“Facebook and narcissism go together like coffee and biscotti.” By observation, we can see that this is pretty much true of most social media platforms, and studies on the subject from numerous sources support those observations—over the last few decades, we’ve become even more narcissistic than ever.
- A study in 2010 compared traits and life goals of people in high school and college today versus those of Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers during their time in school. The results revealed a sharp increase in extrinsic values as opposed to intrinsic ones. In other words, it’s more likely for Millennials to value money, image and fame over community, affiliation and self-acceptance.
- Studies have also found that narcissistic people tend to have a large collection of Facebook friends, tag themselves in photos and frequently update their status. They also scored higher on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory questionnaire.
Can We Really Blame Social Media?
From my perspective, NO, we cannot. By choosing to allocate blame in this way, we obviate emotional intelligence and personal responsibility, the idea that human beings choose, instigate, or otherwise cause their own actions. While it appears to be true that social media websites encourage self-promotion, it’s important to realize that Narcissism usually stems from low self-esteem. Social media doesn’t create what I refer to as “Narcs”—it merely expands their reach.
Many studies over the past few decades have proven that when parents compliment children for skills they’ve yet to master, or talents that they don’t actually have, these children wind up more insecure. It appears that parents confuse building self-esteem with creating a monster—the deadly “Narc”.
Self-esteem differs from narcissism in that it represents an attitude built on accomplishments we’ve mastered, values we’ve adhered to, and care we’ve shown toward others. Narcissism, conversely, is often based on a fear of failure or weakness, a focus on one’s self, an unhealthy drive to be seen as the best, and a deep-seated insecurity and underlying feeling of inadequacy.
What Exactly Is a Narcissist?
It goes back to Greek Mythology. Narcissus was handsome, self-involved and arrogant; he just LOVED his own image. He spent nearly all of his time gazing at his reflection in a pool of water. Finally, the Gods grew angry and turned him into a statue. However, realizing that they might have taken their rage a tad too far, they took pity on him and turned him into a flower—namely, the Narcissus.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, the narcissistic personality is a disorder made up of these nine traits:
- A grandiose sense of self-importance (exaggerates achievements and talents)
- Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love.
- Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
- Requires excessive admiration.
- Has a sense of entitlement (unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations).
- Is interpersonally exploitative (takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends).
- Lacks empathy (unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others).
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
- Shows arrogance, haughty behaviors or attitudes.
Not What You Do, But How You Do It
You can’t ignore the fact that study after study points to one thing—used unwisely and without mindfulness, social media can and often does increase Narcissistic traits in all of us.
But it’s also true that different people use social media in different ways: Some use it as a tool for professional reasons, some to stay in touch with friends and family, and others to promote causes they care about.
If, like me, you use social media for multiple reasons, you’ve probably come across the dreaded “Narc.” It’s a challenge to identify and to stay clear of them. Many can be disarmingly charming, but a quick dive beneath the surface and wham—a full blown “Narc” has entered your social media world.
And as it happens in real life, they can cause serious havoc if you let them get too close.
How to Spot a Narc
Narcissists tend to use social media in order to drink in the love. They’re also very adept at manipulating others. Most of us try to avoid them, and those of us who are mindful also try not to emulate them.
As we broaden our connections, they become more difficult to avoid. The following is by no means a complete list, but these are some behaviors to watch for a means to “red flag” the “Narcs”. In no particular order:
- Posts regularly, but rarely comments on others’ comments or posts;
- Likes or comments mostly or solely in response to comments that directly involve themselves;
- Posts a great many posed selfies, usually to show off their best (and often most seductive) features;
- Their posts or comments are mostly grandiose and self-promoting, only showing interest in others when it suits their own needs;
- If people aren’t paying enough attention to them, they will point this out—often very blatantly—but will only respond to comments that feed their ego;
- Uses what appear to be self-effacing comments (like putting down their personal tastes or achievements), allegedly in an effort to share their experiences for the benefit of others. In reality, they’re usually seeking compliments to reassure their fragile ego.
If you notice people have a tendency to do some or most of these things, you might like to keep your distance. Not to be cruel or even to stand in judgment, but to keep toxic people from causing you any harm.
There’s a bit the “Narc” within all of us. What’s important is that we remain mindful and not let it get out of hand. It’s not always easy, but then again, life doesn’t appear to have been designed to be easy.
Originally Published on Thinking Out Loud