What the Narcissism Epidemic Means for People With Narcolepsy: Part 2

According to The Narcissism Epidemic by Jean M. Twenge, PH.D. and W. Keith Campbell, PH.D., the narcissism epidemic in the United States has proliferated at the same rate as the obesity epidemic in recent years.1

The social effects of narcissism are not reserved for able-bodied or otherwise privileged people. As narcissism proliferates throughout our society, it is bound to touch people from all ability levels and walks of life.

Narcolepsy advocacy and support groups

For years I’ve been interested in narcolepsy advocacy. Last year, I started attending narcolepsy support groups and have since grown in leaps and bounds. Befriending other people with narcolepsy has become key to my healing journey since my diagnosis. I have made friends who I truly believe will be lifelong.

I expect at some point we might grow past our need for each other’s outright regular support as we each blossom into our respective environments. Until that happens, I value every second spent hearing other peoples’ struggles and victories with narcolepsy.

As I become more active in the narcolepsy advocacy community, I am gently reminded that the narcissism epidemic is ubiquitous amongst our culture.

Impact of the rising narcissism epidemic

The Narcissism Epidemic mentions that difficult circumstances do little to change society’s focus on self-admiration. In fact, in the face of difficult circumstances, the message is often blared to us that in order to succeed, we must believe in ourselves even more. The book claims that the perpetuated belief that narcissism helps you succeed in a competitive world means that narcissism might be seen as even more necessary for society members to take on for themselves.1

This is especially true for minority groups, who might have several innate disadvantages compared to other populations. Claims that overcoming financial, social, and even physical burdens just takes a little elbow grease can become popular rhetoric in such cases.

Why celebrating successful people can be harmful

There are a number of non-profit organizations dedicated to spreading awareness of narcolepsy and other sleep disorders. One common tool that these organizations use is featuring traditionally successful people who suffer from narcolepsy.

Celebrating exceptional people with narcolepsy can, in some cases, be inspiring for those with the condition. It can serve to encourage people with narcolepsy to continue to pursue their passions. However, endlessly spotlighting traditionally “successful” people with narcolepsy can be harmful for various reasons.

Reason 1: Narcolepsy cannot be overcome by willpower

First, it perpetuates the idea that narcolepsy as a condition can be overcome through absolute mental willpower. According to the Washington Post, more than 1 million employee disability discrimination complaints have been filed with the US federal government since 2010. Only 20 percent of people who pursue litigation against companies for violating ADA law receive reparations in the form of money or appropriate workplace accommodations.2

In other words, current government legislation fails to protect the rights of people with disabilities, including those with narcolepsy. Additionally, attaining Social Security benefits can take years for people who are unable to work due to their narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy symptoms are not our fault

Narcolepsy symptoms cannot be overcome through sheer will. Perpetuating a limited representation of people with narcolepsy serves the ableist system at hand. Rather than questioning the social and political systems that put them at a disadvantage, people suffering from narcolepsy can end up blaming themselves.

This cognitive dissonance might result from the stark difference between their life outcomes and the life outcomes represented by people “like them” by well-meaning organizations. It is not uncommon for people with narcolepsy to experience being barred from traditional success due to exceedingly common workplace discrimination or simply due to the severity of their condition.

When combined with the backdrop of “successful” people with narcolepsy representing the entirety of the population who suffers from the condition, other people with narcolepsy can start to believe that their misfortunes must be their own doing.

Reason 2: There is a range of symptom severity

Second, people unfamiliar with narcolepsy may also get the idea that narcolepsy can’t be so bad since the majority of people represented with it are extremely successful. In reality, narcolepsy is a disorder that ranges greatly in symptom severity. As such, those with the condition have had their lives affected in differing degrees by it.

I believe that narcolepsy organizations should present all levels of ability in order to ensure accurate representation of narcolepsy as a condition. There is a power to vulnerability. The Narcissism Epidemic describes vulnerability as an antidote. It brings groups together. Once we stop fighting ourselves, we can start fighting against narcissistic worldviews that continuously erode the social fabric of our culture.

Amplifying all backgrounds and abilities

It is vital to amplify the voices of narcolepsy that come from various different economic and social backgrounds, as well as those with greatly reduced abilities due to the severity of their condition. Doing so would improve representation of people with narcolepsy and allow us to challenge the power systems at play that keep us disadvantaged.

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