Narcissism and the Online Generation

by Paul on September 3, 2009

With the emergence and popularity of social media, the term ‘Narcissism’ and label ‘Narcissist’ are thrown about quite a bit: inside and outside the church.  People recognize the tendency social media has to encourage narcissism, but they don’t really know what to do about it.  The church could help, but, well, sometimes I think the church just jumps on the bandwagon of labeling things they don’t understand or don’t know how to address rather than giving the problem any serious thought. (Yes, I know that is a generalization, but I generalize when I’m frustrated.)

I think we need to start with definitions.  Here is what I get when I researched Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder on Wikipedia.

The term narcissism refers to the personality trait of self-love, which includes the set of character traits concerned with self-image or ego. The terms narcissism, narcissistic, and narcissist are often used as pejoratives, denoting vanityconceitegotism or simple selfishness. Applied to a social group, it is sometimes used to denote elitism or an indifference to the plight of others.

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a personality disorder defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the diagnostic classification system used in the United States, as “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.”[1]

The narcissist is described as turning inward for gratification rather than depending on others and as being excessively preoccupied with issues of personal adequacy, power, and prestige.[2] Narcissistic personality disorder is closely linked to self-centeredness. It is also colloquially referred to as “the God complex.

I’ve worked with youth quite a bit and I can tell you that these definitions apply to youth in the church long before MySpace or Facebook hit the scene.  Come to think of it, these definitions might also apply to my children when they were two and thought the world revolved around them and that they could shake their little finger at Daddy and tell him, “No!”  Anyone who works with children and youth will testify to the narcissistic tendencies of our little angels.

Healthy children and youth should become less narcissistic as they mature.  They learn that the world is much bigger than their perspective.  Hopefully, they learn empathy and sympathy.  More importantly, if adults do their job, they learn what they need to do to help and care for others.

Yet so many adults never stop to consider the plight of others.  Most conversations begin with ‘I’ and rarely show interest in anyone else.  In the church, this is a discipleship issue.  We’ve emphasized a ‘personal walk with God’ and deemphasized ‘the body of Christ.’  Consequently, narcissism is very real in the church today and plays a huge role in American cultural Christianity.

My point is this: social media don’t cause narcissism – narcissism was already there – social media merely reveal a part of the human condition that Satan most often twists for his purposes.   Social media are mirrors. Narcissism is first, a part of the human condition; second, an issue of maturity; and third, an issue of discipleship.  Narcissism must be dealt with at all three levels.

Here is the bottom line – whether you’re into social media or not – it’s not all about you.  Don’t try to make it about you.  Don’t try to manipulate them to do things for you.

Listen to people.  Pray for them.  Find out what drives them.  If somehow you can help them, do it.

I think Chesterton has some great advice for us all:

But how much happier you would be if you only knew that these people cared nothing about you!  How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it; if you could really look at other men with common curiosity and pleasure; if you could see them walking as they are in their sunny selfishness and their virile indifference!  You would begin to be interested in them, because they were not interested in you.  You would break out of this tiny and tawdry theatre in which your own little plot is always being played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky, in a street full of splendid strangers. (The Maniac, Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton)

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Weekly Roundup – 8/30/2009
September 8, 2009 at 5:22 am

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NicCharalambous September 4, 2009 at 2:00 am

Great post, paul. Totally agreed. We definitely agree that narcissm is a danger. What frightens me is that if you take a representative slice of the Christian twittering world, it's just as self-promoting and just as message-blasting as the world. We need to figure out how to come up with a praxis that dials that down … but I've struggled to figure it out, and I haven't seen any good examples. Have you?

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