been a 67 per cent increase in it over the past two decades, mainly among women.
An estimated ten per cent of the population suffers from narcissism as a full-blown personality disorder.
The symptoms include: a grandiose sense of self-importance; the belief that he or she is special or unique and in some way better – either intellectually or physically – than others; a requirement for excessive admiration; a sense of entitlement, whether to fame, fortune, success and happiness or simply to special treatment; enviousness of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her; an inability to empathise; an inability to admit a mistake; and haughty behaviour or attitude.
What researchers have also identified, and are far more worried about, is what has been described as ‘normal’ narcissism – a cultural shift that has seen even non-narcissistic people seduced by the emphasis on material wealth, physical appearance and celebrity worship.
The researchers believe our culture brings out narcissistic behaviour in almost all of us.
They blame the internet (where ‘fame’ is a click away), reality television (where the lure of fame without talent is most prevalent), easy credit (which enables people to buy far beyond their ability to pay), celebrity worship, our highly consumerist, competitive and individualistic society, and a generation of indulgent parents who have raised their children to think they’re special, amazing and perfect.
According to Twenge, this focus on self-admiration has caused a cultural flight from reality to the land of grandiose fantasy.
We have phony rich people (who actually have massive mortgages and piles of debt), phony beauty (via plastic surgery), phony celebrities (via reality TV and YouTube), phony genius students (with grade inflation) and phony friends (with the social networking explosion).
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‘I had noticed this trend, but wasn’t really sure what it was all about,’ says Margaret Medhurt.
‘However, when I read that article and thought about the unrealistic expectations and sense of entitlement among some of the women, it really struck a chord.
‘One of the cases that brought it home to me involved a 38-year-old businesswoman.
‘I knew there were going to be problems right away. As soon as someone joins the agency, we get things moving very quickly – but this wasn’t quick enough for this woman.
‘She wanted a date immediately. The first man I sent her profile to declined an introduction and she was extremely cross. She couldn’t accept it and she couldn’t even be polite about it.
‘In three weeks, three men turned her down. I explained that it takes time to meet someone but she just got angrier and angrier. She was demanding to know why these guys did this. I was trying to get the balance right – between being honest with her and being tactful.
‘I think, ultimately, she had a very flawed perception of herself. And she almost couldn’t bear that it was being challenged. It was as if she couldn’t deal with the fact that some guys didn’t think she was amazing – and she left.’
Men, traditionally regarded as the more self-centred of the species and the rogues of the mating game, are left scratching their heads and pondering Freud’s famous question: what do women want?
David Baxter (not his real name) is a 40-year-old management consultant. Previously married for nine years, he joined a dating agency in the summer.
He says he’s not perfect, but is told he’s an eligible and pleasant guy with a lot to offer.
‘I’ve had three successive dates recently with ladies in the late 30s to early 40s age bracket that have left me dumbfounded,’ he said.
I’ve never come across such massive egos, such arrogance and lack of basic courtesy.
‘It was as if these particular dates were a forum for them to tell me how exceptional they were. One told me repeatedly how many young guys at the gym asked her out; another was very artificial.
‘You sensed that they absolutely worshipped themselves, though none of them was drop-dead gorgeous or had amazing personalities, jobs or anything else to set them apart and elevate themselves into some superior position.
‘I also thought it was quite telling that none of them had ever been married, engaged or had recently – or perhaps ever – been in a long-term relationship.
‘I got the feeling that these women were living in a Sex And The City-inspired fantasy world. I also sensed that nobody would ever be good enough for them.
‘They seem to be looking for something that doesn’t exist: Mr Perfect, or perhaps some larger-than-life, dashingly handsome and unattainable character such as that portrayed by Mr Big. Nothing else will do.’
Despite his recent experience, David still considers himself lucky.
‘I’m still positive about the whole thing, but I have friends who are not so optimistic and it’s evident that encounters with these sort of women seriously erode their self-confidence, which is a real shame. There are a lot of genuine, decent guys out there who are getting a rough deal.’
Neil Hay is a 32-year-old former professional golfer-turned-financial consultant who lives on the outskirts of Edinburgh.
After taking some time out following the death of his mother, he joined a dating agency almost a year ago.
‘It’s made me terribly cynical, not just about the way women are, but also about what on earth it is that they are looking for in a guy,’ he said.
‘Of course, we all have standards and preferences. There’s nothing wrong with that. But most of us are also realistic. We know that Cheryl Cole is out of our league.
‘I had been hoping to meet someone who was quite nice-looking, with a good personality, someone to go for dinner and to the cinema and have a decent conversation with. But I’m left feeling that this isn’t what women are looking for.
‘It’s as if they want to be swept off their feet right from the first date, as if they’re waiting for someone like Brad Pitt or George Clooney. They’re not interested in a regular, normal, decent guy. That’s not good enough for them.
‘I spent three hours on a date with one woman. I thought we got on brilliantly, but then she said she didn’t want to meet again.
‘This has happened a few times. It makes me think that if you don’t live up to their perfect fantasy, then that’s it. It’s game over before you’ve even had any chance to begin to get to know each other.
‘It does dent your confidence. I’m left thinking either that there’s something wrong with me or that I’ll just never be whatever it is that these women are looking for.
‘I know there are a lot of single women who say things like they’re too independent, too feisty, too confident or too successful for men. Or they claim that men are intimidated by strong, intelligent and independent women.
‘But this is simply not the case. I think they just tell themselves this. It’s a way of rationalising things. It’s as if it’s easier for them to believe their own myths than to face reality – that they are completely ordinary.'(Lucy Taylor, dailymail.co.uk)