Social Media and Narcissism

social media venn diagramIt’s time for some head shrinking!

Today’s Topic:

Does the use of Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other social media make us appear more narcissistic than we really are?

It’s been an interesting few weeks for me. In a jumble of health problems, sleep deprivation, writing my story about surviving lung failure, travel, sticking up for a friend and other controversial conversations (not to mention trying to wean myself off caffeine) I’ve been a little more emotional than usual. I’ve had some things I’ve vented to a friend in confidence blow up in my face, and it’s made me do a lot of critical thinking about myself.

I am pretty open about talking about my struggles with ongoing depression on my blog. I am on medication, I read books on self-improvement and I see a therapist. But after a year and a half of teetering on the edge of my sanity, I decided to get a full psychological evaluation. Yep, I’m going there.

I filled out a packet of intake forms, met with a psychologist, then filled out a Scantron form with answers to 250 yes/no questions. They psychologist asked a lot of questions about my support network, past medical and mental health incidents, body image issues, and I feel like I answered openly and honestly. A week later I got an 8 page summary of the psychologist’s impressions and recommendations for me.

Without going into too much detail, I was really surprised to read words like “inflated sense of self, ” “superficially charming,” “immature,” and “exhibitionistic and narcissistic.” I think that everyone has moments where they seem a little more prideful or immature. I know I’m guilty of it, but I think it’s more the exception, not the rule. When my friends talk about me on Twitter, they say these type of things:

kate pease comment

In my studies of Dr. Google and Dr. Wikipedia, I realized that there is a spectrum of states of narcissism. When most people think of narcissism, this common and general definition comes to mind:

Some psychoanalysts and writers make a distinction between “healthy narcissism” and “unhealthy narcissism“…the healthy narcissist being someone who has a real sense of self-esteem that can enable them to leave their imprint on the world, but who can also share in the emotional life of others. According to Freud, healthy narcisissm is natural part of the human makeup, but also a characteristic that if taken to extremes can prevent us from having meaningful relationships.


Bearing all this in mind, how do you think that social media affects narcissism? Does it allow the vain to become vainer? Is it a safe place to explore your feelings of self-esteem? Have you had experiences where you’ve made a better/worse first impression on people because of the way you’ve portrayed yourself online? Are you careful to not allow the deeper parts to show in your virtual persona? Do you think that people uninvolved with social media misunderstand the sense of support and community that websites like Twitter and Facebook provide?

  • http://novapages.com Velda

    Interesting stuff. My ex was diagnosed with something like narcissism. Given what I know of you, you’re nothing like him. But he was a totally different person at home than his charming public persona. He was also quick to point out every way I could be considered narcissistic, too. Sometimes I wonder if I am, a little bit. I know it feels good when people notice me… but surely almost everyone feels that way? I don’t know.

    I do try to be aware of how I’m feeling, though, and to pay attention to what’s motivating me to behave the way I do, but I don’t even know if that’s the healthiest way to go about things, since it almost gets in the way of simply being real.

    Out of curiosity, did the evaluation weigh social media usage into its diagnostic?

  • Anonymous

    It did not weigh social media into the diagnosis. The psychologist was in his late 50s, and used a test that was created in the 1970s. When I tried to explain how social media works, and how it connects people, he was flabbergasted. Without having this knowledge, I can see how he’d think that I had an overwhelming sense of self. It strikes me as funny that I could be considered narcissistic when I struggle so much with insecurity and my self image.

    I also know people with narcissistic personality disorders, and I sure hope I’m not as egotistical as they are!

  • jjackson

    Wow, that psychologist sounds like a real “quack” (punn intended :) . I really do not agree with that diagnosis…I can see why they might PERCEIVE self-love and narcissism on your part, but that’s nothing more than confidence and your need to voice your feelings in the virtual world.

    I agree with ALL the Twitter followers…you are very kind and considerate of others. Even when things are not going well for you, you take time out to think and do things for others, which is certainly not self-love.

