Many psychologists have suggested that there’s a cultural epidemic of narcissism. As a dating coach and matchmaker, I’m on the front lines of it, and when humility is totally and completely absent as a personal quality, narcissism is the result.
Some of the confusion around whether humility is a good and desirable quality or a sign of weakness comes from confusion around what constitutes authentic self-esteem. A person with high self-esteem knows the value of him or herself and the value of their relationship. A narcissist, on the other hand, most values himself and doesn’t know the worth of the relationship. The outcome is a fundamentally imbalanced self – a grandiose, inflated self-image and a lack of deep connections to others that makes humility nearly impossible. High self-esteem and humility are never at odds.
In the dating market, I see single men and women who seek out “trophy partners” who make them look good and jump at opportunities to garner attention and status through their partner. This is one of the red flags of narcissism. A person who is confident and self-assured but humble enough to know they’re imperfect is instead looking for a partner who complements them, makes them feel good, and inspires them to be their “best self” — all while accepting and loving them in spite of their flaws.
Humility allows a person to accept constructive criticism and learn from mistakes. A narcissist, conversely, will blame everyone and everything except themselves for their shortcomings. Being humble within a relationship means having the motivation to improve. The absence of humility can lead to poor performance in the relationship: If you think you know all of the answers, there’s no need to study. If you were born on home plate, why run around the bases?
Most everyone wants a relationship with someone who has a secure attachment style and the necessary humility to admit their weaknesses.
If your partner is unable or unwilling to humbly assess his or her own behaviors, any criticism can provoke a hostile reaction. As a result, those living with and working with egotists and narcissists quickly learn to keep their opinions to themselves or sugar-coat them. Narcissists also get angry and aggressive when they feel their freedom is restricted – in other words, when they can’t do what they want. Humility recognizes that sometimes what I want isn’t good for me.
Why is a lack of humility so prevalent? We may point to everything from our culture of self-promotion to fractured family systems to the competitive economic realities of modern life. Ever since the industrial revolution, America has looked less collectivistic and more individualistic.
In previous generations, you would have been told to “take the good with the bad” and that “relationships are not all about you.” Today there is a different cultural message: Life’s short. Do what makes you happy. Humility just doesn’t hold much appeal when everyone who embraces the opposite attitude and lifestyle seems to prosper. (Turn on any television “reality” show for an example.)
The generations that have come after the baby boomers have felt more entitled to relationships that are always fun and easy. There’s a ‘What have you done for me lately?’ attitude in relationships. If the answer is “not enough” it’s on to the next partner – after all, goes our narcissistic cultural collective thinking, you deserve better. A more humble response might be to hold up the mirror on our own attitudes and actions that are contributing to the dysfunction or unhappiness in the relationship.
It’s a pervasive belief in our culture that you have to love yourself to be able to love someone else. This sounds good, but that’s a problem when self-love becomes excessive. People low in self-love or self-esteem may be somewhat clingy, seek reassurance of their partner’s love, and can get hung up on their insecurities, but they choose partners about as well as everyone else and may bring that dose of humility that’s missing from so many relationships.