Digital Narcissism and the Endless Search for the Self

Have you become dependent upon the likes and comments you receive on your social media posts? If so, you might be creating a social media character. This is known as digital narcissism.
Digital Narcissism and the Endless Search for the Self

Last update: 10 June, 2021

Social networks are like stages. They’re spaces in which you play the role you like the most. Sometimes you might be funny, and at others, more serious and thoughtful. Or perhaps you’re more daring and like sharing extremely intimate details of your life online. That’s the digital age we live in. A tapestry of social performances in which the self is the main actor.

We live in an age of egotism, particularly in the digital world. Just look at the thousands of selfies and photos of travels, food, and all types of material possessions exhibited online for likes, comments, and followers.

It’s the magic of interaction. That little high that makes you feel better about yourself, even if only for a few minutes. If the Greek mythological character of Narcissus were around today, he would surely flood his social media with selfies displaying his beauty and perfection.

“He who lives only for himself is truly dead to others.”

-Publilius Syrus-

A person posting on their mobile phone.

Social media: a masked drama

We all like to be flattered to a degree. To be told how attractive we are, how good we look in what we’re wearing, or simply to receive a positive comment about something we’ve done.

This is quite normal. It can help you feel better or improve something about yourself. However, it develops into a problem when you become too dependent upon this type of behavior. In other words, your only goal is to get those positive comments and feedback. In fact, you end up becoming a slave to it.

You post, post, and post anything, anytime. You start sharing more and more intimate moments, just to continue to be part of the performance. Eventually, you start to believe you only really exist when you’re seen and recognized online.

The practice of sharing your most intimate thoughts is called extimacy. Lacan, the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, coined this phrase. He was referring to what pushes a person to exhibit the physical and psychic parts of their intimate life.

When this continues over time, you eventually forget about spontaneity and plan everything around receiving praise. The applause that, in the short term, satisfies you and keeps you reloading your page to see how many likes you’re getting.

However, in the end, your natural spontaneity dies in the digital universe. You’ve become a victim of exacerbated narcissism. You’re in a world where only attention and physical appearance are important. Furthermore, where there’s a distinct lack of empathy and low tolerance to any form of criticism.

“When you’re content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everyone will respect you.”

-Lao Tzu-

The invisibility of others is the source of digital narcissism

What are the consequences of digital narcissism? Well, firstly, there’s an extreme egotism that borders on the pathological. In addition, you have an idealized vision of yourself, unstable self-esteem, and feelings of insecurity.

Behind the character that you’ve built and show online is a person who’s afraid of no longer being flattered and admired. In fact, you’re scared of being lonely and invisible. Furthermore, included within your fear of disappearing, is fear that others will too. Because, at the end of the day, your relationship with them is merely instrumental.

While these others might be immediately available in the online world, you only have a superficial relationship with them that’s only there to inflate your own ego. There’s no real link, you just maintain a false sense of connection with them to fight your fears. Nevertheless, you’re alone most of the time.

Appearance and grandeur encourage digital narcissism. In other words, what’s on the outside instead of the inside. This is why it ends up feeding a sensation of existential emptiness.

If you’re a digital narcissist, you’ll also be good at deceiving yourself. You probably think you’re mature, flexible, and responsible, with a stable self-esteem, when you’re precisely the opposite.

A blindfolded woman.

Disconnect to reconnect

Freeing yourself from digital narcissism isn’t easy. You need to reflect and accept that you’re a part of that masked drama where obtaining likes and comments have become a necessity for you.

Firstly, you need to understand what your goal is. What do you expect to get from your public posts and what do they do for you? In addition, you have to accept that the image you’re projecting isn’t 100 percent really you. More events are happening in your life than those you post online, and you’ve also probably invented some things simply to show off.

Most of the time, this just leads to disappointment and frustration as there’s a huge clash between expectation and reality. Furthermore, you realize that you’ve been losing the chance of genuine enjoyment and real existence, in favor of a fictional character and life online.

For this reason, one of the key factors is to learn to disconnect from the digital universe and reconnect to real life. To come to terms with the possibility of establishing real, secure relationships in which you don’t see others solely as means of obtaining immediate gratification. This way, you’ll strengthen your self-esteem due to your renewed self-acceptance and self-confidence.

Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean you have to stop using social media completely or never post about anything you do anymore. However, you need to use it responsibly so you’re no longer a slave to your appearance and the digital universe. At the end of the day, there’s nothing better than showing yourself just the way you are.

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  • Miller, Jacques-Alain. “Extimidad”. Ed. Paidós; BsAs, 1a. ed. 2010.
  • Rosenfeld H. On the psychopathology of narcissism: A clinical approach. Int J Psychoanal. 1964;45:332-7.