Down the spiral – social media and narcissism

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Billions of people are using social media everyday. Posting pictures of their meals on Instagram, vlogging about the shopping session they had or sharing very personal experiences on Facebook are common social media behaviours. Attracting followers, getting ‘likes’ and being told how interesting your content is reflects on us and often reinforces our egos. It’s no wonder that scholars came up with the term “generation me” to classify people in their 30’s and younger, the main social media users. Studies also show that there is a higher occurrence of narcissistic personality traits in younger people, and social media use correlate with the presence of such traits. The question is: do social media make someone more narcissistic or there was a narcissistic pre-condition that pushed them towards binging on social media? While there is no black and white answer, we can underpin some of the reasons why so many young people look for comfort, praise and meaning online, often ending up developing narcissistic personality traits and disorders.

1. Narcissism – from an age-thing to a social media-thing
Some narcissistic personality features are, at different points in our lives, a sign of mental health. For example, people in their late teens and early twenties go through a narcissistic stage as part of their on-going adaptation to the world. As adults, while dealing with the trauma of being left by a partner, some people might have a short narcissistic phase as well, in order to repair and rebalance their ego. However, routinely displaying signs of narcissism is a worrying signal and social media keep such signals under the radar: since everyone shows off a bit on their social profile, signs of narcissism will more easily pass as the norm.

2. High social rating and low self esteem
Thousands of friends and even more followers often feel like a personal achievement. Narcissists or not, it is natural to enjoy social approval. On social media, it seems enough to share a selfie and get instant gratification through the power of ‘likes’. Do many likes necessarily mean more happiness? Not really. If used as a substitute for real-life approval, ‘likes’ work as any substance that triggers misuse: the more you get, the more you want. From posting once in a while to needing to document your entire life online is a matter of choice or, in a narcissist’s case, a matter of time. Just remember that healthy self-esteem is built through knowing yourself better and promoting that image, not by posting a mask you want others to identify you with.

2. Lost between the persona and the real self
A narcissist does not know what is real in themselves and what is not. Megalomania and feelings of superiority are signs of a disorder, even if they might initially seem like admirable traits. They are only the polish on the mask – the persona a narcissist is identifying with. They don’t know who they are and they need the rest of the people to believe in that mask so they can keep a sense of self. Social media are the right place for them to entertain the mask they created and identified with for so long, often stopping them from starting the search for their real self.

3. From lack of empathy to lack of meaning
To many people, social media are a range of platforms where people connect and learn about others and themselves. To a narcissist, they are a stage where to talk and rarely listen; to ask for applause without ever giving any. Narcissists are avid attention seekers who look for meaning in the number of ‘likes’ they get, not in the type of friends they have and the relationships they could build with them. They lack empathy and that is obvious even on social media. They lack meaning and use social media to create a fragile sense of meaning, which can be entertained only by posting about themselves ten times a day. They’re prisoners of their own illusion and with each ‘like’ they get the further they go from realising it.

4. Finding balance and keeping it
Healthy social media use can be empowering. As long as we know that a person is more than 280 tweet characters and so much more than a glamorous selfie, we are on the safe side. A narcissist will find it difficult to keep the balance. If one’s sense of self-worth, self-esteem and happiness are massively impacted by social media response, then it is a sign that the power has shifted from the person to the machine. Balance is key and, if you feel like you’re losing it, ask yourself: ‘Is it because I need more from the people I love? Is it because I lack something in my life and I am just trying to compensate? Is it a need for being seen, approved of, important or loved? If I took a break from social media, would my sense of self be affected?’ Let these questions sink and remember that there’s nothing more empowering than knowing that you are strong enough to be yourself both in real life and on social networks.

In the end, it is about who we are and how we feel, not about what we look like to our online friends. When it’s real, happiness is the most amazing feeling – when it’s not, it’s a cheap and fragile mask. If you want to learn more about yourself and the reasons behind using social media in excess, get in touch. It can be the beginning of finding your real self and learning to enjoy life as never before. Guided by experience and motivated by helping others, the professionals from Counseling Center for Emotional Growth are here for you.


