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Why is there so much noise around Narcissism?

Updated: Jan 11

In the last few months I have counted no less than 40 articles in my email with the topic of narcissism. With titles such as “living with narcissists”, “how to deal with a narcissist”, “10 tips to spotting a narcissist”, “I dated a covert narcissist” and the like, the term is thrown around a lot.

Why are we getting so much about narcissism now?


In this article we are going to give you the scoop on narcissism and why it is one of the most talked about trends in mental health right now.




What is narcissism?

Narcissism is a word borrowed from a Greek myth, in which a young man named Narcissus was obsessed with his outward appearance. Instead of accepting an approach by the nymph Echo, he fell in love with his own image that was reflected from a pond’s surface.


Narcissus painting by Carvaggio, depicting Narcissus gazing upon the water after falling in love with his own reflection.


In the simplest sense narcissism is entitled self importance.


The word narcissism is thrown around a lot lately and it is important to note narcissism is a personality descriptor, as we are all somewhere on this scale depicting various levels of narcissistic behavior, as well as an actual clinical condition.


People with high levels of narcissism think they are special people who deserve special treatment. They have an exaggerated and inflated sense of their own importance. Modern research shows that narcissism is a good predictor of violent behavior. People high in narcissism, when they don't get the special treatment they think they are entitled to receive, tend to lash out against others, sometimes even innocent bystanders, in an aggressive manner (Kjærvik, S. L., 2021).


Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), one of several types of personality disorders, is a clinical condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. In America this is categorized under the DSM-5 and in Europe and the rest of the world with the ICD-11. Within the ICD individuals with a Narcissistic PD may be characterized by features ranging from mild to severe (WHO, 2022). Their self view can vacillate between being overly positive and omnipotent, to largely negative and devastating (Bach, 2022).


A NPD causes problems in many areas of life, notably relationships, work, school and financial affairs. People with NPD may be generally unhappy and disappointed when they’re not given the special favors or attention they believe they deserve. They may find their relationship unfulfilling and others may not enjoy being around them.


Depending on either grandiose or vulnerable narcissistic traits, individuals may have a difficulty recovering from damage to their fragile and vulnerable self image. They may exhibit poor emotional regulation, compromise the quality of their relationships by ignoring other’s opinions and their remaining relationships are often characterized by one sided conflicts, where they may appear as a strong dominant personality. As Kjærvik and Bushman explain “Individuals high in grandiose narcissism tend to have high levels of self-esteem… self-assuredness, imposingness, attention seeking, entitlement, exhibitionism, self-indulgence, and disrespect for the needs of others.” However, behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.


The other, often overlooked, dimension is vulnerable narcissism, which is marked by low self-esteem and is “characterized by hypersensitivity to evaluations from others, defensiveness, bitterness, anxiousness, self-indulgence, conceitedness, arrogance, and an insistence on having one’s own way,” explain Kjærvik and Bushman.


Are we nurturing narcissism?

Are modern capitalistic cultures nurturing narcissism? In short answer yes, sociocultural changes are frequently central mechanisms contributing to narcissism and data provides empirical evidence that sociocultural factors are associated with differences in narcissism and self esteem (Twenge, 2009). For example narcissism scores are higher in individualistic cultures compared with more collectivist cultures (Vater, 2018). This means that when compared in different world regions, narcissism is more prevalent in Western cultures, USA and to a lesser extent Europe, than in Asian cultures (Foster, Campbell, & Twenge, 2003; Miller et al., 2015).


Social media and narcissism

Social media is the perfect medium for loud voices that are breaking through more than ever. The fact that social media offers everyone a platform to put themselves in the limelight, whereas in the past hardly anyone could present themselves worldwide, this is grandiose exaggeration for the human being. While social media doesn’t make you narcissistic, it awakens the narcissistic parts in you.


Be honest with yourself… have you uploaded pictures without any filters or retouching, or taken a vacation without publicly announcing it on social media? When was the last time you did something not for the “humble flex”?


Then ask yourself, how many videos or posts have you seen of someone talking directly to you, flexing in the mirror, or coyishly staring off into the distance today (…all natural and not posed of course)?


Grandiose and vulnerable narcissism can look the same on the surface but the drivers of behavior come from very different places. It’s the difference between posting a selfie because you feel like you look incredible and everyone needs to see your face (which would be grandiose) and posting a selfie because you are feeling down and are looking for some external validation (which would be vulnerable). The behavior is the same: posting a selfie; but the reasons behind the behavior are almost opposites. No individual act will normally make you score high on the narcissism scale, but the more behaviors like this that you engage in, the more likely you are to be classified as such.


Narcissism is a learned behavior

When we look at social media, all the tools used on a social networking site feed the need for validation and approval. Here, social media creates a cycle, where already existing narcissistic tendencies receive the daily dose of validation by uploading pictures, reels and videos (Gnambs, 2018). Not to mention, that through the dopamine influx we receive in the form of likes, we have also now created a biological reward system reinforcing our narcissistic behaviors.


