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In real life, when people get into such dysfunctional behaviors, they just suffer, he said. Around 4 percent of teenage girls struggle with anorexia and bulimia. One in four teens has a sexually transmitted disease. Millions of people are trapped by alcohol and drug abuse, including prescription drug abuse.

Socially, the culture is awash with grotesque violence, nasty talk, bullying and “diva-like” behaviors. It’s as if people aren’t content to watch the drama queens and kings any more — they want to be one, too, said Dr. Pinsky and Mr. Young.

But aspiring to act like sick people isn’t good for the culture. A hallmark of narcissism is “a deficiency or incapacity for empathy,” Dr. Pinsky told me. Moreover, people with narcissistic tendencies are perpetually self-absorbed, uncaring and exploitative of others.

Dr. Pinsky and Mr. Young recommend that Americans draw back from “pseudo” relationships.

Steer away from Web sites and magazines that mindlessly feed on celebrity antics, they said. Spend less time on MySpace and Facebook. Spend more time with real people, doing real things, in real relationships.

Other steps are to seek a renewed spiritual awareness and purpose greater than “myself.” Practice honesty and simplicity. Make promises and keep them. Develop empathy for others by serving without expecting a reward.

“Real, long-lasting happiness in life doesn’t come from fame,” they write. “It comes from achievement, and from our relationships with others.”

Next Sunday: A second salvo on America’s “narcissism epidemic.”

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at