The Me, Me, Me of Social Media Might Make You End Up Alone, Alone, Alone

Social media addiction
Social media addiction

How Social Media Induced Narcissism Can Hurt Relationships

The usual band of social networking sites, like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, connect people; that was their mission, is their practice, and continues to be a step towards global connectivity and universal information sharing. But, like any good thing, there's a down side. Because of social media's inbred egotism, it is majorly changing the way we interact with others and ourselves. Social media rewards narcissistic behaviors. It exacerbates existing narcissism, makes it socially acceptable to be self-centered, and even prompts users who had not a shred of narcissistic tendencies to dabble in self-absorption. But more than altering personalities, social media's artificial narcissism could jeopardize users' real life relationships.

According to Larry Rosen, Ph. D, and his 2011 study on the rapid spreading of what he dubbed an iDisorder, "people of all generations who spent more hours a day using certain media, including being online, sending and receiving e-mail, instant messaging, texting...were more narcissistic." In fact, Dr. Rosen found that the amount of time people spent on social media was an accurate predictor for narcissism.

So what is it about social media that spurs such narcissism?

Narcissism, as defined by psychologists, demands an overpowering need for admiration; constant reaffirmation is necessary to maintain an extravagant self-perception. In social media, admiration is easy to come by and it's everywhere. How else can you express your approval of another as clearly and as simply as a Like on Facebook? If giving likes is approval, then getting likes is being approved of. And since getting likes is essential for the successful social media user, our online selves become dependent on external approval -- a dependency that defines narcissism itself.

A severe example of admiration dependency is the advent of the extreme selfie, best exemplified by the young man who climbs to the top of high-rise buildings to snap a picture of himself. The proliferation of selfies are an obvious illustration of celebrated narcissism, but moreover, like most posts on social media, as Daniel Casillas of Metro World News elaborates, "selfies can...end up falling into a form of social competition:" who can "secure a more high profile or high status role relative to others?" Focusing on the presentation of yourself to gain status, precisely what extreme selfies represent, is exactly what narcissism is.

Another notable feature of narcissism is a fondness for a large collection of acquaintances. Narcissists are "not interested in forming deep, long lasting relationships, but rather seek any relationship that may serve to enhance their status." Social media fosters a likening for this particular strand of acquaintances. More followers, be it friends or strangers, mean more likes and a higher status; those followers become the building blocks of social media success, and chiefly a source of self-esteem. In the exact same way narcissists crave a lot of impressive acquaintances, social media users desire tons of followers to inflate their online personas.

Then there's FOMO -- the fear of missing out. Social media provides a stream of everyone's happiest moments. As glossy pictures of friends' awesome lives flood your screen, it is extremely easy to become jealous. And generally, when you're perusing your news feed, you are by yourself, in your home, doing nothing. It becomes an automatic comparison, in which a friend's happiness becomes an affront to your self-esteem. Experiencing envy, and wanting other to be envious of you -- let's admit, posting often has the air of showing off -- is another symptom of a narcissistic mind.

The extreme internal focus of online social networking fabricates a new age of narcissism, that is made all the more noteworthy by its artificiality. Classical narcissism, as in that which has no beginnings in social media, usually occurs in people who were ignored or abused as a child, where narcissism begins almost as a survival instinct. According to Ph.D. Leon Seltzer, one of the most enlightening and paradoxical aspects of narcissism is that people who experience long standing self-doubt may carefully "cultivat[e] counter beliefs about being special," and thus, project the exact opposite of what they feel. Social media induced narcissism does not have the depth and pain of personal abuse, but it is similarly fueled by insecurities. What happens when you don't reach 100 likes on an Instagram photo? Do you question your post? Do you question yourself?

Using social media can be like stepping into the shoes of a narcissist, where some people just can't shake those shoes off. It fortifies the temptations of classical narcissism and introduces others to fantastical reinterpretations of their wavering self-image. This is a problem. Obsessively focusing on yourself (or how many likes your profile picture gets, or how many followers you have) can cause a loss in ability to empathize with others. And empathy is crucial to the health of any relationship. Narcissistic mental processes can actually block empathetic listening and meaningful conversation, damaging relationships with friends, family, and partners.

What I call empathy blocking, or a set of commonly used responses that prevent empathy, has a basis in egotism. For example, a narcissist may be prone to advising or fixing: something along the vein of, "You should really try doing things this way. That's how I do it." Though advice giving comes from good intentions, it really redirects the attention from the other person to you, at a time when the other person likely has a need to be heard - this is probably why they're telling you their problem in the first place. Advising can also come off as condescending, thinking you know better than others. It can even sound as though you are judging the individual and letting them know how to make better choices. Where's the empathy?

Another conversational practice of a narcissistic mind is one-upping: "You had a hard day? Mine was worse!" Again, this changes the attention to you, doesn't give others the time to express their concerns, and delegitimizes what they're going through. Social media actually exemplifies this trend, as a newsfeed can sometimes simply be a stream of one-upping. It could be a "here, let me show you how great my day is" or even a "look, my day is so much better than yours."

Narcissistic behavior can deeply injure relationships. Advising or one-upping can be experienced as criticism or blame and often create discomfort, potentially destroying relationships and hurting loved ones.

In any manner, narcissism can prevent us from having healthy relationships, but with the proliferation of social media sites and the rewarding of narcissistic behavior, we must be careful not to let online self-centeredness bleed into our reality, into our face-to-face conversations with others. Or else you and your social media will be the only relationship you have.