Narcissism in a “me” culture

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Freshman James Brodak scrolls through his Instagram feed in between classes. Photo by Samuel Curran.

In the past few years, narcissism has become the new pop psych phenomenon. It  has quickly transformed from a diagnosed personality disorder to an insult describing your moody ex-boyfriend or needy mom.

With the advancement of social networking and rise of consumerism, western culture has condoned and even encouraged aspects of narcissism. If the age of narcissism is indeed upon us, maybe we should ask ourselves how it will  affect the future of society.

Narcissism derives from the “Legend of Narcissus,” a story of a beautiful Greek hunter who falls in love with his reflection in a pond and stares at it until he eve dies. Sigmund Freud popularised narcissism through his work on the ego, which many others have continued to develop through time.

Simply put, a narcissist is someone who is unable to regulate their self esteem, who frequently demonstrates traits such as grandiosity, lack of empathy, and entitlement. They are unable to participate in mutual reciprocal relationships and have an “it’s all about me” mentality.

Narcissists, unlike their scarier cousins known as psychopaths, are made, not born. Their behavior typically grows in their early environment due to being overly or under indulged, such as being spoiled or completely ignored. So, how did this disorder work its way into our culture?

Consumerism and social media are two major arenas in which narcissism has embedded itself. Nowadays, we try to seek happiness through buying material goods, undergoing body alterations, wallowing in drugs and alcohol, or putting our faith in things outside ourselves.

Most people use possessions to obtain the admiration of others or achieve status, which is linked to validation. Narcissists have a strong desire to achieve and display status and need excessive validation and consequently, tend to have high levels of materialism.

All in all, accumulating material goods to receive the accompanying admiration from others is how narcissists build their self-worth, and has become a method that many people have adopted. It’s particularly evident in the ads we see on TV and billboards, which often claim that a product can make you more beautiful or popular. Companies are benefiting from individuals’ insecurities, and essentially encouraging narcissistic behavior.

Social media has also provided an environment for narcissism to flourish. Likes, comments and follower count supply instant gratification to users. Facebook and Instagram pages project idealized versions of ourselves and create a tendency that spills over into self-obsession. Smartphones have become our own little insular worlds, encouraging us to be intolerant of others and sometimes less empathetic. Certainly, social media does not morph a normal person into a narcissist, but rather encourages narcissistic behavior.

What then does this mean for the future? Will the next generation be raised in an environment where they’re rewarded for being grandiose, ruthless and unemotional? Or will society reject the concept of materialistic fulfillment, ease off their social media pages, and return to traditional living?

Hopefully, the current cultural trends are just a fad, and in the next decade, narcissism will go back to being an unfortunate disorder. Only time can tell what will become of societal narcissism, but for now let us all strive to be considerate of others and less self-absorbed.  

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