Digital narcissism and extimacy
Narcissus was the mythological character who fell into the water because he was contemplating his reflection. If he were alive today, he would flaunt his perfect life and body on social media. His accounts would feature a tsunami of selfies. Does this sound familiar? Narcissism seems to be everywhere today. I’m not talking about influencers, of course, since they earn their bread and butter by pedaling their fantastic, perfect lifestyles and the products they use to make a living. I’m talking about the rest of us “mortals.” We’re on a constant quest to seek confirmation and approval from our “friends” or “followers.” We do this because those “likes” make us feel good. They give us a dopamine dump. And the more likes we get, the better we feel.
If this isn’t your first lap around the sun, you know why we spend so much time on social media. I’m a Boomer, and I’m as guilty as anyone. But are we feeling better about our real selves or the idealized version of ourselves we project online? We must remember, however, that the image we’re projecting online is not really us. Are we building the character we would like to be and not who we really are? And what about online dating? Are there four people involved instead of two – our avatars we project online and our real selves behind the curtain? Let’s face it, the approval we receive is to our avatar, not to us. And that can lead to false delusions of greatness that disconnect us entirely from the real world.
What is narcissism?
Dictionary.com defines narcissism as “an inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity; self-centeredness, smugness, egocentrism.” Digital narcissism then is characterized by, among other things, taking numerous selfies or sharing intimate parts of our lives daily. At its worst, the propensity to share just about everything may indicate that digital narcissists believe this is the only way they can be recognized and seen. Digital narcissists use social networks to satisfy their needs and get confirmation, according to a survey conducted by researchers from the universities of Swansea and Milan. The study revealed that “two-thirds of people tend to use social networks primarily to publish selfies, which shows that social networks serve as multipliers of the desire to be the center of attention and satisfy that deep need for admiration.” The University of Florence conducted another study that showed that social networks mainly attract vulnerable narcissists, individuals who feel more insecure and have lower self-esteem. The online environment makes them feel more confident than in real interactions and explains why they use social networks to get the admiration they seek.
What is “extimacy?”
Extimacy is a term I hadn’t encountered previously. Extimacy is the sharing of experiences or thoughts usually considered private. The French psychiatrist Jacques Lacan (1901-1981) coined this term in French (extimité) to express “the opposition between inside and outside, between container and contained,” in other words, to suggest the opposite of “intimacy.” Consequently, online extimacy seeks approval and admiration through the number of “likes” and compliments we get for each photo and the compliments that confirm the image and the ideas we want to pass on of ourselves to others. The more positive responses we get, the more likely we are to use social media for that specific purpose, especially if we don’t think we can satisfy our need for gratification in the real world. Dr. Elliot Panek calls Twitter a megaphone for the cultural obsession with self. “People may over-evaluate the importance of their own opinions. Through Twitter, they’re trying to broaden their social circles and broadcast their views about a wide range of topics and issues.” Disclaimer: I don’t tweet.
What’s the cure?
So, what do you do if you think you are a digital narcissist? We know that high levels of narcissism are generally considered to be toxic because of the damage they do to relationships. What can you do about this? It isn’t realistic to have a total social media blackout in this day and age. The best thing is to learn to disconnect slowly and begin connecting with the real world. And, if you notice that you’re focusing more and more on yourself, get up, get out and socialize in the real world. OK, you may need to use your smartphone or social media to arrange it, but after that, it’s about interacting with people in person. People who write on the Internet and blog (that’s me) can also become self-absorbed if they aren’t careful. Nevertheless, I think it’s healthy for us reflect on ourselves through introspection. It’s a great way to grow and develop to become the best we can be. And when we do hit upon a particular realization, we try to spread the word (literally), hoping that readers can identify with our thoughts. At least that’s what I try to do.
You don’t have to stop
You don’t have to give up your social media, start using them the way they were meant to be used. And try to develop counter-traits, such as modesty and gratitude. If you allow your self-esteem and mood to fluctuate according to the number of “likes” your most recent selfie received, you’re putting yourself squarely in the hands of an online crowd that can be particularly cruel. And that can hurt big time. A narcissistic personality is not hard and tough as you might think, but extremely fragile instead. Authenticity is what it’s all about. I like the way Carl Jung said it: “The privilege of your life is to become who you really are,” everything else is banal.