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.