It takes just one person in the dark to turn on a light. This means that each of us has the power to make small changes in society if we can get outside ourselves, help others, step in their shoes, dig down, and pull up our empathy genes. However, this kind of sharing is being shoved aside more and more to make room for a new phenomenon in today’s “sharing economy,” focusing on self—me, me, me. It seems to be going viral in our new virtual world where we all get to be a critic, a maven, a news maker, an expert throwing out our sophomoric opinions whether to bash or laud a favorite hotel, restaurant, movie, teacher or Uber driver. Post something online and see ourselves glaring back as we breed a culture of total or partial Narcissists. Think about Narcissus the hunter in Greek mythology who fell in love with his own reflection.
Many spend hours presenting their selfies to anyone who will look, bragging about their kids’ houses and trips in daily postings, and explaining in great detail their grandchildren’s emerging language skills, schools they attend and the remarkable words they now can spew out even if they don’t understand the meanings.
Perhaps our generation helped fuel this fervor since as boomers we were encouraged not to wound our partner’s and children’s egos, after our much less braggadocio parents refrained from sharing their and our own successes. That was considered to be in poor taste. When we became parents, terms like “positive reinforcement” were bandied about. Every child took home a trophy after a game whether they’d won or not. Self-esteem was our No. 1 goal. But was that building self-esteem or an inflated, entitled and unrealistic picture of who they were and what they really accomplished.
We’ve each experienced narcissism up close with relatives, friends, and even a romance in the case of Barbara, who found herself reaching new heights of excitement when a certain guy wooed and flattered her, then relegated her to rock bottom when she displeased him and she periodically pulled away.
She wasn’t alone being caught in the web of his personality. Even if not a full-blown narcissist, he had many of the traits. Bookshelves in libraries and stores and on sites such as Amazon and GoodReads are brimming with dozens of titles about the narcissist and narcissism. Many dwell on the dangers of becoming friends or romantic partners with one. It can be dangerous, these tomes warn. A true narcissist, according to psychological tests, can lure unsuspecting and even suspecting folks into their web, then crushing them if they don’t get the attention and ego-enhancing supply of flattery they need to thrive. Books like Help! I’m in Love with a Narcissist by Steven Carter & Julia Sokol (M. Evans and Company), share how easy it is to fall for a narcissist due to their charisma and ability to make a person feel unique, not just special, but over the top (and we’re talking the biggest mountains not small hillsides). At the same time, they caution us that building a workable, long-term relationship with such a person is almost insurmountable. Some say go ahead and try but beware for your own self may shrink smaller and smaller.
So what can be done? An excellent recent article in the New York Times newspaper by Arthur Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute, titled, “Narcissism is Increasing. So You’re Not So Special,” made cogent suggestions for those of us who may become too self-absorbed at times. Get a great review from a boss? Aren’t we terrific! Have a friend rave about how well we look? Well, we knew we had erased years with how we dress and apply makeup. Then we post this for all the world to see. Hopefully, these are few and far between boastings.
When we feel too many boasts spouting from our mouths like weeds, it’s time to catch ourselves and reign in the excess muck. Brooks even suggests going offline for spells. Take a social media fast, adding eloquently, “Resolve not to waste a moment trying to impress others, but rather to treat them (and yourself) with kindness, whether it is earned or not.” And even more helpful, he says, “Post to communicate, praise and learn–never to self-promote.”
We have three other suggestions, which we also wish all Presidential candidates this year would consider and before the last debates, which we hope will be kinder, gentler and filled with far fewer barbs than “liar, liar.”
1. Take the Narcissism Personality Test It won’t take long and is likely to reassure you or some of us. Remember, that a bit of self-confidence is healthy, just not buckets overflowing.
2. Get an Anti-Narcissist Buddy, just like you may have a buddy to lose weight with, take walks with, go to the gym with, or share favorite books, movies, and restaurants with. Obviously this is someone you’re frequently in touch with, and who knows you really well. If they see too many postings, hear too much me-me-me about you-you-you in your discussions or learn too much all the time about your family, your work, house, travels, health problems, sex life, and more, ask them to be the first to tell you to dial it down. You give each other the right to speak up kindly but honestly.
3. Consider doing one thing nice for someone else every day to reinforce that others matter. It can be something as letting a car get in front of you in traffic, opening a door for an elderly person or someone with heavy packages, turning off the ringer on your cell phone in public so the noise doesn’t bother others, signing up to serve dinner at a homeless shelter, sharing your time with a good friend and really listening when she or he’s in crisis.
We all want to be the best self we can be, just not fabulous, remarkable, incredible, gorgeous, thin, and brilliant. This can be achieved by caring about ourselves as well as others. which is the kind of oversharing that’s acceptable to all.