When it comes to narcissism most experts tend to agree that it is on the rise. What they can’t decide on is whether social media is the cause for this growth or if narcissists just enjoy using platforms such as Instagram more than others.
A recent study by Swansea University and Milan University found that those who use image-led platforms and post excessive amounts of selfies are more likely to have narcissistic traits. The small study followed 74 people, between 18 and 34 years old, over the course of four months and found those who posted images and selfies showed a 25% increase in narcissistic tendencies.
All but one person in the study used social media for between three to eight hours a day, not including work-related posts. Facebook was used by 60% of the group, 25% used Instagram, and 13% used Twitter and Snapchat each. Over two thirds of them primarily used social media for posting images. Interestingly, the 13% that used Twitter did not did not show the increase in narcissism.
So what is it about Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat that is so appealing? ‘In terms of the image-based social media and the selfie-ness of it all, the key patterns are the superficiality, the admiration/validation seeking, and the entitlement,’ says clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula. ‘Narcissists may try to “spin it” as a “business”, but their sense of self is tied into it and shaped by the likes and followers.’
Professor Phil Reed from the Department of Psychology at Swansea University, who conducted the study says: ‘Taking our sample as representative of the population, which there is no reason to doubt, this means that about 20% of people may be at risk of developing such narcissistic traits associated with their excessive visual social media use.’
So, how do you know if you’re a narcissist?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders if you have five of the nine key traits below then you’re likely to have narcissistic tendencies:
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g. exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognised as superior without commensurate achievements).
- Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
- Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high status people (or institutions).
- Requires excessive admiration.
- Has a sense of entitlement, i.e. unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.
- Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e. takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.
- Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognise or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
- Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.
Like most mental health conditions though, narcissism isn’t black and white and can be difficult to identify. Quite often narcissists can react with rage or try to belittle someone to make themselves feel superior. They can be prone to mood swings and struggle to deal with stress and change. However, they can also be incredibly manipulative. They’ll be generous with money and resources, but only to the point until it affects their own needs and desires, which is not always obvious to others.
Can you treat narcissism?
It’s not a straightforward process diagnosing a narcissist as quite often they don’t see any issue with their behaviour and are unlikely to seek treatment. And as mentioned above, they can be manipulative. As a result, when it comes to treatment, a narcissist has to admit there is a problem rather than outside people otherwise they won’t accept that they need help.
‘When a person is addicted in a sense to the likes and the validation and they “need” them to retain their sense of self – then it can be an impossible cycle to break,’ says Dr Durvasula. If you are glued to your phone and are concerned about the impact social media might be having on your mental health, then it would be wise to limit your usage. Instagram allows you to set up daily limits and flags when you’ve reached them. For those who want a tougher stance and have an iPhone, you can set daily limits or time-frames for when your social media apps are accessible.
It is worth noting that a lot of experts believe that we all have narcissistic traits, but for the majority of people it’s very mild.