Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Social Networking and Narcissism.

According to Wikipedia.org:
Narcissism is a term with a wide range of meanings, depending on whether it is used to describe a central concept of psychoanalytic theory, a mental illness, a social or cultural problem, or simply a personality trait. Except in the sense of primary narcissism or healthy self-love, "narcissism" usually is used to describe some kind of problem in a person or group's relationships with self and others. In everyday speech, "narcissism" often means egoism, vanity, conceit, or simple selfishness. Applied to a social group, it is sometimes used to denote elitism or an indifference to the plight of others. In psychology, the term is used to describe both normal self-love and unhealthy self-absorption due to a disturbance in the sense of self.
While not every person on Facebook is a narcissist per se, (a)social networking as a whole is a breeding ground that fosters narcissism and it is the kind of environment where narcissism thrives. 

Some of the common traits and signs of narcissism are:
  • An obvious self-focus in interpersonal exchanges
  • Problems in sustaining satisfying relationships
  • A lack of psychological awareness (see insight in psychology and psychiatry, egosyntonic)
  • Difficulty with empathy
  • Problems distinguishing the self from others (see narcissism and boundaries)
  • Hypersensitivity to any insults or imagined insults (see criticism and narcissists, narcissistic rage and narcissistic injury)
  • Vulnerability to shame rather than guilt
  • Haughty body language
  • Flattery towards people who admire and affirm them (narcissistic supply)
  • Detesting those who do not admire them (narcissistic abuse)
  • Using other people without considering the cost of doing so
  • Pretending to be more important than they really are
  • Bragging (subtly but persistently) and exaggerating their achievements
  • Claiming to be an "expert" at many things
  • Inability to view the world from the perspective of other people
  • Denial of remorse and gratitude
[Hotchkiss, Sandy & Masterson, James F. Why Is It Always About You?: The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism (2003)]
Reading through this list it is easy to see many of these traits on (a)social networking sites.  One thing about (a)social networking, unlike the 'real world', is that something that someone says does not have immediate repercussions.  I am sure that most people have said something online that they later came to regret.  At first we tend to feel invincible.  We can say anything we want and, at a distance, we can get away with it.  

Looking at the list above, it is obvious that many of the traits of narcissism are everywhere on sites such as Facebook.  One example is an obvious self-focus in interpersonal exchanges.  Sites like Facebook make it easy to only focus on yourself through expression.  In fact, at times it may feel impossible to not focus on yourself.  People tend to focus on themselves in every area of life, but unlike a real friendship, an (a)social networking friendship centers around the self.  The user is encouraged to share everything about their own life to the world or risk being buried in other people's posts.  Many of these posts seem mundane.  As a result, a person is compelled to share what they ate for breakfast, how much they walked on a given day, where they parked their car, what they are doing next week, post pictures of the dinner they ordered at Denny's, etc. 

Sustaining satisfying relationships is also a huge problem with (a)social networking.  This is most apparent if you leave the site.  Many of the relationships you thought you had will vanish.  This is true, as I have found, even with certain family members.  You may think that you have a great relationship with someone, but if you deactivate your account, you may never hear from them again. Even if you make a conscious and calculated effort to become friends with them, they may figure that you should go back to Facebook if you want to be their friend, and if you don't, then a real friendship cannot be had.  This type of thinking makes it almost impossible to sustain a satisfying relationship with someone.  A real relationship can not be exclusively had via (a)social networking, yet many individuals believe that one must be a friend on Facebook if they are to be friends.  The idea of what a real friendship is lost to many who actually live on sites like Facebook.  If you are not on Facebook, you do not exist in their world. 

Another example from the list above is narcissistic supply, or flattery towards people who admire and affirm them.  On Facebook, many people have 'circles of friends', with certain people being in the inner circle.  Everyone has friends who they are closer with than others.  However, usually that information is not put on display.  Imagine if I was to say to some of my friends every time I saw them, "you are a good friend, but we are not as close as I am with Crystal and John."  On Facebook, that information is often put on display for the entire world.  On Facebook, if one posts comments on another person's wall, chances are, they will get a comment back on their wall.  Some people feel the need to have comments posted on their wall, and will go on a fishing expedition.  Commenting on enough friends may get you a few bites, and in the end you might even reel in a nice comment on your own wall about how wonderful of a person you are.  This feeling is addictive, and you may find yourself constantly searching for this feeling.

Bragging (subtly but persistently) and exaggerating ones achievements is a huge mark of narcissism that is seen on Facebook.  In fact, such bragging is often anything but subtle.  The wall feature makes it easy to brag about every little part of one's life, no matter how ordinary.  Examples include where someone ate, what kind of purse someone bought, where someone went on a date to, who it was with, how much they love their new job, how wonderful their grades were, etc.  As a student, I have seen classmates post their grades on their Facebook wall many times.  I always found this to be somewhat tacky, as I tend to not share my own grades with others, no matter how good I did.  I have had friends who would bombard the world with pictures of their eBay clothes purchases, pictures of college loan money after the checks were cashed, and pictures of body parts that they had been endowed with.  In real life many people would not go this far.  If they did, many would wonder if there was something mentally wrong with these individuals.  However, such behavior on (a)social networking sites is not only the norm, it's expected.