Millennials and the anxiety wheel

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With millions of people suffering of anxiety, with billions spent yearly on anxiety treatments and, despite the efforts, with only 39% of patients getting any form of treatment, America is facing one of the most serious mental health crisis in the western world. The problem does not seem to stop here, given that millennials, the generation of those born in the 80’s, seem to be affected even more by anxiety symptoms when compared to baby boomers:12% of them have a diagnosed anxiety disorder and 30% of working millennials suffer from general anxiety. Why do millennials seem to be so prone to anxiety? What can we do today to avoid a future where everyone may be, to a certain degree, effected by one of the most pernicious mental health issues? Here are our thoughts:

Why are millennials so anxious?
American Psychological Association (APA) argues that millennials face more stress and their coping mechanisms are not particularly helpful. While Baby-boomers worry about health and family issues, millennials have other reasons to stay up at night: low-income, student debt, job competition, social insecurity and the housing crisis. While some of these factors cannot be immediately erased from their lives, learning to manage anxiety around them is very important. It is also helpful if other reasons of stress were acknowledged and dealt with, amongst which:

Bad sleeping habits: we live in a world where pushing productivity to the highest limits is encouraged and even expected. This often means that millennials prefer to cut down on sleep to finish their work, binging on coffee and energy drinks. Freelancing or spending more than 8 hours a day working is not uncommon either. Because for this generation work is about results and not the amount of time spent in the office, many will continue working late in the night to get things done, seeing their loved ones less or sleeping less.

Sedentary life is on the rise, although healthy lifestyle choices seem more popular with this generation. A sedentary lifestyle usually comes with a poor diet, which translates in higher anxiety rates, on top of other health concerns.

Technology is millennials’ best friend and their silent enemy. Students spend about 9 hours a day on their phones, while working millennials in office jobs at least 8 hours staring at a screen. To many of them, relaxation time is about binging on Netflix, despite the fact that studies show that after only two hours of watching television people tend to feel more anxious.

Millennials are also the first digital generation and their presence on social media is the norm these days. While their preference for social media seems to have a positive economical impact, effects on a personal level can often be negative. First of all, there is usually a difference between what is expected of you on social media and the reality you live in. There is a pressure to display your happiest and most relaxed self online although you might feel quite the opposite in real life. Many online social connections do not mean many friends. The numbers of people with less than 3 close friends has continuously increased since 1985, with millennials being the ones to report most often “zero close friends”. On the other hand, anxious people tend to gather with other anxious people, which will inflate anxiety symptoms for everyone.

Finally, the balance between work, relationships and personal time is very sensitive and rarely achieved. Working long hours, not having enough time or emotional availability for others or themselves, millennials are riding a wheel that makes them more anxious the faster it spins.

Is there a way to stop it?
There is a silver lining indeed: millennials are valuing experiences more than things. While this can be an anxiety-provoking choice for older generations, for millennials it can open the door to a better relationship with themselves and to a more fulfilling life. This generation tends to prefer investing in themselves rather than in expensive objects and understands that a happy life is not necessarily about how much you have, but how well you can enjoy it. This is why many would go for personal development courses, enrol on creative classes or periodically try new things. They are more sensitive, but also more emotionally open than other generations, more willing to self-examine while assisted by trained professionals, and flexible enough to try to implement changes when proven that things don’t work for them.

Leading the best life you can have is possible and it is also your right. If you are one of the millennials who need to explore anxiety-related symptoms, to make sense of what is happening to you and to turn vulnerability into strength, Counseling Centre for Emotional Growth is the place for you. Our counselors and psychotherapists will provide the safe, confidential and nurturing space you need in order to find inner peace, balance and meaning. We are here to help.

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‘Tis the season of… holiday depression?

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The Holiday season is, to some, the most wonderful time of the year. It’s all about families coming together, wrapping and unwrapping presents, having mulled wine and singing holiday tunes. However, there are people who dread approaching the end of December… Many of them are secretly fighting what mental health specialists call “holiday depression”. Here’s what happens to some of us during this time of the years and how to deal with it.

Holiday depression and possible causes

Feeling sad, lacking energy, having sleeping problems and experiencing a general discomfort when thinking about holidays might be signs of depression. If you suffer from a diagnosed form of depression, you might notice that around this time of the year the symptoms can get worse. Why are some people negatively affected by holidays?

1. Loneliness – not all of us have a family to turn to or friends to spend time with. Many people face loneliness and the feelings are made even more acute around Christmas and New Year’s Eve, especially when seeing others come together and have a good time.
2. Financial stress – we are encouraged to see this month as the month of giving and receiving presents. The joy of wrapping and unwrapping presents under the Christmas tree is, to some of people, a luxury that won’t happen. Having kids and not enough money is also a reason for parents to worry and feel bad about themselves, which can trigger depression.
3. Grief – losing someone is a wound that can open around this time of the year even if the event might have happened months or years before. It is the season when we want to connect with the ones we love and their absence might hurt more than usual.
4. Social pressure – we are told, on all media, that we must enjoy ourselves during the holidays. Commercials and stores encourage us to start buying presents as early as October. It looks like there is a “duty” to be merry around this time of the year, a pressure to fit in and to join the crowd hunting for presents, eating to excess and wearing funny clothes.
5. Medical reasons – some people have been fighting depression all year long and now the symptoms just get worse. Others might not have experienced any sad feelings, but suddenly they feel down in December. In both cases, a lack of vitamin D for those living in the Northern Hemisphere, a busy schedule, too many sleepless nights and an unhealthy diet can enhance depressive symptoms.

