“I’m actually really tired of people often accusing millennials of being the narcissistic generation,” she says. “If anything, millennials are actually open and empathic to a greater range of people and viewpoints than prior generations, and remain committed to causes outside of themselves, despite the rather crappy world they’re inheriting.”
Similarly, she praises Gen Z for “keeping it together” after essentially losing a whole year of their youth during a global pandemic, and cites Gen X as a “forgotten” group in the ongoing generational discourse. That leaves, of course, baby boomers, who came of age benefiting from run-ups in the stock market and affordable real estate and a whole range of other advantages that younger people no longer have access too. But it’s not them either, says Durvasula; in fact, many boomers grew up within extremely strict, rigid family structures and experienced a lot of guilt relating to WW2.
It turns out, there is no such thing as a narcissistic generation, even though boomers have been historically referred to as the “me” generation.
“Boomers came from families where you often saw traditional gender roles, a greater likelihood of unemotional parents, authoritatian fathers, and traditional expectations,” she says. “As they got older, they went full-in on self-exploration. They saw massive social and cultural change; it was a transition into more consumerism, more self-help, more accessible entertainment, and more self-expression.”
The fact that boomers were critiqued for all of this and called selfish, before ultimately going on to call out their own Gen X children or millennial grandchildren for much of the same, is somewhat ironic—but it also forms something of a pattern. What happens when you take a multi-generational view of things, Durvasula explains, is that each generation ends up believing that the generations that follow them are more narcissistic.
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“I think it’s risky and problematic to stick one generation with this label,” she says. “We then lose the important nuance in considering the toll that these toxic patterns take on all of us. Whether you’re 25 or 75, the pattern that defines narcissism remains the same. Lack of empathy, grandiosity, entitlement, validation-seeking, arrogance, disregulation, rage… These are difficult people.”
Durvasula acknowledges that the current ubiquity of social media, where “likes” equate to validation, might play on a narcissist’s vulnerabilities, but is quick to clarify that this is not exclusive to millennials or zoomers. “I have seen just as many entitled boomers on social media,” she says. “The bottom line is, people with narcissistic personalities are going to behave badly on social media, regardless of their generation.”
Philip Ellis is a freelance writer and journalist from the United Kingdom covering pop culture, relationships and LGBTQ+ issues.
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