Just as people brag incessantly on Facebook, many will exaggerate their achievements.  Educational attainment is one that I see very often.  Many people will stop at nothing to make you think that they are smarter than they really are.  Yet, how smart are you if you have to brag on an (a)social networking site?  It is easy to lie or at least stretch the truth.  Who is going to catch you?  Chances are, many of the people on your Facebook friends list are people who you do not live anywhere near.  Classmates from high school have not seen you since graduation day.  Others you may barely even know.  Although you may have taken a summer class at Berkeley Extension, you might as well just state that you attended U.C. Berkeley.  Who is going to know, and technically it's true, and the result: people will perceive you as smarter for it.  You might even put that you graduated from U.C. Berkeley.  That's even more impressive.  Although not everyone on (a)social networking lies, when it is easy to stretch the truth, many people will when it becomes part of the game.

Facebook and (a)social networking also fosters an inability to view the world from the perspective of other people.  One would think that being surrounded by many people on your friends list would make it easy to see the world through the eyes of others.  However, this is not the case.  Paradoxically, users become so self-absorbed with their own lives that they barely understand others.  Instead of fostering real friendships, they find themselves barricaded in their homes or behind their cell phones living life vicariously.  When one steps outside, chances are the urge to grab the phone and check one's profile or Twitter feed is so intense that it cannot be ignored.  This kind of immediate gratification and satisfaction of primal urges does nothing to allow a person to understand others.  Instead, one finds themselves ignoring family, friends, and other people while advertising what an amazing person they are or trying to keep up with a sibling or "friend".  If that is not narcissism, I don't know what is. 

In conclusion, the facts point out that Facebook is the kind of dank breeding ground that attracts and fosters narcissism in many shapes and forms.  I have only touched the surface in this post.  If you still doubt that Facebook is a narcissists dreamworld, then I implore you to take another look at the site, question what you see, and apply it to the list above.  Chances are you will see that many of these traits are embraced by many of the users.  This does not make them bad people.  To the contrary, they are using the site as intended.  Feeling good about yourself is addictive, and many people feel good about themselves when they express their achievements to the world.  The problem is, (a)social networking sucks the user in, makes them dependent on these 'good feelings' and, in the end, cripples real friendships.  Would any 'real world' friendship thrive if the relationship was one sided, if each individual only talked about themselves?  Probably not.  However, such relationships easily exist on Facebook, as the more people you have on your friends list makes it so more people can see what an amazing life you are living behind that screen. 


  1. So true on facebook, it's just narcissistic people coming out pretending to be friends when al it is to stalk, compete and not actually socialise :( thats why I will be off it in september :)

  2. The narcissism is not just limited to online activity. A chronic facebook user will talk to you in REAL life like they are consistently updating a news feed, as if I effing care. I did not ask, we are not exchanging, you are treating me like a website. It's borderline psychotic and delusional. I caught a glimpse of this judge Judy episode a few weeks ago where she says to this woman "Stop talking to me like you're texting and talk like a normal human being". Right on.

  3. It's even sadder when they have to cite Facebook activity as evidence of their social prowess. You're funny? Ok, I'm standing right here, prove it. Oh, you have 1,000 "friends"? They would all pick you up from the hospital or when your car breaks down I guess, right?
    I thought I was the only one who noticed "fishing expeditions."

  4. You mention that feeling good about yourself is addictive. That is exactly what the people at Facebook want. Facebook is a business, just like any other. They need as many people on there as much as possible to make it attractive to advertisers. That's how they make their money. If people realized all these things that you point out about Facebook and how they were being manipulated, they would leave. The problem is, the manipulation feels good to them. How do you stop that?

  5. A few years ago when I used facebook, I was REALLY attention seeking on it. Looking back, I realize all of this in the post, and it's rather embarrassing and probably out there in the cyber world somewhere still! I'm glad I realized this sooner than later and got myself off the site. I felt like I had to compete, to be more witty, controversial etc than everyone else. Big mistake on my part!

  6. Can you site the sources of information that you used to produce these "facts" that you mention throughout the blog post? What are your qualifications? Please... I mean this in the cincerest of ways. I like what you have to say, and I couldn't agree more. I am giving a presentation on the destruction of human social interaction brought forth by social media next Thursday, and I am looking for good sources.

