Narcissist Nation

By Kayla A. Greaves

Most of us can recall a man that we dated who couldn’t seem to stop talking about himself, his good looks, his Ivy League diploma and 4.0 GPA –who frankly made us sick after one date.

Or that one woman we worked with who was constantly gazing in the mirror, fixing herself up, just wishing to get some attention from the opposite sex. At the time, we probably thought of those people as self-absorbed, perhaps selfish and maybe even narcissistic. But in 2014, with the rising popularity of new mediums such as social media and superficial reality TV shows that promote these traits, are we becoming a narcissistic nation?

“Social media encourages a certain amount of narcissism with any demographic.”

Before we can decide this, we have to ask, what makes someone a narcissist? While there is no way to determine exactly how people become narcissists, these traits are believed to be developed during childhood, and can manifest into mild to extreme narcissism throughout adulthood. Mild narcissists may come across as selfish, self-centered, or overly cocky about their looks and abilities. Similarly, people who suffer from narcissistic personality disorder (NDP) appear to be overly confident on the outside, exaggerate their accomplishments, and are often thirsty for admiration. However, while these people may appear to have it going on, Dr. Richard Day, professor of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behavior at McMaster University explains that on the inside, they may feel quite the opposite. “Narcissistic behavior,” he explains, “can be seen either as a projection of false, but strongly held, beliefs about one’s superiority to others, or as a screen to mask barely conscious, or truly unconscious, feelings and fears of inferiority and lack of worth.” Since it is believed that these traits stem from a strained relationship with ones primary caregivers as children, as these torn children enter into adulthood, they feel as though they must over-compensate for their shortcomings as a child. Doing everything they can to prove themselves valuable to the world that once may have rejected them.

The Internet, and more specifically, social media has created an outlet for narcissistic tendencies to thrive. From the obsession of having a large Twitter following, gaining Instagram and Facebook likes, and of course, taking the perfect selfie, this new medium and its many platforms have changed the way in which women are now interacting and portraying themselves to the world. And while there is a notion that only youth feed into the hoopla of social media, that notion is quite simply a myth.

New York City based social media strategist and online branding consultant, Ashani Mfuko, finds that regardless of age, most women are equally engaged in social media; however depending on age, interests differ. “At this point, almost everyone is on social media. Most age groups are active, but in different ways and for different reasons. The youth are active more for the purpose of socializing with their friends, and following their favorite celebrities, brands, etc. online.” She adds, “The older crowd of women are active as well, but focus on sharing about their families, personal and professional milestones, current events, politics, and other important issues they are passionate about.”

However, that does not exempt older women from embracing a certain level of narcissism online. Social media marketing professional, Martika Gregory, finds that social media brings out a little narcissism in all women. “I feel like social media encourages a certain amount of narcissism with any demographic, to be honest.  Through the introduction of Instagram and selfies, I feel like women have become more conscious of their appearance and what they look like, or want to look like to others.  I’ve seen women post selfies on Instagram, whereas some won’t post a single photo of themselves.  I think more women are looking to other women (and sometimes men) on social media, whether they know them personally or not, for validation about their appearance.  Social media platforms like Instagram have created a “look at me!” state of mind.”

While we all may crave attention online when we need an ego boost, Dr. Day has found that social media may not always be the best outlet for someone who is truly a narcissist, as it can be difficult to deal with some of the negativity that comes with being active on social media. “While it may be possible that the digital world may serve as outlets for individuals with narcissistic tendencies; places where they can get recognition, respect, and praise, most reports on social media describe them as places where blame, insult and ridicule are more common than the sort of positive feedback that the narcissistic individual craves.”

But of course, not all publicity is bad publicity, even when it’s online self-promotion. Mfuko explains that older women love social media for the sense of community it creates, and the ability to stay connected with friends and family worldwide. She also adds that social media is a great way for women to expand their businesses, in the most personable way possible. “Women are very much in touch with the opportunities that exist through social media to grow a successful business or personal brand.” She adds, “This group is in the marriage and family stage of life as well, so that plays a big part in the activity of the 30+ crowd. The ones who are most successful are the women who can seamlessly blend the personal and business aspects of social media together in a graceful and honest way.”

In association with social media, the rising popularity of reality TV has also played a roll in promoting narcissism as we have begun to place more value on celebrity culture, wealth and appearance.

