At some point, because of “the biases that plague self-report measures,” the authors of The Narcissism Epidemic [sic] began counting words. Writing “I” corresponds to self-centeredness, they asserted, and writing “we” corresponds to other-centeredness. They found exactly what they were looking for—since 1960, there’s been a 10 percent decrease in the use of “us” and “we,” and a 42 percent increase in “I” and “me.” They also found that the use of “you” and “your” has quadrupled, but rather than seeing this as evidence of other-focus, or a symptom of the proliferation of psychological self-help books, they took this “increased tendency to directly address the reader and include him or her in the dialogue” to be “another indicator of individualism.”

The authors do write “we” rather than “I,” but then again, there are usually two of them, sometimes six or seven, writing together. This writer is hunched over her computer in a dark, high-walled room, alone, forehead creased at the study on her screen, thinking of sentences like “I’m sorry” and “I love you” and “Let me help.” She is thinking of a study that found that “communal narcissists” attempt to satisfy narcissistic needs by being obviously generous, politically engaged, and emphasizing their care for others. She is worrying that if attempts to perform empathy, compassion, and sociality can all be symptoms of a pathological need to maintain one’s sense of self, and if it’s true that you might use “we” because you’re vainly attached to presenting an image of collectivity—not to mention the possibility that, on the other hand, the 42 percent increase in the use of “I” might be a symptom of an increase in people taking more responsibility for their actions—this word counting is useless. What’s left are stories, and a myth that just feels true.

Kristin Dombek, “The New New Narcissism”