In 1979, Christopher Lasch eerily predicted the reality we now find ourselves in. He wrote that the “proliferation of visual and auditory images in a ‘Society of Spectacle’… encouraged a similar kind of preoccupation with self.” Lasch observed that people were responding to others as though “…their actions were simultaneously transmitted to an unseen audience or stored up for close scrutiny…”. Twenty years before the first camera phone was even on the shelves, Lasch had perfectly pinpointed our modern culture.
The concept of narcissism can be defined as an “inordinate fascination with oneself” which is characterised by “excessive self-love” (dictionary.com). It goes beyond typical selfishness into enacting repeated acts of self-gratification and constant self-involvement. The world only revolves around oneself. Many psychoanalysts note that narcissism is a normal stage of infant development. Although often confused, narcissism differs notably from having a healthy self-esteem. Narcissism occurs when one’s concept of self is wholly altered.
Narcissism received its name from the mythic Greek figure Narcissus. When he was born, Narcissus’ parents were told that their son must not catch a glimpse of himself, lest his own beauty bewitch him. Narcissus sees himself in a lake and is enraptured. His refusal to consider anyone but himself leaves those who care about him distressed and hopeless. For all involved, life becomes an echo of its former self. Sigmund Freud coined the term narcissism in 1913 and in the 1960s Narcissistic Personality Disorder appeared in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual signifying the conditions rising notoriety.
Several types of narcissism have been identified, with, not all of them having the magnetic personality pull so often described. Some narcissists are vulnerable and others entitled. Regardless of their subtype, all are characterised by an inability to show empathy to others. Grandiose cases of narcissism sometimes hit the news with many who commit crimes which infringe on the rights of others, feeling themselves justified.
Rates of narcissism indeed appear to be rising, with some going as far as to call it an epidemic. In 1963, when adolescents were asked if they thought themselves essential, only 12 per cent believed it so. Today, that number is closer to eighty per cent. Innumerable articles and self-help books promise haven from narcissists. Plethora’s of internet forums exist solely for people to make an armchair diagnosis and bemoan the narcissist in their life and to seek advice from others. It seems that everyone knows are narcissist, and perhaps if you do not, then you are one.
Identifying the cause of narcissism has been a subject of much discussion. Is it perhaps a natural reaction of the younger generation to the relatively carefree childhood they were gifted. Many have observed that children at first receive and then expect awards for merely participating. Low achievement is no longer the result of the student’s laziness but is instead reflective of an incompetent teacher. Or is it the result of absent parenting leading to a generation unable to create any attachments except for to themselves. These children fail to develop empathy and are already far more volatile than their securely attached counterparts.
Perhaps it is a direct consequence of social media. Our virtual image has become more critical than the one we cultivate in real life. We obsess over whether we should post that photo or make that comment, worrying about what others may think of us. When we take a picture, we are concerned with the angle of the photo and the amount of light. The frequency of selfie-taking, in addition to the prolific creation of attention-grabbing posts, have been linked to narcissism. Narcissists believe that what they have to say and do is more important than what anyone else may be doing, they long to be heard above all else.
Although not all of us can be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, we all at times, exhibit narcissistic traits and can be self-obsessed. The perpetuation of these traits even seems to be supported by the media, with figures such as Kim Kardashian heralded as an ideal to aspire to. Narcissism is praised and sometimes portrayed as the only way to get ahead.
What then, is the cure for narcissism? Its scourge appears to be so irreparably imbued in our society that the only way forward seems to be to give in. There must be more to life than to praise the god of us. Others do not exist for our benefit, although today it is easier than ever to believe it so. Radical connection with others in our community forces us to move beyond our normal sphere of engagement. It is imperative that we do not become so distracted by impressing those around us and seeking to further our own kingdoms that we forget to do what is more significant, benefiting the greater good of humanity.
The Bible offers an alternative way of life. The teachings of Jesus found within, point to a world where we look to better the lives of those around us, especially those less fortunate. Jesus dedicated his life to others, coming not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many as an ultimate sacrifice (Matthew 20:28). The Bible challenges us to move beyond endeavouring to give all glory to ourselves but to give glory to God instead. In a world where it seems that all eyes are on us, we need to fix our eyes firmly on God from whom we do not need to seek approval from. Intentionally step back from the social media hustle and take some time to look beyond yourself and seek to serve others as Jesus would have done.
By Kira-leigh Josey