It’s Not About the Narcissism

It’s become somewhat fashionable to rag on people about their social media use. If you take a selfie, “vague-book” about your bad day, or were unfortunate enough to be born a millennial, then someone somewhere is diagnosing you with narcissism.

But is our “attention-grabbing” on social media really about that?

Or is there something more primal at play?

When I was in the height of my grief, I probably posted about it on Facebook every day or two. I would write messages to the person I was missing, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to see and respond but others would.

There was something about the sad emoticons and encouragements from friends that made the pain feel just a little bit more endurable because it wasn’t borne alone.

There was something raw about the desperation to be seen in my pain.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from grad school…and in being a human myself…it’s that we all need to be seen.

Yes, I said need.

“Hear me.”

“See me.”

There’s something in the soul that cries out for that even more than it desires relief from pain.

Half the time at my internship, when I am with a client, I’m not actively doing anything other than listening. For that space of time, that person has my undivided attention…

…but more than my attention.

They have my promise that I will actively try to witness their pain and feel with them.

Because ultimately, attention isn’t the thing people crave.

Have you ever had attention without empathy? Perhaps when you felt the disdain of someone looking down on you or their self-righteousness contempt? It feels pretty shitty.

In fact, when I encounter someone’s judgment, self-righteousness, annoyance, or disdain, I actively avoid their attention. I’ll stop telling them about certain things or stop connecting with them at all.

I don’t want them to see me.

But being seen, truly seen, requires empathy and compassion—two things for which the world is starving.

Yes, people’s use of social media can be over-the-top, manipulative, and annoying. But “attention-grabbing” posts aren’t the problem; they’re the symptom. A symptom of a world in which empathy is scarce.

Society would sooner accuse celebrities of using their trauma as a “publicity stunt” than empathize with the pain they have gone through, and it isn’t much better for those who aren’t celebrities.

But since we created the atmosphere around social media, we also have the power to change it.

What if, instead of seeing narcissism everywhere we look, we saw people who simply need to be seen in their pain and in their joy?

What if, instead of rolling our eyes over the number of selfies someone takes, we compliment them on something we admire about them (not necessarily a physical attribute)?

What if, instead of groaning at the vague-book post, we chose to comment, “Sorry you’re having a tough day. I’m here if you need to talk.”

That doesn’t mean that we have to enslave ourselves to every ploy. There may be times when someone is genuinely toxic or consistently manipulative, and boundaries might be healthier. There may be times when the empathy pool is dry.

But we can change the tone of social media. We are creatures of conditioning after all, so positive reinforcement works. I suspect we’d see a more genuine side of everyone if our modus operandi was empathy rather than disdain—if we saw people rather than merely tossing out crumbs of attention.

Perhaps, we could actually make social media about the thing it was originally supposed to be about–connection.

 

 

 

My Selfie-Confidence Trumps Your Narcissism

There are times when I feel like I’ve stepped into an alternate universe, a world where Donald Trump is celebrated for his lack of empathy and overt arrogance while women are slut-shamed on social media and called “narcissistic” for taking a selfie.

But then I remember that it’s just another day in patriarchy.

In patriarchy, no one is really all that concerned about a cis, white, straight male strutting around, stroking his ego, and ruthlessly attempting to crush anyone who makes him feel like less than the absolute most superior being in the universe.

Trump could be a stand-in for Narcissus himself, but cis, white, straight men are used to being able to indulge in self-grandiosity at other’s expense. No one finds it shocking when they do so because patriarchy has established that as a man’s prerogative.

However, women daring to self-validate—that indeed is a threat to society.

If women began to learn that they could appreciate themselves outside of the male gaze, they might decide that they don’t need to cater to the male gaze.

If women discovered that they could recognize and declare their own value—that their value came from within rather than from without—they might discover that respect and humanity is something they deserve simply because they are, not because it is “generously” bestowed upon them from the menfolk.

If women were able to love themselves and continue to love others, they might figure out that they don’t need to sacrifice their own well-being in order to be in relationship with others.

Selfies give women control over how they reveal themselves to the world and power to self-determine their own sense of who they are.

In the face of such a threat to the control of the other half of the population, patriarchy could only respond in a handful of ways—convince women that selfies are still about the male gaze and gaining approval from men or, when that fails, shame women for being self-absorbed.

If patriarchy is so threatened by women who self-validate by snapping a little picture, imagine what would happen if women became conscious of the power they have at the tip of their fingers….