Think back to what we know of culture in the western world over the last 100 years or so and from the turn of the 20th century to the advent of the 1960’s, it would be quite correct to judge that people were on the whole, more stoical in their outlook than they are now.
Stoicism was an ancient Greek school of philosophy based on the idea that harmony in society could better be achieved through general behaviour which was immune to changes in external circumstances such as luck, pleasure, pain and indulgence. In the modern age, it became associated more with everyday living that involved a degree of self-sacrifice and quiet endurance. In literature, the Bronte heroines and Elinore in Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” are models of stoic patience. In real life, the men and women who saw their young sons sacrificed to war, or the pit are further examples of this trait which has almost passed from experience into legend.
Nowadays, since the 1960’s when the buttoned-up became unbuttoned on all fronts and the rise and rise of social media in the noughties, society is very different. We emote frequently and often. Another change in the Western world is the move away from collective cultures where there was a sense of shared community and responsibility (as typified by high church attendance) to an individualistic and some would say hedonistic culture. Now the self is more important, the “I” more than the “we” and nowhere is this more obvious than the all-pervasive Facebook and twitter where we share our best pics for admiration and tweet our food p**n for all to see.
But what has this to do with Narcissism you may well ask? Well, we know that mental ill health is on the rise generally and some attribute this trend to the diminishing networks of social support that exist in a culture based on individualism and competition rather than co-operation. If this is combined with a society fixated on fame, beauty, celebrity the focus on me has moved away from ideas of meritocracy, hard work, gradual self-improvement and mastery then we have a perfect “narcissism storm”.
Facebook and Narcissism
Facebook indeed appears to have a lot to answer for in this mix. Our generation rely on instant fixes and fame for 15 minutes or even less than that when one considers the selfie culture – famous for five seconds! Indeed, there is a growing body of scientific research which has found correlations between Facebook addiction and narcissism (for example Malik and Khan, 2015). Care must always be taken when using correlational data though. As scientific method 101 re-enforces “Correlation is a measure of association, not causation” This could mean that Facebook addiction can trigger Narcissism, but what is more likely, is that people who are addicted to Facebook are more likely to be predisposed to narcissistic tendencies and Facebook merely feeds them.
Now whilst anyone over the age of about 45 may find this culture of parading one’s innermost feelings on social media distasteful, is it really so much worse than the opposite extreme which was lived by our grandparents’ generation ? Freud after all, as much to say about repression as he did about imbalances in the psyche. My guess is that extremes of any kind are bad. So how in this age of extreme ego-centeredness do we become a little more Elinore Dashwood and a lot less like Paris Hilton or Darcy ? Here are some light-hearted tips for combatting the narcissism epidemic:
1. Reality Check
Get a reality check You really do know all you need to know about the production of the perfect selfie, what a person must do and how the photo is edited. It’s a bit like celebrity singers, dependent on a lot of technical support and auto tune! Plus it is a million miles away from “natural good looks”. Bear this in mind the next time you see your friend sporting a six pack or your bronzed girlfriend with luscious locks.
Fame is fickle and definitely doesn’t keep you warm at night. If you need unconditional love and lots of positive feedback don’t rely on so called Facebook “friends” get a dog! He will love you for ever, believe me, if you feed him and exercise him regularly and don’t bath him too often, he will give you love and attention in abundance and if he could talk he would say “You ARE the centre of my world, always!”
3. Put The Phone Away…
Consciously uncouple from your devices at least for a few hours a week. Mindfulness contains elements of meditation, yoga and plain old common sense. Exercise done for its own sake, healthy eating and time with friends or alone in wild spaces are good for you as is visiting places where you can see something breath-taking such as the sea, a sunset the stars can help you focus on what is important:
Whenever life gets you down, Mrs. Brown,
And things seem hard or tough,
And people are stupid, obnoxious or daft,
And you feel that you’ve had quite enough,
Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving And revolving at 900 miles an hour. It’s orbiting at 19 miles a second, so it’s reckoned, The sun that is the source of all our power. Now the sun, and you and me, and all the stars that we can see, Are moving at a million miles a day, In the outer spiral arm, at 40,000 miles an hour, Of a galaxy we call the Milky Way.
The Galaxy Song
© Monty Python
And if that doesn’t get the ego in proportion ten there is no hope. Be happy. Be healthy and keep your Narcissism to a level of healthy self-concern. Good luck.
- Malik, S & Khan M (2015) The Impact of Facebook Addiction on Narcissistic Behaviour & Self-esteem Among Students. JPMA Vol 65 No 3 261-263