Dopamine influx- what?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that makes us feel good. Every time a response to a stimulus results in a reward, in this sense a release of dopamine following social approval on social media, these associations become stronger through a process called long-term potentiation. This process strengthens frequently used connections between brain cells called neurons by increasing the intensity at which they respond to particular stimuli (Martinez, 1996). Every notification, whether it’s a text message, a “like” on Instagram, or a TikTok notification, has the potential to be a positive social stimulus and dopamine influx. We are feeding the biological system and rewarding our own narcissistic tendencies.




SEELEDU: Neurotransmitters explained

Other forms of media can also influence how much of a narcissist we are! Research demonstrates that people exposed to narcissistic reality TV presented higher levels of narcissism shortly afterwards (Gibson, 2016). This suggests that not only is the narcissistic content that you are liking from others releasing a dopamine hit in that user, you are encouraging your own narcissistic tendencies by consuming that media.

We are what we repeatedly do!


It comes as NO surprise that platforms created for sharing your content and connecting with people put the focus then on you. But this phenomenon goes way beyond people taking too many selfies and treating each life event and situation as a major self-promotion opportunity. The need for validation has become so ingrained on these platforms, that it has created an entire exchange economy. You have for sure seen people putting #likeforlike or #follow4follow. You are selling yourself for insincere engagement to receive more insincere engagement and rewarding your narcissistic tendencies in the process. It is no wonder we are more connected than ever, yet feeling more disconnected than ever. As long as that ego affirming message and dopamine influx of a like pops up on the screen, we are continuing the cycle.


Narcissism- how to break the cycle

It starts by becoming aware of our behaviors and how we are spending our time.


Ask yourself- how many influencers do you follow? How are you contributing to this cycle of consuming narcissistic behavior? What exactly are you watching, consuming and validating with your attention and likes both in social media and normal media? Do you really need to like another selfie of someone flexing in the mirror? Do you really need to watch the reality show with families or housewives that we won't mention? Or is there a healthier way to consume content on these platforms?


Then ask yourself, what am I putting forth on these platforms? What are the drivers of my posting behavior? Am I contributing to the narcissistic cycle of learned behavior? What good am I putting out there with my message?


At SEELEDU we teach you how to connect with your true self, with others, and with nature through intentional action and practices. Grounded in Ecopsychology, we believe that many of the problems facing both humankind and our home planet take root in our individualistic behaviors and our lack of ability to connect. The rise of social media consumption and narcissistic behavior, demonstrate the demands and complexities of these extrinsic reward systems and the need to return to our source. Want to learn more, heal yourself and deepen your connection with yourself and our planet? Join our Ego to Eco workshop and dive deeply into yourself, develop your self healing tools and nurture you relationship with nature as you shift your perspective to becoming part of a larger context.


What can SEELEDU do for you?


SEELEDU explores the journey of being human and nurtures nature connections for health and well-being.



References

Bach, B., Kramer, U, Doering, S. Et al. (2022). The ICD-11 classification of personality disorders: a European perspective on challenges and opportunities. Borderline Personality Disorder and Emotion Dysregulation. 9:12. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40479-022-00182-0


Foster, J. D., Campbell, W. K., & Twenge, J. M. (2003). Individual differences in narcissism: Inflated self-views across the lifespan and around the world. Journal of Research in Personality, 37, 469-486. doi:10.1016/S0092-6566(03)00026-6


Gibson, B, & Hawkins, I. (2016). Narcissism on the Jersey Shore: exposure to Narcissistic reality TV characters can increase narcissism levels in viewers. Psychology of Popular Media Culture. 7(4). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/309891758_Narcissism_on_the_Jersey_Shore_Exposure_to_Narcissistic_Reality_TV_Characters_Can_Increase_Narcissism_Levels_in_Viewers


Gnambs, T, & Appel, M. (2018). Narcissism and Social Networking Behavior: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of personality 86(2):200-212. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/313452923_Narcissism_and_Social_Networking_Behavior_A_Meta-Analysis


Kjærvik, S. L., & Bushman, B. J. (2021). The link between narcissism and aggression: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 147(5), 477–503. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000323


Martinez JL Jr, Derrick BE. Long-term potentiation and learning. Annu Rev Psychol. 1996;47:173-203. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.47.1.173. PMID: 8624136.


Miller, J. D., Maples, J. L., Buffardi, L., Cai, H., Gentile, B., Kisbu-Sakarya, Y., ... & Campbell, W. K. (2015). Narcissism and United States’ culture: The view from home and around the world. Journal of Personaltiy and Social Psychology, 109, 1068-1089.


Twenge, J.M., Campbell, W.K. (2009). The narcissistic epidemic: living in the age of entitlement. New York, NY, US: Free Press.


Vater, A., Moritz, S., & Roepke, S. (2018). Does a narcissism epidemic exist in modern western societies? Comparing narcissism and self-esteem in East and West Germany. PloS one, 13(1), e0188287. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0188287


WHO. (2022). ICD-11 Clinical Descriptions and Diagnostic Guidelines for Mental and Behavioral Disorders. Geneva: World Health Organization.

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