I’m going to make some [pictures] super racy, I mean, every girl takes pictures of their ass in the mirror … I might share some of them.

instagram kim kardashian

Reality star, Kim Kardashian, is arguably one of the most self-absorbed celebrities to date. Making her breakthrough to fame by starring in a, well, not so professionally made film, or tape if you will, Kim has made the Kardashian name into a household brand that has brought her and the Kardashian family into the spotlight. Although most people are still not exactly sure why Kim has remained so famous, it is clear that her stunning looks, physique and her alleged plastic surgeon have played a factor. And you better believe that she is collecting every red cent from America’s obsession with the Kardashian brand.

Most recently, the reality star announced that she will be releasing a book with all of her selfies, entitled, Selfish.

Yes, this is happening in real life.

The 352-page book will include posted photos of the “reality” star as well as some never before seen shots. In a recent interview with People Magazine, she shared, “I mean, every girl takes pictures of their ass in the mirror. I might share some of them.”

The book is set for release in April 2015.

But it doesn’t stop at the Kardashians.

When it comes to reality TV, we can’t forget the vanity, catfights, cursing, tossing prosthetic limbs, otherwise known as the Real Housewives series. While it is expected that the majority of women casted for the shows will be rich, a bit arrogant, and perhaps self-enflated due to their seven figure bank accounts and luxurious lifestyles, has their behavior encouraged narcissism among women?

Apparently, no. They seem to only be encouraging it amongst themselves.

It’s hard to ignore the behaviors of the Housewives. Take for example Ramona Singer from the Real Housewives of New York City. Her high priced fashion cries for Pinot Grigio and other list of demands is captivating on screen, but seems to lack zeal with fans of the show. The Real Housewives of New York City’s Facebook page has well over half a million ‘likes’ and hundreds of comments pertaining to Ramona alone. While she is praised for her sexy physique, most fans seem to be fed up with her attitude on the show, calling her ‘obnoxious,’ ‘a nightmare,’ and ‘horrible.’ It’s clear that while these women may promote narcissism amongst themselves, many fans at home watching simply are not following their lead.

But not all castmates are getting sucked into a red sole of Louboutins, expensive meals and other lavish fixations. Former Real Housewives of New York City castmate turned entrepreneur and talk show host, Bethenny Frankell, used her platform on the superficial reality show to build her brand in a positive manner. “While the other housewives were worrying about wardrobe, make up, hair and shopping, I was building my business foundation,” she writes in her 2011 novel, A Place of Yes.

Narcissism makes appearances not only online and on our television screens, but in the workplace as well. Dealing with narcissistic people in the work place can be extremely difficult and stressful. While they are usually ambitious, they often are unable to properly deal with setbacks and criticism on the road to success making it hard for them to work with others, and for others to tolerate their behavior. Marketing specialist, Bailey Wells, recalls her interactions with narcissists in the work place, “I have come across narcissists in work settings. I find that their tendencies seriously hinder collaborative efforts from team members, as they are often not willing to coordinate different ideas in order to make something better and work for everyone involved.” She also adds that it can affect others around them. “I know individuals who have felt poorly about their performance due to the fact their narcissistic colleagues simply take all the credit away from them.”

Mfuko also adds that in her experiences working with narcissists, they never lasted long with the company, in my experience, these people never lasted very long at the job they were in. My superiors and I would try to speak with them about it, and explain how their attitude negatively affects those around them, and even their ability to excel at work.” She notes, “They don’t see any fault in what they do, so they continue to do it. This eventually led to an unpleasant end.”

Although narcissism will always exist in American society, there are ways women can begin to neutralize this trait before we become a narcissistic nation in total. Although it’s tempting to pick up your smart phone and scroll through your social media feeds when you’re bored, need a break from work or other daunting activities, limiting your time on social media gives you more time to interact with friends and family face-to-face. Instead of deciding which selfie to upload, crack open that new book you’ve been dying to read, or give an old friend a call instead of lurking her vacation photos. In your free time, volunteer with the elderly, the homeless or any other place you can find some sense of purpose.

While it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the world of reality TV, social media, selfies and self-promotion, don’t forget that humility is a trait that will always be celebrated and is extremely attractive. If you know a friend who is in need of an ego boost, empower her and encourage her to be her best self again. As women, once we learn to genuinely love ourselves, our confidence shines through, and we are able to capture everyone’s attention without having to say a single word.

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