“It’s all about Me”- 18 November 2018

She was obsessed with her looks and posted endlessly on Facebook her selfies in different poses and dresses. It was amazing that she could be so desperate for people to ‘see’ her and many times the poses were quite provocative. And she would painstakingly respond and thank each and every person who ‘liked’ her photos! She was clearly full of herself and her physical beauty and thought very highly of herself.

The study published in ‘The Open Psychology Journal’ has confirmed that ‘posting too many selfies on social media may make you more narcissistic!’ The mental health community was already amused and concerned with the growing craze for selfies and people posing and posting trivia on social media and here comes the endorsement at the right time. Narcissism besides some other traits is certainly on the rise- it is a reflection of the times that we live in. Technology is instrumental in fuelling the behavioural changes. Changing beliefs and changing cultural values lead to the development of personality traits that signify the modern times. The complaints and whines of the senior generation are not baseless but quite accurate when they observe that the younger generation shows tendencies of being overly self-centred and selfish too.

Mr X was a social charmer and women fell for him easily. Men were equally impressed with him for he was a glib talker and told unbelievable stories which inspired awe in the listener. He could cook up imaginative anecdotes instantly on the spot if the situation demanded and never failed to stir people up. He admired those who believed him, admired him and became his ‘fan’. However in personal life he was a loner with no true friends and perhaps he had no need for them too for he considered no one his equal. In his mind and presentations he was ‘the best’ and always ahead of others. No one could match him and catch him so to say. In his arguments ‘winning’ was important and he would never concede to anyone’s perspective for he was always ‘the best’. He was full of himself and his exploits. If someone dared to contradict him and his arguments he would fly into a rage and come down heavily on the other thus proving his point and silencing the other. He actually cared for no one and loved no one beyond himself. He was a classical narcissist.

Narcissism is a personality trait that has been identified by the mental health professionals in 1968 that took off from the concept of ‘megalomania’, which leads to a personality disorder when it increases in degree. It is a concept popularised by the founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud in 1914 in his famous essay named ‘On Narcissism’ which originates from a Greek mythological character by the name of Narcissus who spent hours looking and admiring his own image in the pool of water obviously in love with himself! It’s a very interesting trait found in a small percentage (1%) of people and makes for interesting psychological observations. Such people are good for themselves and for general society but are troublesome for people close to them, their family and friends and especially the spouse!

The above mentioned study looked into the personality changes of 74 individuals aged 18 to 34 years of age over a four month period. The results showed that ‘those who used social media excessively through visual postings, displayed an average 25 percent increase in narcissistic traits over four months. This took them above the clinical cut off for the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The one’s who did verbal postings did not show this effect! The average usage was about three hours a day but some reported using it as much for eight hours a day for non-work related purposes!’

We need more such studies on the growth of the traits of narcissism to know what the different variables that are impacting it, besides visual postings on the social media. In psychology it is one of the three dark triadic personality traits besides psycho-pathy and Machiavellianism. We need to differentiate it with primary self love which is healthy and desirable from excessive pre-occupation with oneself. There is a distortion of self image and displays superiority and arrogance. They can be exploitative and feel entitled to rewards and admiration from others.

Today it prevails in a small percentage of the population but seems to be growing into an affliction in larger proportions. We see evidence of it in many children as well as adults in their behaviour and attitudes. As people become more self centred and self absorbed it has chances to lead to narcissism as it becomes part of the personality. We need to check the culture of ‘instant fame’ that is being promoted by the social media, TV reality shows and by the newspapers too. Some critics fear that narcissism instead of being the pathological state of a few people should not become a cultural feature of an entire generation!

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