The current global pandemic is unprecedented for modern times. Although the world has experienced previous outbreaks of deadly diseases in recent times like Ebola and SARS, the magnitude and reach of COVID-19 have been unexpected. As this is typed, the death count has reached 55,781 worldwide; of that, 6,574 are in the United States and 2,935 are in New York State alone (CDC.gov).
The overwhelming desire to flatten the infection curve and slow the pandemic has led to drastic social distancing measures. Local governments have temporarily shuttered nonessential businesses and mass transit lines; schools have shifted to distance learning via Zoom meetings and emails; travel limitations are strictly enforced and even traditionally large social events such as funerals and weddings are encouraged to simplify. Despite the inconveniences, sacrificing individual comfort and freedom is a key component of slowing and stopping the pandemic.
Unfortunately, "sacrifice" is not a word found in a narcissist’s vocabulary. Selfishness, instant gratification, and complete disregard for other’s comfort or health are typical characteristics of a narcissistic individual. To a self-centered individual, “flattening the curve” is not a call for the greater good; instead, it is a personal attack on freedom and choice… and no one tells a narcissistic what is best for them or what they can do!
Early in the pandemic, it was reported that the only individuals at risk were the elderly or immunocompromised. To narcissistic and self-centered people, this meant they could continue life as usual because they were young, healthy, and had a busy social calendar. As spring breaks were underway and travel continued, the virus began picking up speed and reports started changing. It turned out that despite previous information, anyone was vulnerable to the virus as either a carrier or a victim. It is not quite defined how exactly the virus can spread, or how quickly, or how long it can exist on a surface.
Isolation became the norm and social distancing enforced. Schools were shut down, nonessential businesses closed, and thousands of workers laid off. Essential workers, primarily medical personnel, suddenly found themselves on the front line of an invisible battle practically overnight. Doctors, nurses, and first responders are willingly living and sleeping apart from their families to guard against passing along the infection. And yet, some narcissistic individuals are still resisting the mandates and are contributing to the continued rise of the curve.
It is true that weddings, graduations, and funerals are major events meant to be shared with family; but is it worth risking higher infection rates, more deaths, and longer isolation restrictions?
High school and college seniors across the country are up in arms because graduations, proms, and parties are being canceled or postponed. It is OK to be disappointed, but it is not OK to believe these measures are being taken for no good reason. Again, even though the virus seems to prefer the elderly and immune-compromised, healthy individuals can still be carriers of the virus and infect others. Canceling a party and graduation is not being overly cautious or cruel; it is potentially saving the lives of those you love. It is also crucial to remember that someone with a compromised immune system can still physically look as if they are in perfect health.
Family is still allowed at funerals and gravesites, but the party atmospheres and packed throngs of well-wishers must be ceased. Funerals—just as graduations, weddings, or parties—can be perfect viral incubators and contribute to the continued outbreak. Nursing homes, hospitals, and birthing centers are being closely monitored not to cause additional trauma but to flatten the curve and lower the potential death rate. In my view, it is incredibly narcissistic and self-serving to demand special treatment in times of widespread difficulty. Everyone is suffering and everyone has a loved one at risk.
Only someone high in narcissism would believe they are safe, immune, and deserve to continue life-as-usual. Case in point? Just one individual who refuses to self-quarantine or practice social distancing can be responsible for exposing dozens of people—as well as their families—to the potentially deadly virus.
The death toll in New York State has already surpassed that of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. By the time this pandemic is over, it's likely that every American will have been personally affected by the virus by either death, infection, or associated factors such as depression and anxiety. It is estimated that the country will experience between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths by time the virus abates; that number is a best-case scenario if the virus does not mutate and with the current treatments, medical expertise, and social distancing mandates (Bacon & Ortiz, 2020). In comparison, the Spanish Flu claimed the lives of 675,000 Americans between the two outbreaks of 1918-1920; overall, it killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide (Klein, 2020). According to Dr. Stefan E. Pambuccian, a cytologist, pathologist, and professor, cities that adopted isolation measures during the Spanish Flu pandemic had a far lower mortality rate than cities that resisted isolation (Loyola University, 2020). In short, "The stricter the isolation policies, the lower the mortality rate," (Loyola, 2020).
It will truly depend on the agreeableness and cooperation of all of us to practice self-sacrifice in order to flatten the curve. For the time being, major social gatherings must be suspended and postponed. Life will continue again, and it is up to us—narcissists included—to work towards the future.
Bacon, J. & Ortiz, J.L. (April 1, 2020). Coronavirus live updates: US death toll tops 4,000 with projection of 240,000 fatalities; Dow suffers work 1st quarter ever. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2020/03/31/coronavirus-updates-amazon-strike-furloughs-new-test-las-vegas-homeless/5088976002/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC.gov.
Klein, C. (February 4, 2020). Why October 2018 was America’s deadliest month ever. The History Channel. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/news/spanish-flu-deaths-october-1918
Loyola University Health System. (March 30, 2020). Lessons from the Spanish flu: Early restrictions lowered disease, mortality rates. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/03/200330110344.htm