We are living in the age of selfies and carrying mantras of “love yourself” in our everyday lives. In the American culture today, we see growing value placed on self-esteem and maintaining this sense of self. We are constantly working on ourselves to become better than we were before – socially, financially, mentally, and emotionally. This is a positive thing. The way we feel about ourselves helps foreshadow how we will feel about those around us. It will also reveal how we plan on treating others as we make our journey through life. Self-esteem, in essence, gives the life of the soul and the desire to make improvements on internal/external images. Having a sense of self and a sense of worth are arguably two of the most essential things needed when sustaining life. It is just as important as needing to eat, sleep, and breathe. Without a sense of self, one may grow to question why there is even a “self” to begin with. The door for existentialist thinking can spiral into nihilist thought, thus turning into low hope and low self-esteem. Of course, thinking about life’s existence/importance objectively does not lead to low self-esteem directly, but it is interesting to notice any possible connections between questioning life and ending it.
We build confidence and self-esteem through validation. When we complete something (well), we are typically rewarded intrinsically or extrinsically as children. Our caregivers either gave us a feeling of security and validation through praise or left us on our own. Not everyone has a stable foundation that encourages self-reflection and growth, leaving some to spend time searching for self-esteem or some completely neglecting its importance.
This extensive stress on improving self-esteem has worried many about whether vanity will prevail over genuine confidence, or whether high self-esteem will be slumped with narcissism. This begs the question: are you upholding the importance of the self, or are you showing narcissistic tendencies?
Stripping someone of feedback based on performance and replacing it with empty praise breeds vanity. Showering someone with compliments about aspects of themselves without emphasizing healthy/imperative self-reflection may convince someone that they are flawless. To be narcissistic means to seek gratification for one’s own attributes through being vain. It is giving a dog a bone for peeing on the carpet repeatedly. It is praising oneself when nothing has been done to seek praise. It is seeking and expecting attention/response from those around. The distinction between a confident, esteemed person and a narcissist can be difficult to find. With social media, status, standard, and physical appearance being important within (pop) culture, it is easy to fall amongst the users who have ever scrolled and thought “wow, who really needs to take a picture of everything they do and post about what they have accomplished?”
From first glance, this might look like a question that pokes fun at those who are “flexing for the gram,” but once you begin asking larger questions about why we post, the question turns into an inquiry about self-esteem and image. It begs the question of why we feel the need to share information about ourselves, how often, and who. Also, How many of us want to share ourselves constantly because we feel a need to be relevant? How many shares photoshopped selfies to get a follower count? How many of us grow insecure or upset when someone we have shared isn’t getting the attention and adoration we expected? How many of us feel we have to be the best and are the best, just cause? How many promote our self-image dishonestly and condemn those who do? How many of us are unconcerned with the success/happiness/well-being of others but are quick to cry out when nobody is there? The questions are endless, but the answers can seem impossible to pinpoint. Sometimes we feel that we are posting because we are content with who we are/what we do, regardless of the attention and/or gratification we receive. Sometimes were are proud of our work, progress, or improvement. Sometimes we post because we want someone else to notice who we are/what we do, regardless of what is being shown or vocalized. The latter can lead to developing narcissistic tendencies.
Narcissism is detrimental because it blinds us from being able to see our flawed selves. It hinders us from being able to actively heightened our self-esteem and boost imagine in a way that is conducive to the esteem-building of others. Although being narcissistic comes with hyping yourself up (always), it does not always mean you lack the ability to empathize. Narcissists believe they can truly understand and “feel for others” because to do those things is to possess nobleness, this feeding into the ego once more. For example, a narcissistic person would say they would save you in a forest fire, but if that meant they had to lose all of their in order to save their life – you might just be out of luck.
Now, do not get me wrong – always practice building esteem, praising yourself for self-improvement, academic achievement, job promotions, weight loss, makeup tutorial, etc. Tell yourself you messed up when you flat out, messed up. Make changes when need be. I do not know you, but I assure you that you are not perfection, you are perfectly human. You deserve to care about yourself wholeheartedly and you deserve to be cared about by others; I can also assure you that you are, too.
If you can accept that humans have always been, and always will be, works in progress we can make some progress on becoming less narcissistic and more confident in who we are. As Mila Kunis put it,