Everyone lives for something – a philosophy that keeps them going, gets them through the week’s problems, acts as their final source of authority on the meaning of life, morals and other matters. This philosophy or ideology might come from anything or take different forms. There are many different ‘isms’. It might be a person close to you, a political figure, a historical figure, a holy book, or a mish-mash of different things (as is very prevalent today). For many of us, we wouldn’t even see it as a ‘philosophy’.
Narcissistic individualism is one such ism, founded upon sin. Narcissism is incredibly dangerous, and is strongly linked to depression and suicide. But even Christians can be grossly guilty of it, perhaps without even being aware of it. I hope to briefly consider narcissism, and then consider how we can get out of these mindsets, which can seriously stunt our spiritual growth.
This post is not intended to be too philosophical or overly morbid, so don’t be worried!
Why Narcissism is so nasty
Narcissus, as the legend goes, was a handsome young Greek man. One day he saw his own reflection in a rock pool and so fell in love with it that he didn’t move. Eventually he died.
Hence, we have ‘Narcissism’ – the worship of oneself, or excessive interest and admiration of one’s personal appearance. I believe we can all be guilty of this, to varying degrees, and without wishing to be judgmental (although I speak to myself as well!), I will explain how.
Narcissism is perhaps best exemplified with social media. Social media, for many people, is all about promoting yourself.
How many Facebook friends do I have? How many likes does my Instagram photo get? Why hasn’t so-and-so liked my post? Take the test: how young do you look? How popular are you?
Our obsessive egotistical narcissistic outlook is most evident with pictures. Our profile pictures are always the most flattering, and often risqué. Look at the intense obsession we have with taking selfies of ourselves. Our phones have whole memory cards jam-packed full of selfies. How many do we have to take to get it right? How many do we delete, because they (quite frankly) were a bit of shock (do I really look that bad!)? Only the best will ever make it onto our Instagram.
When we go out, the highlight is often when we’re taking the photos that will go up on our social media profiles, rather than the fact that we are spending quality time with our friends or family.
Look at Snapchat, pictures visible for 10 seconds only, inviting the recent craze of posting nude selfies to select individuals. Hasn’t the world gone to pot!
Now you may just say “it’s harmless fun using cool or funny filters, I would never fall into ‘nude-selfies’, ‘sexting’ or anything like that!” But is it? You see, I think we deceive ourselves. We worry about our self-appearance. All good and soundly biblical, but we worry too much! We spend too much of our time worrying about it, or attempting to correct it.
“If only my nose wasn’t quite so wonky, I’d be a happy man!”
“Gosh, I look so ugly in that group photo.”
Needless to say, this mindset isn’t healthy for the Christian – or anyone for that matter. It can never make us happy. If it doesn’t matter to God, it shouldn’t matter to us.
“Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7.
And this is the great part. God doesn’t care about what we look like, whether we’re black, white, brown or blue. He doesn’t mind if we’re grey-haired, balding, too thin, too fat, ugly and covered in warts. He doesn’t mind even if we look like a turnip come out backwards in the wash with a face like a mouldy gingerbread biscuit. Why doesn’t he?
- Because he created you just the way you are, you are a work of God, a marvel.
- Because he doesn’t care what you look like, but he does care about what your heart looks like.
Society judges us on our looks. We can’t help that. God judges us on our heart. That doesn’t mean we’re better than society. It just means that we shouldn’t worry about what society thinks of us, we should worry what God thinks of us. Society can do what it wants, we will stand for Christ!
There is also a deeper, underlying problem. Selfies are just the tip of the iceberg. This underlying problem is – Self. Narcissism is by no means a new concept. It’s a battle that people have faced for a thousand years.
At its heart, narcissism is self-centred – what’s in it for me? How can this make me look good?
We don’t care for others. We only seek admiration from others, believing ourselves to be superior. We always want to constantly project a positive image of ourselves and desperately want to attract more followers.
But this is generally false; it is an elaborate outer façade built up to hide an inner loneliness and discontentedness. Your social media profile isn’t you. It never can be. It’s the me I want to be; hence, why we always present the positive image. I want to be happy, have fun, be seen to have lots of friends, go to lots of parties. I don’t want to be seen as an ugly loner with no friends, no people liking my posts.
It is fabulously superficial.
It is so sad. Yet I believe any social media user can be guilty of thinking in such a manner. But we can only find true contentment in the Lord (Philippians 4:11-13).
Young people, finding their way in the world are especially vulnerable. Peer pressure is intense. I believe we are by miles the most narcissistic generation in history. The problem is it’s so normal and so deeply-rooted in our everyday lives. Everyone uses social media. At the current average rate (1.72 hours per day), if we live to be seventy, we will have spent around five years on social networks. Yes, five years…
What else could we do in that time?
So what can we do about it?
Now with this in mind we might want to take dramatic action, selfies are wrong! Social media is evil! No more!
But it’s essential to note there’s nothing inherently wrong with social media or selfies. Social media is invaluable for keeping in touch; social networks can be great tools for communication, encouragement, evangelism even. Photographs are great to document important events in our lives. These things are useful. It’s our use of these tools which can be wrong. We must be immensely careful how we use them. What’s the first thing you reach for in the morning, your Bible or your phone? Watch yourself!
For some of us, perhaps it is right to come off social media completely and that’s something we should prayerfully consider.
Having a break from social media is a great idea, even if it’s just for a day or two. You could have a weekly day off social media; Sunday would be a good day to have social-media-free! Miss it too much? It’s likely you’re relying on it too much.
Our primary purpose in life is to glorify God. Take a step back, are we doing that?
‘Everyone does it’ is not a valid excuse. The desire to conform is intense. Don’t be afraid of being different.
Don’t check your social media feed merely for the sake of it, browsing without purpose. It’s a bit like me Christmas shopping, having no idea of what to buy and ending up spending hours wandering around aimlessly, uninspired, without buying anything at all; a total waste of time.
Don’t spend countless hours wasting your life away (I suspect many of us spend a considerable deal more than 1.72 hours on social media per day).
The Apostle Paul puts it perfectly in his letter to the Romans:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”
With all this, I’m sure we won’t stop worrying about what others think. We face a massive battle. It’s not easy, there’s no quick fix; but such is the Christian life. We will fail, we will stumble; but thank the Lord we have a loving Heavenly Father and an atoning sacrifice for our sins!
Let us live true to our calling in life, to glorify the Lord before God and men.