The Social Net

Our friendships, conflicts and wellbeing on the web

Not All That Glitters Is Gold

Who thinks the Internet benefits them ?

The Internet arena is a narcissist’s paradise. The term narcissism, which means loving yourself too much, comes from Greek mythology. Narcissus, the son of a river god named Cephissus and a nymph named Liriope, was a handsome young man who turned away all the girls who fell in love with him. To punish him for his haughtiness and his disregard for the feelings of others, the gods made him fall hopelessly in love with himself. When Narcissus went to drink from a pool, he couldn’t take his eyes from his reflection in the water. Eventually he died there and the flower we call the narcissus, notable for its beauty, grew where he’d lingered.

It was in Greece that narcissism was first mentioned, then meaning a feeling of pride that is greater than normal and hurts other people’s feelings. In the late 19th century, the word began to take on a psychological meaning. In 1914 Freud added his interpretation, claiming that narcissism is a vital natural phase in healthy human development but so is learning love for others. The transition from early or “primary” narcissism to the investment of energy in an external love object, Freud believed, is a crucial step in the individual’s healthy development. It was Freud who said, “A strong egoism is a protection against falling ill, but in the last resort we must begin to love in order not to fall ill.” He also wrote that “a person in love is humble. A person who loves has, so to speak, forfeited a part of his narcissism.”

Various Internet platforms such as blogs, chats, and forums enable narcissists to choose an appropriate place for finding reinforcement from the environment, for focusing on themselves, and for describing to all who care to listen (or don’t care to) what they’ve experienced, done, and felt. The social networks, for example, are another place where narcissists can present themselves and “sell” themselves. Narcissists tend to use social networks as a way of cultivating their standing among others. They invest a great deal of time in improving their personal profiles, they deliberate at length as they choose pictures, and their posts tend to focus on how “I did… I do… I am…” This sort of discourse has no real intimacy, since the narcissists are completely focused on presenting their own particulars and make no real effort to listen to other people, much less conduct a dialogue with depth and meaning. Studies indicate that narcissism is constantly on the rise in our time, with more and more people feeling self-important and more and more disproportionate egos. According to a comprehensive survey by Sara Konrath, a psychologist from the University of Michigan, many people show a steep drop in empathy—in being sensitive to, and identifying with, other people’s feelings. Some people glumly call today’s youngsters “Generation N,” the narcissist generation. That may be a broad generalization, but the trend is an obvious cause for concern.

 

Yair Amichai-Hamburger, Ph.D., is the director of the Research Center for Internet Psychology. He has worked many years as an industrial consultant, advising many leading organizations.

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