The Narcissism Epidemic

Narcissism is on the rise among individuals and in American culture.

The anti-narcissist: Our true hero

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Army Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta ran toward the gunfire on a battlefield in Afghanistan, fending off Taliban fighters who attacked his unit. He was shot twice. But when he saw two Taliban dragging off a wounded solider, he ran them off and tried to save his friend. Today, the 25-year-old Giunta became the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since 1976 for, as the official statement put it, his "extraordinary bravery."


Giunta, however, sees things differently. "In this job, I am only mediocre. I'm average. This was a situation that we were put into. I was just one brush stroke in that picture, and everyone else was one brush stroke in that picture. And while it wasn't the first brush stroke of that picture, and it wasn't the last brush stroke in that picture, and it wasn't the best, it was just another brush stroke that helped complete this picture."


Giunta says he did what any solider would do. In his remarks after receiving the medal, he credited all of the soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. When he first found out he would receive the Medal, he said he felt "lost" and "angry." "It is a great thing," Giunta told CNN. "But it is a great thing that has come at a personal loss to myself and so many other families."

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There's no question that Staff Sgt. Giunta was brave, and courageous in battle. What strikes me the most, though, is his complete humility. In this narcissistic age, we often pay attention to those who announce their glory and take all of the credit for themselves. Promote yourself, trumpet your achievements, and success will follow. Instead, Giunta says he did nothing extraordinary, and credits his fellow soldiers. He is a shining example of the true value of humility, the closest concept our language has for the opposite of narcissism. Self-promotion is a poor substitute for real class, and Giunta's words demonstrate more true character than most of our recent celebrities put together. 


Americans often assume that successful people are narcissists -- or, at the very least, that they had extraordinary faith in themselves and their abilities. Sgt. Giunta is a vivid example of how the opposite is true: his humility and teamwork make him a commodity very rare in today's public figures: A true hero. 

Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, the author of Generation Me, and co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic.

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