    Keep your chin up! I love ya and think you’re an amazing woman, wife and mom!

  • http://twitter.com/NewspaperGrl Janet Thaeler

    “The psychologist was in his late 50s, and used a test that was created in the 1970s.”

    I recommend looking for a different psychologist.

    Also, he never actually talked to you, just gave you some questions to answer??

    After bad experiences with older (or just “old school”) dentists, doctors, photographers, and other pros I now look for the most tech savvy. It makes a huge difference and it’s worth paying more to have people who are current. I like people who are up on the research, who have the highest tech equipment and are efficient. They save you money and time in the long run. They save you pain.

    I do think social media brings out the narcissist in everyone. Why else would we constantly update the world on what we think and are doing? You must self-promote (it’s called marketing), whether it’s your ideas, your business or your worth as a friend.

    But like Velda pointed out, it’s not like a true narcissist who are incapable of considering others feelings. They lack empathy.

    Best
    Janet

  • http://novapages.com Velda

    I have heard several older people talk about how social media is all about drawing attention to ones self (as opposed to connecting with others — how I see it) so I was wondering if he was weighing social media into the equation at all. I’m glad he didn’t, actually, since I think it’s really too new (at least online social media) and too varied to really be able to use it as a consistent measure of anything.

    My ex had ‘ego mania with an inferiority complex’ which is slightly different than narcissism, in that he did feel inferior, but even so he seemed to think the world still revolved around him, his thoughts, and his wants. His relationships with other people only mattered in how he felt about himself. You don’t strike me that way at all. So yeah, take this guy’s advice with a grain of salt, learn from it what you can… and if you really feel the need to be diagnosed, I agree with Janet: go get a second opinion.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not too discouraged by the things that he said, I’m more intrigued that he made my social affinities seem like a flaw. It was more to rule out something like bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder, which I blatantly didn’t have.

    Thanks for chiming in, Janet.

  • Heatheroftheeo

    yeah, I think (even though I’m a blogger and tweeter and facebooker) that it’s a fine line for all of us. Social media does have a tendency to encourage more navel-gazing time for anyone who indulges in it. I don’t know if this psychologist was referring to your social media use and I’m not really talking about your “diagnosis,” but just responding to the questions you posed.
    I don’t think this navel gazing and self focus thing is entirely BAD in social media, though. I mean, it’s good for us to take a look at how we function in the social world, even if it’s behind a screen. Do we conduct ourselves with a respect and honor for other people? Use our platforms for good? Can we learn a lot about ourselves in these spaces? about how we react to critiques?
    I think blogging in particular has helped me a lot with people pleasing issues. I’m learning to let go of what people think, which I suppose helps me not think so much of myself. I just can’t please everyone or appear likable to everyone like I’d like. If that makes sense. And that’s good for me.
    overall though, I do struggle with the self focus that social media brings. I want to be a humble person, a person more concerned with others than myself. It’s hard to stay focused when so involved in my words, my stories, my posts, my comments, my updates, my tweets, etc. So, I spend much less time than I used to and for me that just feels better.
    Hope this was on topic :)

  • Anonymous

    Heather – Thank you for your input. As with anything in life, when you move from moderation to excess, there is a higher likelihood for problems. I’ll admit that I have a hard time balancing how much time I spend on my social media activities, but I take comfort in the fact that I still spend time several times a week with friends and family. My online interactions don’t keep me behind a computer screen 100% of the time. I try to balance the needs of myself and my family, and fill in the cracks with fun and interaction.

    I agree with your point about using social media for good. If we have the chance to raise awareness on a specific topic, or to educate on topics we have experience or knowledge in, social media platforms are an extremely effective way to get the word out. I like the opportunities I have to lift up and compliment others, and try to make a contribution for good.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Janet. It’s taken a lot of counseling to build up my self-confidence enough to write a post like this. I think I came off far more self-assured to the psychologist than I feel on a daily basis. There’s an element of putting your best foot forward in a public environment, and when done tastefully…you’re able to market yourself well.

