Self-help or narcissism? Mixed messages in social media

Aileen C. O’Reilly ponders the rise of motivational superiority online.

Self-help or narcissism? Mixed messages in social media

Aileen C. O’Reilly ponders the rise of motivational superiority online.

I love nothing better than being inspired by a good ol’ motivational post.

Sitting on the bus, headphones blaring dance music at tinnitus-inducing levels and I’m being told “Nothing changes until you change — everything changes once you do”.

Suddenly I’m all Xena Princess Warrior wielding a sword on my unicorn, giving the death stare to the challenges I face and just getting stuff done.

Motivational quotes of this sort have helped me through quite a lot of difficult situations where whinging in a corner on my knees seemed like the only other option.

Truth be told, I have chats with myself every morning (no — not in the mirror) to hype myself up when my inner princess just can’t be arsed to take her face out of her cereal bowl and put her big girl pants on.

Because let’s face it — there is nothing quite like the adrenaline rush of being motivated.

It’s fantastic, exhilarating, positively giddifying — you’re focused and you’re able to deal with problems because you have a goal.

Life is good... and then I slowly noticed another kind of “self help” post cropping up on my Facebook feed — the “I’m perfect as I am and don’t have to explain my life to anyone” post.

I started to pay attention and over the course of two days, the frequency increased.

“You gotta do this for YOU. This isn’t about anybody else. Live for YOU. Honour YOU. Don’t lose sight of that.”

“A tiger doesn’t lose sleep over the opinion of sheep.”

“When you have a million dollar vision don’t surround yourself with 1 cent minds.”

Cue unbidden images of disenchanted teenagers wielding guns and striding into their local school and all of a sudden I was feeling totally weirded out not motivated — as if I was being drip-fed some form of cult-like supremacy as opposed to back-slapping encouragement.

Feeling distinctly uncomfortable I looked around the people on the bus and wondered who the so-called “1 cent minds” were that I should be actively avoiding.

But then again— why in the name of Facebook was I surprised? Since its inception, the social media platform has become the font of narcissism.

By 2019, it is estimated that there will be around 2.77 billion social media users around the globe, up from 2.46 billion in 2017. Social network penetration worldwide is ever-increasing.

These pop-up or “suggested posts” may appear innocent initially - they certainly did to me — but a steady drip feed of them coinciding with an individual’s “off day” could foster the idea that your own needs are all you should be concerned with — and dammit you’re entitled, aren’t you?

Psychotherapist Anna Milleri (Areamentis Psychotherapy) believes we are deluded if we think it’s OK to start believing we are actually superior to those around us who we perceive to be standing in the way of our happiness.

“Yes, it is an unfortunate fact that we live in an increasingly narcissistic world but it is delusional to think that it’s all about me, me, me — even if that is where social media is leading society.

There is a very fine line between promoting the idea of happiness and freedom as a positive concept and presenting happiness as a self-sufficient ideal which entails a disregard for others in order that you may achieve your own dreams, wants and desires.

“The fact is we are social creatures — we need healthy relationships with those around us in order to be happy and healthy. It’s a well-documented fact that our relationships are a huge indicator of just how happy we are.

“Obviously, at the other extreme, we do not need to be overwhelmed by other people and feel that their needs and wants must come at the expense of our own. Society is about balancing these needs and ensuring that people feel valued and respected — not superior."

Andrea Mcveigh, a social media manager who works out of Belfast and London is only too aware of the narcissistic climate in which social media is thriving.

“Basically, yes, it’s ‘swimming in a sea of me’," she admits, “my needs, my ambitions, my selfies, how I look, what I want and F*** the rest of you.

“And yet perversely the flip side of this is that we are all judging ourselves against the unattainable standards that we are being bombarded with on that very same platform.

“Social media is a shop window, and the brand people are selling is themselves, so it’s hard to see anything changing for the better,” McVeigh continues.

“The only people who remember a pre-social media era are now about 40 years and older, and most younger people don’t even see anything wrong with celebrating and centering on themselves on Facebook, YouTube or Twitter.

When I was young, kids wanted to be nurses or firefighters.

"Now statistics show that 75% of children want to be YouTube stars, to basically be famous for being themselves, not because they have any particular skills.”

Mcveigh’s suggested solution is quite a simple one.

“General studies type classes in schools from an early age would help, allowing kids to analyse how and why social media works and understand that, while it might be an important part of their lives, there’s a whole other life outside of their smartphones too.”

One can’t help but be reminded of Renton’s updated eulogy on modern life in Trainspotting 2.

“Choose life. Choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and hope that someone, somewhere cares…”

The filtered, idealistic yellow brick road social media is enticing us down means that less and less of us do.

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