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Inner Self, Not Selfie

How spirituality helps prevent narcissism.

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Source: Stock Snap

A recent study has demonstrated what many of us have long suspected—that much of social media has a negative impact on adolescents. Shirley Cramer, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK is quoted as saying that Instagram and Snapchat are, “… the worst for mental health and wellbeing. Both platforms are very image-focused and it appears that they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people,” [1] Why would this be the case—when we are told that these platforms are meant to connect us to others and make us happier? Many have also noted the way in which sites like Facebook and Instagram encourage the creation of a curated life that emphasizes a glossy image meant for public consumption. Whether the image has any relationship to reality seems to be of little importance.

The impact of social media on mental health is not just being seen in children and youth. Fox and Rooney write in their study of male users between ages of 18-40 of Social Networks that, “It is possible that when men spend time editing their photos, it triggers or reinforces feelings of self-objectification as the user is treating his own image as an object to be manipulated.”[2] It would appear that social media may well be reinforcing and normalizing traits that have traditionally been seen as negative and to be discouraged including the Dark Triad of Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy.[3]

Religious and spiritual traditions have developed various techniques for countering the human tendency towards superficial self-absorption. These tend to both anchor the individual in a core sense of self based on a spiritual understanding and to tie to them to community. From this perspective there is something more powerful than the ego structure and persona. That something, they tell us, is the Self, the Witness that watches the mind. We are on to something fundamental here, and perhaps something which is more needed now than ever before with the skyrocketing rates of anxiety.

Unfortunately, we can get so accustomed to thinking that "who we are" is essentially determined by the glossy and fleeting pictures of ourselves presented to the outer world. In the spheres of diet, image, exercise and relationships social media churns out new trends to follow all the time including very simplified recipes for happiness and success. As a result we never get to find rest in the inner Self or even a set of more fixed personality traits. Instead we are taken on an exhilarating ride that leads nowhere.

Despite differences in terminology Contemplative Traditions all talk about the need to move inward and to seek a life of meaning and purpose. They have also created models meant to continually mature and cultivate the personality. Carl Jung was one of the great thinkers within psychology who developed a complex understanding of the process of personal evolution. He saw the development and cultivation of the psyche as the duty of all who had the potential. Further he warned of the grave dangers of living solely on the outskirts of who we are—in the roles and "masks" (persona) created to function in the outer world. Jung believed that if we can integrate all the aspects of our psyche it is only then that we truly become who we are. This process lends a stability that can allow us to withstand the blandishments of a culture increasingly dazzled by what can be seen on the surface.

References

[1] Denis Campbell. “Facebook and Twitter ‘harm young people’s mental health.” The Guardian, May 19, 2017 https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/may/19/popular-social-media-si…

[2] Fox, Jesse and Margaret C. Rooney. “The Dark Triad and trait self-objectification as predictors of men’s use and self-presentation behaviors on social networking sites” Personality and Individual Differences. 76 pp 161-165, September 2014

[3] Mike Moriani, “The Antisocial Network,’ Psychology Today, October 2016, 81-89

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