Look for help

It is important to keep in mind that in some cases depression gets so difficult to manage that can push people to suicide. Although it is a myth that more people commit suicide at this time of the year, there are cases when it becomes impossible to cope and some people see no way out of their depression trap. If you feel suicidal or know someone who is, you should look for support immediately. A phone call to 911, a visit to any hospital’s emergency room or a chat with someone from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK and press 1) can save a life.

For milder symptoms of depression, consider improvements to your lifestyle. Give the gym a chance or jog for half an hour a day, eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, keep yourself hydrated, avoid drinking too much alcohol, get plenty of sleep, consider buying a SAD light box (very useful in winter time) and speak to others. Friends, family and neighbours can provide comfort. Even a few words can help ease symptoms for a while. If you think it’s more than a mild sadness caused by winter and the holidays, look for professional help. Your GP will provide the information needed and the best treatment options. Seeing a psychotherapist or joining a support group can have a positive effect as well. Talking to people who understand what you are going through will make the burden easier to carry. We are here if you need us – get in touch and let’s make us help.

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Old wounds and new relationships

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just-the-two-of-us-1240146-1599x908Falling in love and entering a relationship are some of the most beautiful experiences a human being can have. However, forming a couple can be a bumpy road once the waves of dopamine and serotonin begin to settle…

For some people a committed relationship is a reason to experience stability, security and long-term happiness while for others the reality is far from that. To this second category it all feels like a movie they’ve seen before – great start, bad ending! One of the reasons why many people fail to develop a healthy attachment to someone else and build a lasting relationship is the chain of personal relationships they went through, a chain that can go as far back as early childhood.

In an ideal world, every baby would have a good enough parent to offer them all the love, care and security they need. Later on, people would find partners that understand, support and love them for what they are. In an ideal world people could still make relationship mistakes, but also learn from them in order to make better choices in the future. However, we live in a world far from the ideal where some of us never find that special one. Why? Because previous relationships can shape our understanding of and behaviour in current ones. Here’s a short intro into the dynamic of past and present relationships:

Parental relationships and old wounds

We start learning about relationships as soon as we are born. The way parents/tutors/carers attend to our needs, as well as the attention and the time they pay to us are extremely important in our development as relational beings. When we are babies everything that comes (or doesn’t come) from our parental figures matters. For example, a parent who is physically or emotionally absent can foster unpleasant emotions in their child, from making them feel anxious or insecure to feeling unworthy, unloved and abandoned. Although the child might be too young to consciously label their emotional experiences, they often end up developing a pattern of relationships that will be repeated in other significant human interactions, such as in a romantic couple. Old relationships model the future ones. Hence, they may look for partners who never treat them as a priority, who make them feel worthless and unimportant. Sometimes the person can experience such feelings even if their partner is present and loving, the reason being that they developed a certain pattern based on their primal relationship with their parents. The only model of relationship they know is a faulty one and they will try to repeat it every single time, even if they know and dread the outcome.

It’s important to note that old wounds, like the ones from early childhood, can impact us for a very long time. Without the right understanding and support, they can deprive us of the opportunity to enter and experience authentic happiness in a couple relationship.

Previous couple experiences

In Western societies, most of people don’t end up marrying their first love and living happily ever after. Usually, they have more than one love relationship and learn about the romantic couple as they go. On their way they can face betrayal, absences, cheating, miscommunication and even abuse. Such events have the potential to make them more suspicious when meeting new partners and can seriously affect the interactions with them. For example, someone can feel so hurt by being cheated on that they will start suspecting all men/women to be cheaters. On top of the trust issue they developed, they might unconsciously try to punish the current partner for something the previous one did. Unresolved business comes with us into new relationships and it has the potential to make everyone unhappy.

A mix of causes

Sometimes, a mix of primal and more recent wounds can make us pursue the wrong people or end up in the wrong relationships. Let’s say someone had the experience of an abusive parent. In many cases, this might unconsciously determine them to feel attracted only to people who could easily fit the shoes of the abuser they have known since infancy. In such cases, it is no surprise that after they leave an abusive relationship they start a very similar one. There are also cases when they don’t necessary enter a relationship with an abuser, but they might unconsciously try to provoke their partners to be abusive because they learned that in a love relationship – such as parent-child – violence is an acceptable form of expression between two people who love each other.