    1. Some sources I found on narcissism that relate to this blog post are:

      1. Hotchkiss, Sandy & Masterson, James F. Why Is It Always About You?: The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism (2003)
      2. Masterson, James F. The Emerging Self: A Developmental Self & Object Relations Approach to the Treatment of the Closet Narcissistic Disorder of the Self, 1993

      Also, some books that have to do with Narcissism:

      a. Brown, Nina W. Children of the Self-Absorbed: A Grown-up's Guide to Getting over Narcissistic Parents (2008)
      b. Brown, Nina W. The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern (1998)
      c. Golomb, Elan Trapped in the Mirror - Adult Children of Narcissists in their Struggle for Self (1995)
      d. Hotchkiss, Sandy & Masterson, James F. Why Is It Always About You? : The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism (2003)
      e. Lavender NJ & Cavaiola AA The One-Way Relationship Workbook: Step-By-Step Help for Coping with Narcissists, Egotistical Lovers, Toxic Coworkers & Others Who Are Incredibly Self-Absorbed (2011)
      f. Lowen, Alexander Narcissism: Denial of the True Self (1984)
      g. McFarlin, Dean Where Egos Dare: The Untold Truth About Narcissistic Leaders - And How to Survive Them (2002)
      h. Morrison, Andrew P. Essential Papers on Narcissism (Essential Papers in Psychoanalysis) (1986)
      i. Morrison, Andrew P. Shame: The Underside of Narcissism (1997)
      j. Payson, Eleanor The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way Relationship in Work, Love, and Family (2002)
      k. Ronningstam, Elsa F. Identifying and Understanding the Narcissistic Personality (2005)
      l. Thomas David Narcissism: Behind the Mask (2010)
      m. Twenge, Jean M. & Campbell, W. Keith The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (2009)
      n. Vaknin, Sam & Rangelovska, Lidija Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited (1999)

  7. It's happening. Conversations are dead and gone. In real life people go on and on about themselves, as if they're making a report. They seem to think thier opinions are very important. On facebook I saw posts that insulted me. It's an angry place.

  8. This is such a good blog to read as are all the other face book detox blogs, I find it helping me stay off FB I just deleted mine,am waiting for the 14 days of FB control to be over! Yes I said face book control! That's what they are trying to do that's why they make you wait 14 days! They say its because they are giving you a cooling off period but to cool off it does not take 14 days!! I'm not letting them control or manipulate me any longer!! As I dont trust a site that does this to people!!

  9. Lately I've looked back on my timeline and realized that where once I enjoyed interactions with "friends" made has now turned to indifference. We seemed fine sharing and liking each other's posts, but then I ventured out into public news pages, perhaps out of boredone and boldly started commenting on social subjects and although my friends had similar open viewpoints on life and takes on matters, I'm pretty sure that move was the beginning of my downfall. I find myself resenting FB and my collection of strangers. Wether you play it safe and stick to cute animal pictures or boldly show you're depth on matters after a while it becomes clear - you're waisting time in a illusion. These people really aren't your friends, they never were.

  10. To go beyond the narcissism that is on display on FB, haven't we all seen the consequences of social media when we go out in public? Some people can't fully embrace a moment without taking out their phone to snap a photo to upload later to the internet. People are losing touch with the idea of mindfulness and how to enjoy simple pleasures. I have tried to have conversations with friends who were too distracted by taking photos to put on Facebook. I observe strangers doing the same. They don't know how to relax, be present, and enjoy the moment just for the sake of enjoying it. Maybe some people take photos as a hobby or profession or to capture a special moment, and that seems perfectly normal/healthy. What's not normal is if you can't enjoy an experience without thinking, "Oh, I should take a picture of this to share on Facebook or Instagram." Thankfully, I know people who are still capable of offering their full presence and look people in the eye during conversations because they are not a slave to social media addiction.

    1. Such a profound and sad observation. Facebook has turned so many people into addicts seeking constant ego stroking. The photo uploading of a moment in time that should be enjoyed "in the moment" is so transparent - a plea for attention, "validate me", a search for an ego boost. Why do people do it??? Yet just like with any addiction, one fix is not enough. A Facebook addict needs continual and perpetual validation. How on earth did these people get through life before? Facebook certainly shows us how weak and fragile so many people are, that we would not have been able to glean so readily if we just knew them in "real" life. Facebook really shows the dark and sad side of so many people. Were their egos weak and fragile to begin with or did Facebook just prey on their vulnerabilities? Why are some people susceptible and others are not?

      I agree with you and am grateful there are many who refuse to participate in this collective madness.

  11. Facebook does encourage others to be narcissistic and for you to act that way even if you normally don't consider yourself narcissistic. When my Facebook-loving friends take group pictures of me with them, I’d have this automated behavior of wanting to be included in the photos. The few times I do go out with them, they often whip out their phones and show everyone photos of themselves. When I'm alone, I don't take that many selfies of myself, partly because selfies tend to waste a lot of time. Far easier to ask someone to take my photo for me (not to mention that at least I interact with strangers on a genuine level).