I suspect that prior to our gluttonous always-on, social media age narcissists were very much a local phenomenon — probably much like European diseases remained mostly confined to the Old World prior to the advent of frequent shipping and air travel. Nowadays narcissistic traits such as self-absorption, image inflation and lack of empathy spread and amplify across the globe as impressionable tribes like, follow and emulate their narcissistic role models. As the virus of self-obsession spreads this puts our increasingly global village at some peril — replacing empathy with indifference and altruism with self-promotion, and leading to the inevitable rise of charismatic demagogues.
Author and psychotherapist Pat Macdonald aptly describes the rise of narcissism in her recent paper Narcissism in the Modern World. Quite paradoxically, Macdonald finds that,
“Much of our distress comes from a sense of disconnection. We have a narcissistic society where self-promotion and individuality seem to be essential, yet in our hearts that’s not what we want. We want to be part of a community, we want to be supported when we’re struggling, we want a sense of belonging. Being extraordinary is not a necessary component to being loved.”
From the Guardian:
“They unconsciously deny an unstated and intolerably poor self-image through inflation. They turn themselves into glittering figures of immense grandeur surrounded by psychologically impenetrable walls. The goal of this self-deception is to be impervious to greatly feared external criticism and to their own rolling sea of doubts.” This is how Elan Golomb describes narcissistic personality disorder in her seminal book Trapped in the Mirror. She goes on to describe the central symptom of the disorder – the narcissist’s failure to achieve intimacy with anyone – as the result of them seeing other people like items in a vending machine, using them to service their own needs, never being able to acknowledge that others might have needs of their own, still less guess what they might be. “Full-bodied narcissistic personality disorder remains a fairly unusual diagnosis,” Pat MacDonald, author of the paper Narcissism in the Modern World, tells me. “Traditionally, it is very difficult to reverse narcissistic personality disorder. It would take a long time and a lot of work.”
What we talk about when we describe an explosion of modern narcissism is not the disorder but the rise in narcissistic traits. Examples are everywhere. Donald Trump epitomises the lack of empathy, the self-regard and, critically, the radical overestimation of his own talents and likability. Katie Hopkins personifies the perverse pride the narcissist takes in not caring for others. (“No,” she wrote in the Sun about the refugee crisis. “I don’t care. Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don’t care.”) Those are the loudest examples, blaring like sirens; there is a general hubbub of narcissism beneath, which is conveniently – for observation purposes, at least – broadcast on social media. Terrible tragedies, such as the attacks on Paris, are appropriated by people thousands of miles away and used as a backdrop to showcase their sensitivity. The death of David Bowie is mediated through its “relevance” to voluble strangers.
It has become routine for celebrities to broadcast banal information and fill Instagram with the “moments” that constitute their day, the tacit principle being that, once you are important enough, nothing is mundane. This delusion then spills out to the non-celebrity; recording mundane events becomes proof of your importance. The dramatic rise in cosmetic surgery is part of the same effect; the celebrity fixates on his or her appearance to meet the demands of fame. Then the vanity, being the only truly replicable trait, becomes the thing to emulate. Ordinary people start having treatments that only intense scrutiny would warrant – 2015 saw a 13% rise in procedures in the UK, with the rise in cosmetic dentistry particularly marked, because people don’t like their teeth in selfies. The solution – stop taking selfies – is apparently so 2014.
Read the entire story here.
Image courtesy of Google Search.