    It’s hard to expose your whole self to a new therapist, and I think he made a lot of incorrect assumptions in the 45 minutes I met with him. His diagnoses were more humorous than upsetting. But this is a topic that I’ve thought a lot about recently.

  • Anonymous

    Wow. I can’t imagine being in a relationship with a man with those traits. One of the key elements of a happy relationship is selflessness and sacrifice…and if you’re too absorbed in yourself, there’s no way you can keep your spouse fulfilled. I’m so grateful that your long battle to end that relationship is over.

    I’m not too worried about a second opinion. The evaluation was to rule out other disorders (such as BPD and bipolar disorder) and I clearly don’t suffer from those. Thanks for your comments.

  • http://screamingfatgirl.blogspot.com/ Screamingfatgirl

    I think people are misunderstanding narcissism and discounting the test results. “Pride” is not the issue, nor is self-esteem. It’s important to understand that the psychologist is not offering the word “narcissism” as a pejorative term as defined by society but a diagnostic one as defined by the criteria in the DSM. If you research “narcissistic personality disorder”, you’ll see that it’s commonly seen as something one develops as a coping mechanism. It’s not a reflection of inherent character flaws.

    The post your have written and the corresponding replies are all about denial, and you can take this evaluation and use it as a springboard to do one of two things – gain insight and change or validate your current self-perception and remain the same. Doing the latter actually strengthens the narcissism diagnosis as it is doing what narcissists do. I don’t know if the diagnosis is correct or not, but I do know that this entire post is about rejecting what you have been told and trying to convince yourself that you’re not the person the doctor said you were, but the person you believe you are. The need to post a bunch of positive comments saying, “look at what people think of me” tends to support the doctor’s diagnosis.

    It’s important to remember that the test results are not an attack on you. They’re a diagnosis and are meant to help you deal with your issues. Psychological diagnoses are not prison sentences locking you into a box. They are maps showing you where to dig to start understanding the roots of your unhappiness. Don’t let the fact that the “X” marking the spot has a particular label prevent you from digging. If this is the coping strategy you developed, you can start figuring out why and how to develop a more effective strategy that leads to greater personal understanding and peace.

    As for your question, I think that social media does not make people appear more narcissistic than they really are. I think it allows people who are narcissistic to act more on their tendencies and receive the sort of feedback they desire and therefore strengthen those tendencies. Social media is a tool which reflects personality, and the more one participates, the more accurate that reflection will appear.

  • Jenny, Bloggess

    I think social media just magnifies what’s already there. Our vanities are exploited and magnified, but so are our faults and self-esteem issues. It depends on the person, I suppose.

  • Holly

    Your last question is interesting. “Do you think that people uninvolved with social media misunderstand the sense of support and community that websites like Twitter and Facebook provide?”
    I think it’s extremely difficult to explain the appeal of social media to people who have little or no experience with it. Twitter, in particular, is nearly impossible to explain–you have to participate to understand its value (and even to understand what it is!).
    As for narcissism and social media, I think there is danger in investing too much emotionally in the feedback you (speaking generally) receive online (whether on Facebook, Twitter or in blogging). One moment you could be elated because of a compliment or a retweet or some other sort of notice, and the next in misery because a recent post has no comments or you think a negative tweet might be directed at you.
    I guess what I’m driving at is this: Social media interactions can seem very personal & human, and it’s possible to develop close real-life friendships that have their origins online. However, there is an underlying unreality to the online social world–an impersonal, transitory element that must be acknowledged. If you invest too much of your sense of self in what people think of you online (or, more likely, what you think they think of you), you will inevitably get burned to some degree. You have to be comfortable enough with yourself (and this goes for IRL human interaction also) that you can withstand the buffeting. Does your daily mood depend on how things are going online? If the answer is “yes,” is that healthy? Is that a veering into narcissism? (My votes would be “no” for healthy and “yes” for narcissim, but then again, this is fairly new psychological territory.)
    Ultimately, for me, regardless of how much time I spend online, I try very hard not to invest more of myself than I can spare. I deliberately took a step back from Facebook when I decided my emotional investment was unhealthy. On the other hand, I miss certain interactions. Finding a balance is tricky, online as well as in all aspects of life.

