There has been an increase in awareness of narcissistic personality disorder over the last decade. When I first started looking into it twenty years ago, there was very little information aside from a few blogs and a couple of self identified authorities. Now it seems that every forth person is talking about it, usually focusing on the characteristics that resulted in trauma and emotional abuse. Narcissism is on a spectrum, a little is necessary for psychological defense, but too much is harmful for the individual and society.
The term narcissism comes from the Greek myth about Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection. This is an essential component of narcissism, the propping up and identifying with an image of oneself, a persona or avatar. It is easy to see how social media and modern culture, hyper-focused on external characteristics, enables this. For many young people, they identify so much with what is put up on a screen, their feed, that they neglect their own psycho-spiritual development. They are internally fragmented and undeveloped. This lack of wholeness and identifying with externals, for many, results in a complicated framework of lies, manipulation, and projection in order to prop their self image – their reflection. Ultimately this results in a lack of true connection, little meaning, and delusional thinking. In a sense they trade their soul, mental well being, and deeper awareness to gamify life so that nobody will find out that they are an imposter. The worse they feel about this in the depths of their unexamined self only causes them double-down on their persona and defend against contrary feedback and information. Their ego is so fragile that any threat is met with maltreatment. This is when people get hurt.
In order to have a fulfilling relationship and connection with another person, honesty is essential. That is a near impossibility for someone with narcissistic personality disorder. They are so heavily invested in the image of themselves, they will vehemently defend against any information that does not jive with that image. They cannot form deep connections, only attachments, as intimacy requires honesty and mutual growth. True intimacy is a risk and requires letting down our guards. Narcissists work to the contrary, always hoping to avoid any internal revelations. The mask that makes a narcissist charming, successful, or in some cases just palatable in superficial relationships eventually slips in those that are closer. As long as others go along with it, homeostasis is maintained, but if the narcissist is challenged or the house of cards propping up their self-esteem is threatened, that is when the nasty things happen. The narcissists’ story is one of desiring to be loved and admired, but when offered that intimately they feel unsafe and refuse to revel their true selves. Somewhere deep down, all narcissists know that they are not what they portray themselves to be. This creates anxiety that can be very destructive if provoked.
There are many indications that our culture propelled by social media is increasing narcissistic personalty traits broadly. This phenomenon will likely result in a society that gets nastier, especially when presented with the truth, and ultimately destroys itself out of shame. But at least everybody will look like they are “living their best life” ;P