Is Social Media Turning Us Into Narcissists?

September 6, 2023   •  Posted in: 

Social media usage is becoming increasingly common. Now, over 75% of the world’s population uses some type of social media platform. Reports show that narcissistic personality traits are also growing in young people[1].

The question is: Are the two related? Are young people becoming more narcissistic due to social media use? Research shows, yes – narcissism and social media use are highly linked. So, what does that mean for you (or your loved ones) and the time you spend on social media?

We break it down below.


What is narcissism?

Narcissism is a set of personality traits that makes someone self-absorbed and self-serving, even at the expense of others. While some levels of narcissism can be normal and harmless, when we talk about “narcissists,” we are referring to people for whom narcissistic traits have reached maladaptive and unhealthy levels.

The term narcissist comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, written in the year 8 A.D. The poem tells the tale of Narcissus, a handsome young man who is cursed to fall in love with his own reflection. In the story, Narcissus eventually dies with longing for this object of desire.

The pathology of narcissism has been outlined by psychologists over many generations, all the way back to Sigmund Freud. Pathological narcissism is typically described as having a “God complex” – having an overall sense of superiority, grandiosity, entitlement, and a lack of concern for others’ feelings or needs.

Today, narcissistic personality disorder is included as a psychiatric diagnosis in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) for mental health providers.

The symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder include[2]:

  • A grandiose sense of self
  • Being preoccupied with fantasies of power, success, brilliance, beauty, etc.
  • Believing they are unique and exceptional, and should only associate with other people who are “high-status” or important
  • Requiring constant adoration, admiration, and praise
  • Having an extreme sense of entitlement
  • Manipulating or exploiting others to get what they want
  • A lack of empathy for others
  • Envy – either feeling envious of others, or believing others are envious of them
  • Being arrogant or haughty

There are also at least two subtypes of narcissistic personality, although none of the subtypes are included officially in the DSM or elsewhere. But, in general, experts agree there are two types of narcissism: overt and covert[3].

People with overt narcissism (also called grandiose or malignant narcissism) have a highly inflated sense of self and a great sense of entitlement. They seek power and control over others and tend to have a complete lack of empathy or remorse. They don’t seem to have any underlying feelings of shame or inadequacy.

This type of narcissist is more likely to have antisocial personality traits and act out in anger or aggression. They frequently become abusive or violent.

People with covert narcissism (also known as fragile or vulnerable narcissism) are defined by underlying feelings of shame. Deep down, they feel inferior, which makes them act out in jealousy or resentment. They tend to be extremely self-conscious and sensitive to rejection and criticism.

These may not sound like narcissistic traits to you, but covert narcissists require attention and praise just as much as people with overt narcissism. They’re just more likely to use tactics like emotional manipulation and guilt-tripping, rather than aggression and violence, to get it.

It’s important to remember that narcissism comes on a spectrum. Not everyone who shows narcissistic personality traits will qualify for a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder.

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The link between social media and narcissism

Many experts agree that living in the social media world has contributed to the increase in narcissism in young people today, and research supports that claim.

Multiple studies have found that social media use is linked with both types of narcissism (grandiose and vulnerable). In other words, the more people use social media, the more likely they are to have narcissistic personality traits.

For example, one systematic literature review from 2020 found a significant positive correlation between problematic Facebook use and narcissistic traits[4]. Another meta-analytic review found that grandiose narcissism (but not vulnerable narcissism) was positively related to time spent on social media, frequency of updates and posts, number of friends and followers, and number of selfies posted[5].

Studies have also found the relationship between narcissism and social media can be a Catch-22, or a self-enforcing spiral. For example, people with narcissistic personality traits are more likely to post more selfies, and posting selfies can result in a rise in narcissism over time.

Research has also shown that social media may affect people with different types of narcissism in different ways. People with grandiose narcissism, for example, are more likely to engage in downward social comparison – looking at others’ posts and feeling themselves to be superior.

This might explain why people with grandiose narcissism are more likely to have positive feelings towards their social media experiences. They’re also more likely to post more on social media, especially on Snapchat.

People with vulnerable narcissism, on the other hand, are more likely to engage in upward social comparisons – judging others’ posts and feeling like they don’t measure up. They also tend to feel socially excluded after spending time on social media. This causes them to experience envy and resentment.

Social media also provides a way for vulnerable or covert narcissists to get the admiration and praise they need. Unlike grandiose or overt narcissists, vulnerable narcissists are introverts and may have a hard time being boastful in their “real” lives. But on social media, they can curate the perfect and superior self-image they want to portray to the world.

So, does this mean you’re a narcissist if you post a lot on social media? Thankfully, no. First of all, the relationship between social media use and narcissism isn’t necessarily causal, meaning we can’t say for sure which comes first. Does social media turn people into narcissists, or are people with narcissistic traits more likely to post on social media?

Secondly, having narcissistic traits is a long way from having narcissistic personality disorder. Even if young people do have some narcissistic traits, such as an inflated sense of self, that doesn’t necessarily mean this narcissism is pathological.

Lastly, some studies have found the link between narcissism and social media use was small to moderate[6], and others have even found the link doesn’t exist at all[7]. Although, in general, established studies have found a strong link between narcissism and social media use, these other studies could indicate not everyone is affected by social media in this way.

So, no – using social media doesn’t automatically make you a narcissist, but it may heighten narcissistic traits already present.


Treatment for social media narcissism

If you or someone you love is using social media too much or is exhibiting traits of narcissism, then it may be time to get professional help.

Some signs of narcissism in social media use include:

  • Constantly posting selfies and being preoccupied with views and likes
  • Showing little to no empathy for others’ posts or struggles
  • Comparing themselves against others (whether they feel superior or inferior)
  • Using social media as an outlet to express a grandiose self-image
  • Being highly sensitive to any criticism or lack of admiration over their posts
  • A sense of entitlement

Narcissistic people can and do change, but it almost always requires extensive treatment. This depends greatly on the intensity of the narcissistic traits, but someone with narcissistic personality disorder is unlikely to change without treatment. Psychotherapy, especially psychoanalytic therapy, is typically the recommended form of treatment for someone with narcissistic personality disorder.

If you’re worried about your or a loved one’s social media use and how it might be contributing to narcissism, a digital intervention may be helpful as well. By changing the way you use and relate to social media, you can develop a healthier relationship with both yourself and others.

At The Center • A Place of HOPE, we use a unique Whole Person Care approach to ensure your treatment will address the physical, emotional, intellectual, relational, and spiritual elements of your life. Here, you will find a safe and respectful environment where you can focus on emerging as your true and best self.

We can help you find ways to manage your social media use so it doesn’t contribute to narcissistic traits. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you and your family.


Dr. Gregory Jantz

Pioneering Whole Person Care over thirty years ago, Dr. Gregory Jantz is an innovator in the treatment of mental health. He is a best-selling author of over 45 books, and a go-to media authority on behavioral health afflictions, appearing on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN. Dr. Jantz leads a team of world-class, licensed, and...

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