There are many other ways in which we are affected by previous experiences and it is a long journey to understanding what a happy, healthy relationship is. The process includes unlearning and re-learning thoughts, feelings and behaviours as well as healing past wounds that stop us from being authentic and romantically happy. Therapy can help identify maladaptive relational patterns, understand their roots and their impact in one’s life, make peace with the past, move on and get ready for a healthy relationship.

If you feel like you need support with all or any of these aspects, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Love is a blessing and we believe everyone deserves to find love and be happy with the ones they love.

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A modern dilemma: your phone or your loved ones?

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happy-family-1316748The era of all-things-smart is here and life is becoming rapidly digitalized. Everything happens online, from shopping to finding jobs or the love of our life. Smartphones are more than an extension of our hands, they are becoming an extension of ourselves and we feel incomplete when we lose them or even when we run out of battery. For most of us, it’s been probably months or years since we willingly gave technology up for a whole day. Figures vary, but all of them show that we’re technology indulgent. For example, in 2014 we used to spend more time watching TV, typing, gaming or listening to a smart device than sleeping (Communication Market report by Ofcom, 2014). The numbers are even more worrying with young people as they are online for an average of 27 hours a week. In 2015, a typical American spent about eleven hours a day using a form of media (Nielsen’s Total Audience Report, 2015).

The implications

Technology makes our life more comfortable and more entertaining, but there are costs for having it all at our fingertips. Health is one such cost, as too much computer use correlates with musculoskeletal disease, vision problems, headaches, tiredness, as well as with certain mental health problems (stress, anxiety, fatigue and depression).

Another big expense is represented by our relationships. Some of us have hundreds or even thousands of social media friends but nobody to call when we’re down. We post happy pictures of our perfect life, but we cry ourselves to sleep. We feel popular, but we are, in fact, alone. Getting in touch with someone’s virtual persona does not truly connect you with them. Face to face contact is what helps, but it becomes a luxury in a busy world where everything happens online. In this context, what we miss out on really is life itself. A sunset, a smile from a dear friend, a cup of coffee at the same table, a hand shake or a hug are vital for the humanity in us. Technology is important and it makes life easier, but it shouldn’t replace it. If you suspect that your phone is stealing your life, here’s a list of things to try in order to regain control:

Be honest with yourself

People underestimate the time spent online, believing they spend half of the time they actually do, according to a study by Andrews, Ellis, Shaw & Piwek (2015). You can use technology to see how much of your time is spent in the world of web2.0 by downloading different apps that monitor your presence online, especially on the most time consuming ones, like social media platforms. This might sound funny, but it’s a first step to giving up and it’s a step taken on your current terms: the terms of a techy person.

Try to slowly decrease the time

Once you’ve decided to spend some time apart from your phone, it’s time to really go for it. It won’t be easy, especially if you are one of those people who wake up with their phone in their hand. Again, for the moment, you can try an app that blocks your access to the sites where you spend most of your time. Even if you don’t do it for a whole day, do it for at least one hour each day. It would still make a difference!

Replace the habit

Although it might not be a proper addiction in your case, it helps to replace bad habits with healthier ones. If you decided to cut down the number of hours spent online to 2 from 4, why not join the gym in those hours, chat to a friend or read a short-story? Technology gives us access to oceans of information, but it doesn’t necessarily make us smarter, and the old ways to expand our imagination and vocabulary, such as reading, still work well.

Make a bigger difference

Because relationships define us a ‘social animals’ before anything else, it is always worth nurturing and cultivating them. When you decide to spend time with your friends instead of your phone you invest in yourself, in them and in your relationship. On the other hand, you might find out that they struggle with the same problem and trying to work together on it can have a positive impact in your smaller or larger community. So, why not do something bigger and declare Sunday a ‘tech Sabbath’ day?

Do it yourself and also encourage others to leave their phones and go hiking, running, biking, sunbathing, swimming, writing poetry in the woods or just staring at the sky in the best company your body, mind and heart can have: your loved ones!

If you need support in balancing different sectors of your life, give us a call. We are happy to help you with time management, relationships, as well as with certain addictive or potentially addictive behaviours.

 

Reference:

Andrews S, Ellis DA, Shaw H, Piwek L (2015) Beyond Self-Report: Tools to Compare Estimated and Real-World Smartphone Use. PLoS ONE 10(10): e0139004. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0139004

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