Narcissism and other risk factors for social media addiction


According to Greek mythology, Narcissus was the son of the river god and a nymph. Partially due to his good looks and his hunting prowess, he became proud and was cruel to those who loved him. In return for his unkindness, Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, cursed him to fall in love with his reflection. He remained by a still pool of water for the rest of his days, too besotted to leave his reflection behind.


Modern day psychologists have borrowed Narcissus’ name to decribe an intense self-centeredness and obsession: narcissism. It is fitting, then, that the modern spiritual descendants of Narcissus are drawn to social media, where they can upload their own “reflections” for admiration.


For anyone without a doctorate in psychology (i.e. Most of us), there are two kinds of narcissism. A grandiose narcissist fits the popular conception of narcissism: high self-esteem, exhibitionist, arrogant, aggressive, dominating. The other form, vulnerable narcissism is less showy. These narcissists are insecure with low self-esteem, shame prone, shy, and hypersensitive to outside evaluation. They tend to fly under the radar more easily than the grandiose narcissists.


Researchers have found that grandiose and vulnerable narcissists have much in common despite their differences. They both have tendencies toward entitlement and grandiose fantasies, they are driven to “look perfect”, and they both pursue the admiration of others. Narcissists of both types are both extremely attracted to social media.


The pull is understandable. Social media provides unprecedented control over own’s personal image and communication– a highway to a perfect image. The possibility of a wide audience on a social media platform is irresistible to a narcissist as well.


With social media addiction on the rise, though, researchers at the University of Florence, Italy, wondered how narcissists, a group so drawn to social media, were faring. Are narcissists more likely to be addicted to social media than non-narcissists? And is a grandiose narcissist more or less likely to to develop a social media addiction than a vulnerable narcissist?


The study’s results provided insight into narcissists as well as other types of people who may be more at risk to develop a social media addiction. Grandiose narcissists were NOT more likely to be addicted to social media than non-narcissists, but vulnerable narcissists WERE more likely to be hooked than either grandiose narcissists or non-narcissists.


The difference seems to be a confidence issue. Grandiose narcissists want to appear perfect and believe they do appear perfect. Vulnerable narcissists want to appear perfect, but they feel unable to do so. Therefore, the control over own’s image made possible on social media is more inherently valuable to vulnerable narcissists. Indeed, the study indicated that digital interactions provide vulnerable narcissists with a sense of security– they feel more confident online than off. Grandiose narcissists seem to feel confident anywhere.


How can this study translate to non-narcissists? Lack of confidence, low self-esteem, and self-centeredness are all factors that can make anyone more dependent on social media. The health of one’s relationship with social media also seems to be connected to the motive for own’s use of it. Do I use social media to connect with others, or do I use social media to make others think better of me?


This can be an important question for any social media to ask of him- or herself periodically and for parents to ask of their teens as new social media users. Why do we post and log on in the first place? Maybe the answer can make it a little easier for us to log out and put our phones away every once in a while.


You can read the original study by clicking here.


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