  • http://twitter.com/AngryJulie Julie

    Yea well I have a blog with my name in it, and I talk about myself, a lot. Oh well, I think I’m pretty rad. You are pretty rad. Psychologist just don’t understand social media.

  • Gabrielle Valentine

    This is difficult. While I find some of social media to be narcissistic, I think it’s also a way to keep people connected. I remember being a tired, lonely mother who couldn’t get out of the house much just a couple years ago…and then I found twitter and it was suddenly this way to connect with just about anyone, anywhere. I suddenly was able to talk to people in Europe, Australia, Canada, the US, etc. It was a wonderful outlet. I love the instant feedback whereby you can ask a question and get an almost immediate answer. Now, I think that can get a little addicting and there are definite ways to curb that so that it doesn’t become too narcissistic – engaging rather than just yelling about yourself over and over for example. Which, you engage well. I’ve always enjoyed following your tweets and I don’t find you to be overly narcissistic online. I see you as many of the moms online – looking for people to talk to, keeping up with the “news” in the blogosphere, etc. Your personality reminds me a lot of my husband – you are VERY social people and it brings you energy to socialize. And so, it doesn’t seem odd that you would be attracted to social media because you are a social person. So in your case and in the case of many people I don’t find it narcissistic and yet I think people who are not involved in social media simply can’t understand the benefits and attraction until they have been there and utilized it. Look at all the doctors online who use twitter. There are so many. Yes, it can become addicting like anything can and so there is the moderation factor but in the end I think it is a wonderful tool. In this case I think your psychologist doesn’t understand those points.

  • http://ingfamily.blogspot.com Morgan

    I suppose it can. I do thoroughly enjoy writing about myself… but I also think that’s the ONLY opportunity I have to share with really ANYONE what’s going on in my life. People used to write letters about their goings-on… so not MORE so just more obviously so.

  • http://dontgotheretown.blogspot.com/ Dee

    I am careful not to let the ‘deeper’ parts of myself show through my online interactions that use my real name for career reasons – everyone Googles everybody! I’ve found blogging under a pseudonym helpful for more gritty topics.
    Old research and older mindsets have lots of trouble wrapping their heads around social media. I mean, try explaining SXSW Interactive to them and watch their eyes glaze over.
    It’s the new millenium – we are all narcissists! Just whack the words ‘personal brand identity’ into any search engine and you’ll drown in the volume of results.
    Actually, for true interwebs narcissism – check out klout.com. It measures your web presence and it’s impact.
    Just when you thought Googling yourself was bad enough…

  • Coco of VidaCoco.com

    I agree with Gabrielle Valentine in that social media provides stay-at-home moms an outlet, a way to socialize and connect with other moms, and a sense of community, which they may not otherwise have. I think many moms turn to social media and blogging because it gives them the opportunity to relate to other moms who are experiencing similar challenges, hardships, and triumphs of motherhood, creating a support system and a means to meet new people (it does for me!).

    I think that social media attracts different types of people who use it for various purposes. There are certain people who use social networking for self-promotion and attention, and engage in superficial conversations and connections (in which case it feeds narcissism). On the other hand, I believe there are others who use it simply for interaction- whether to stay in touch (or reunite) with friends and family, to share noteworthy news and/or experiences, or network to further one’s career.

    I see how excessive use of social media can create an addiction and encourage narcissism, but I also see how it is beneficial because it provides a platform for discussion and the exchange of varying opinions. Like most things in life, social media has its pros and cons, and whether it’s beneficial or harmful depends on how you choose to use it.

  • http://twitter.com/cranberryfries DebbieCranberryfries

    My favorite part of this post is all the fun twitter messages you captured!! Yahoo!

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