Self-medicating your isolation with social media?

Get the connection you crave… without becoming a narcissist

Social media usage has skyrocketed during the past month, as people dealing with physical distancing and social isolation headed online for friendship.

“The usage growth from COVID-19 is unprecedented across the industry, and we are experiencing new records in usage almost every day,” reported the Facebook group (Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp) in an official blog at the end of May.

Snapchat similarly said: “Snapchatters communicating through texts is up 50 per cent, with snaps up 44 per cent.”

But can social media really provide the human connection we crave, or could we be indulging some narcissistic tendencies?

Social media in a pandemic

Eternity asked the man who wrote the book (literally) on narcissism (literally – you can get it here), Professor Chuck DeGroat, for his wisdom on the subject.

Eternity: So many of us are turning to social media for human connection during these times of self-isolation. How do we know when it’s healthy and we’re just using available tools to get the human connection we need, compared with when it’s unhealthy – and we’re indulging a craving for attention?

Chuck DeGroat: In all things, moderation! I do think social media can be a helpful form of connection, if not validation that I’m not alone, not crazy, and can get through this. But disembodied connection comes at a cost, too.

Ultimately, [social media] is a place to dip our toe into, maybe even to swim for a bit, but not to bathe all day long.

Check your own sense of presence when you are online. Are you looking for the quick fix of a ‘like’ – or are you engaged in meaningful exchanges of solidarity? Are you looking to exhaust your repressed anger in a tweet about your least favourite world leader, or curiously expectant about how God might alert you to goodness and grace in the world?

Eternity: What would someone who has an unhealthy craving for attention – the kind with the potential to become narcissism – be feeling when they’re choosing to post something on social media? What signs can we learn to recognise in our behaviour? 

DeGroat: Validation, validation, validation. Narcissism is a hunger for deep validation, affirmation, attention, even acceptance. Strangely, don’t we all long for this? And yet, the more one is narcissistically disordered, the more one is disconnected from a real longing for connection and prone to take the cheap substitute.

“Social media might not have as much power the next time.” – Chuck DeGroat

I often ask myself, ‘what do you need right now?’ Or, ‘why are you browsing this site?’ In other words, check your heart.

Sometimes, it’s even OK to admit you’re bored and scrolling as a form of distraction. Own it. Take responsibility for what’s driving you, and you’ll be able to step in and out more wisely.

Eternity: What are the benefits of choosing not to get that quick hit of affirmation on social media? Or the dangers of not reigning ourselves in?

DeGroat: One of the sure signs of a social media addiction of some kind is the withdrawal effect when you’re away.

When we anxiously jump back on to see how many likes we’ve received or how a post is doing, we reveal some of what our heart really aches for. That’s ok … just admit it.

In stepping away, we step into the possible emotions of grief, anger, anxiety, and all of those things we neatly sweep under the rug when we’re mindlessly scrolling. So, attend to them. Grab a journal. Give yourself a half hour to pay attention within. Call a friend. And, then, social media might not have as much power the next time.

“That’s the kindness of a friend who knows much more is going on in your heart.” – Chuck DeGroat

Eternity: In all this, how can we be good brothers and sisters in Christ to one another? 

DeGroat: If we see friends engaging in behaviour that can harm then, I’d hope we would say something. And that goes for social media.

I’ve had friends say to me, ‘I’m not sure what that post was about … do you want to keep it up, or maybe just talk about it?’ That’s the kindness of a friend who knows much more is going on in your heart.

I do occasionally ask my friends how they are when I see an uptick of activity. I need to be aware of my own motivations – maybe I’m craving the attention they are getting? Maybe I am secretly judgmental? So, as you can see, this is hard work! But it is work of paying attention, which everyone who longs to live in wholeness and holiness ought to be up for.

Staying connected – without social media

Dr Rebecca Loundar is a clinical psychologist who lectures at AlphaCrucis College and also works directly with church staff teams to address issues of wellbeing.

She gave Eternity three tips for how to connect meaningfully with others during these self-isolated times … without posting on social media.

  1. Connect with just the people you would be talking with on social media – in a non public way. For example, that could be over a video or phone call.
  2. Have a specific purpose for a video connection, such as a book club, “sharing” a meal, doing a devotional, exercise or watching a movie.
  3. Dr Loundar encourages people to think about the areas they have meaningfully connected with others before and creatively think of ways to ‘transfer’ those skills. For example, if you’re a writer, then send notes to people or initiate a progressive letter. If you are a baker, share recipes, then cook together – or connect after the cook, to see what each other produced. Or simply teach your fiends over video how do you something you are good at and they are interested in learning – without the whole social media world watching on!

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