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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, Professor of the School of Education and Psychology

The vain 'Narcissus' trades the mirror for the nets

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 12:21:00 +0000 Published in The Confidential

The term "narcissism" was inspired by the beautiful and vain Narcissus, a character from Greek mythology, who, being unable to fall in love with a woman, upon contemplating his own image reflected in a mirror and in the water of a pond, fell in love with her. Later Freud considered it an illness. In the second half of the 20th century Christopher Lasch conceived narcissism as a cultural rule and a new therapy for neurosis: that of the cult of the individual, linked to the incessant search for success and money,

Today, narcissistic behaviors are spreading like an epidemic, both individually and collectively, affecting people of all ages. The renowned psychologist Pat MacDonald explains it this way: Narcissistic qualities - a general patron saint of grandiosity, need for admiration and lack of empathy - are on the rise. Just look at rampant consumerism, self-promotion on social media, the quest for fame at any price, and the use of surgery to slow aging."-(Narcissism in the Modern World, 2014)

Necessary or healthy narcissism is often confused with pathological narcissism. The former is a condition for success in life. On the other hand, the latter is a personality disorder caused by a person's immoderate love of self. The narcissist is recognized by his egotistical behavior: he always wants to be the center of attention, seeks to be admired and does not accept his faults. The narcissist constructs a grandiose image of himself, with which he tries to compensate for the poor reality of his true self. He dedicates himself to inflate his ego, instead of getting in touch with what he really is and fixing his emotional problem. 

Among the possible causes of the narcissistic personality discovered in the research are certain errors of some parents in the family Education . One of them is excessive severity, combined with lack of affection and mistreatment or humiliation. Another mistake is to make the child believe that he/she is the best or that he/she is unique.

At present, parents are being frightened by the risk of their children developing a lack of self-esteem. And to prevent it, they are recommended to develop this quality with procedures such as the following: praising their children by system, regardless of their behavior; lowering the ideals of life (so that they do not suffer possible disappointments later); reducing the demands until reaching tolerance without limits (so that they never feel guilty of anything).

Experience tells us that self-esteem does not develop through continuous praise or almost total tolerance. Parents who seek to strengthen their children's "ego" in this way only succeed in weakening and isolating it.

In addition to the family factor, there is the environmental factor. Many sociologists argue that children today are being born and growing up in a narcissistic society. Lowen wrote a book with this degree scroll: Narcissism, the disease of our time. He considers that "individual narcissism runs parallel to cultural narcissism: the individual shapes the culture according to his own image and the culture shapes, in turn, the individual." (Paidós, 2.000).

Among adolescents and young people today, the cult of self-image on social networks, known as the "Selfies Syndrome", is all the rage. It consists of taking a self-photograph of oneself with a smartphone and then publishing it and sharing it with other people. Each self-portrait has a caption. For example, "Me and my dog", "Me and my bike", "Me eating", "Me at the edge of a cliff". When the cult of self-image was limited to looking in the mirror, it was not possible to disseminate it; today, however, the new "narcissists", with the availability of networks, have the possibility of being hyper-narcissists.

Selfies greatly stimulate vanity and the desire for notoriety, which entails potential negative effects and serious risks. Newspaper headlines often refer to fatal accidents involving teenagers who intended to take a self-portrait in a very dangerous place. For example: "15-year-old boy dies after falling from a rooftop while trying to take a selfie".

Taking a photo and posting it on social networks demands feedback in terms of "likes" from users. And the desire to look better themselves has led many of them to become obsessed with correcting facial defects with plastic surgery.

What do we need today as we are conditioned by an egomaniacal culture that produces social narcissism? In the opinion of the famous psychiatrist Glynn Harrison, "we need to have a perception of ourselves that is realistic and grounded, and that is not focused on asserting our own importance, but on serving a purpose greater than ourselves." (The Great Ego Journey," 2017).