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Mar 10

When is enough enough?

By | Decision Making

The subject of narcissism is at first an unlikely candidate for a blog about decision making. Or maybe not. A lengthy piece in the Washington Post opines that, wait for it, we westerners have descended to new depths of self-centeredness. Why? Not the least reason is that we have been conditioned for more, more, more, and it’s showing.

Entitlement is something that’s part of human narcissism. It’s an ego thing that transcends generations. When something goes wrong for others, it’s their fault. When something goes wrong for us, it’s not ours; it’s the fault of external forces. We project blame.

This projection often antagonizes a situation. Feeling entitled to something you aren’t getting leads to frustration, which leads to bratty behavior and confrontation. Nearly 80 percent of Americans say rudeness — particularly behind the wheel, on cellphones and in customer service — should be regarded as a serious national problem, according to a study by the opinion research firm Public Agenda.

An airport is a petri dish for rude behavior: a bunch of people in close quarters under time constraints. Stress and impatience lay down the welcome mat for brattiness.

"You have people screaming at customer representatives at airports because it’s snowing out — as if they’re entitled to have a sunny day," says professor W. Keith Campbell, who specializes in the study of narcissism at the University of Georgia. "That’s where it gets out of hand. With entitlement, the issue is, yeah, there are certain times where we’re entitled and other times we’re not. The problem is when we have that meter wrong."

It’s unreasonable to spend an hour on hold, in other words, but there are situations when basic entitlement turns into self-infatuation and blatant disrespect for others. All of this is tied to the feeling of not being satisfied, of thinking that some force is blocking the way to a goal we think we deserve.

"The question is, ‘What the heck is enough?’ " says writer and psychologist Carl Pickhardt, who specializes in parenting and child development in his private practice in Austin. "I see that all the time. A couple comes in for marriage counseling, and they ask me, ‘Are we happy enough?’ Somebody’s at a job they like, but are they successful enough? People have to make that choice. We are a dissatisfaction market society. Advertising constantly creates the notion that whatever we have is not enough. We can declare independence of that."

But how? It’s about realigning our expectations and then squelching the nagging voice in our minds that propels our discontent. Pennsylvania psychologist Pauline Wallin calls this voice our "inner brat," which is an evil twin to our "inner child." After years of counseling clients who routinely made mountains out of molehills, Wallin dived into the concept, named it and produced the book "Taming Your Inner Brat: A Guide for Transforming Self-Defeating Behavior."

[amtap book:isbn=1885171854]

This sense of it’s never enough is the ego getting in the way of what might otherwise pass for a rational decision process. Public Exhibit A from just this week is the news, shocking and depressing, that the righter-of-wrongs himself, Elliot Spitzer, has apparently been caught on a Federal Wiretap arranging to meet a prostitute.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer has been caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet with a high-priced prostitute at a Washington hotel last month, according to a person briefed on the federal investigation.

An affidavit in the federal investigation into a prostitution ring said that a wiretap recording captured a man identified as Client 9 on a telephone call confirming plans to have a woman travel from New York to Washington, where he had reserved a hotel room. The person briefed on the case identified Mr. Spitzer as Client 9.