When it comes to
narcissism, there is perhaps no more endearing example in the world than Kanye
West. Pop culture’s king of self-aggrandisement once declared that he wished
to describe his profession as ‘creative genius’ on immigration arrival forms –
but he didn’t know how to spell the word ‘genius’ (lol).
something I’ve been thinking about lately because I’ve seen a few columns
fretting that our obsession with selfies and documenting the minutiae of our
lives online is creating a generation of narcissists. I don’t agree.
Firstly, a definition
– because narcissism is not, despite popular belief, the same as arrogance or
just plain bad behaviour. During a discussion at the recent Sydney Writer’s
Festival, social commentator Anne Manne (author of Life of I: The New
Culture of Narcissism) offered these defining characteristics (among
others): having a sense of superiority; a sense of entitlement; a feeling that
you’re entitled to exploit others; and a desperate desire to gain attention to
prove you are really significant – which is where social media use really comes
under the microscope.
Brene Brown, leading researcher
in the field of vulnerability, describes narcissism as “a shame-based fear of
being ordinary”. At its core, she writes, narcissism is driven by a fear of not
I’m not sure what
this says about the industry I’m in, but I’ve worked with more than a few
people who fit into the narcissism category. And I’ve certainly seen people – from
differing age groups – use social media as a platform for relentless
self-promotion, which can be uncomfortable for me to observe. But even though many
commentators have identified a correlation between social media and narcissism,
I don’t think that means social media *breeds* narcissism, as such.
My opinion is that although
there’s a good argument for all of us pulling back on our social media use and
engaging more in face-to-face interactions, wanting to showcase your life
online isn’t necessarily unhealthy. That said, if you feel like you are reliant
on multiple ‘likes’ to feel valued – and feel like you don’t matter if you don’t
achieve that – you could probably do with asking yourself some reflective
questions. The way you use social media might be a symptom, rather than a
cause, of a disconnect between what you think you have to offer the world and the
unquantifiable, exquisite value you bring to the world every day simply by
virtue of being yourself.
I did a social media
detox a while ago and although it was short-lived (obviously) this did change
the way I approach Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in a lasting way.
Thankfully, I’ve never had the problem of aligning my sense of worth with my
social media ‘reach’ or approval ratings – but my sense of self-worth has
certainly struggled as a direct result of how I was using social media. The
result was me feeling deeply inadequate for not having a life as glamorous or
as exciting or as love-filled as other people ‘appear’ – and the key word here
is ‘appear’ – to have. The good thing is, I was able to recognise that although
Instagram et al were making me feel crap about myself, that was really a result
of my low self-esteem – social media was merely exacerbating an existing
problem. Which I’m taking steps to address, BTW. Understanding and honouring my
value as a human being, and not using other people’s lives nor societal
expectations as a yardstick for that, is an ongoing process for me.*
By the way, going
back to the narcissism thing (in case you needed some reassurance)... if you’re
worried you’re a narcissist, you’re not. Because if you were a narcissist you wouldn’t
have enough self-awareness to even consider yourself one. (Good to know.)
I’m not really sure
where this leaves Kanye, but I love his music, regardless.
* Read my blog post on comparison syndrome in relation to social media here.