Relationship Status, It’s Complicated

by | Mar 3, 2020

If I labeled my relationship status with the entity Facebook, it would state, “It’s complicated.” My dramatic on-again-off-again relationship with the social media platform is similar to any other unhealthy relationship. One could argue many people’s relationship with social media has similarities to an affiliation with a person who has a narcissistic personality disorder.

Think about this for a moment. Imagine Facebook is a person. So incredibly charming in the beginning, with all the likes and compliments; then if for a moment, you show authenticity in an area, they may not agree with they turn on you. This person may prey upon an empath, a characteristic they lack, mostly because they desire praise and compliments due to a severe lack of self-esteem. They may get frustrated when they see you with other friends doing things outside of their relationship with you. They put you down with sarcasm and cruel one-liners. They manipulate you by using guilt, gaslighting, and other controlling methods. They are always right and never willing to concede, thinking they are teaching you the black and white truth. When you break the relationship off, they will do whatever it takes to keep you (anyone who has ever tried to disconnect Facebook will agree). Finally, when you go through the process of actually breaking it off, then they rage or criticize you for not staying in the relationship. Dramatic? Yes, but I did say it was complicated.

My concern with the platform is not necessarily my complex relationship with it, but more so, the personality development of children and young people growing up using it and the interactions they experience from others. Despite the many benefits of social media, we must ask the question: What are the developmental and mental health consequences when our children are exposed daily to trauma similar to that of being in a relationship with a person with an untreated personality disorder?

The Development of Personality
Personality is shaped over time by many ongoing interactive factors such as societal variables, parenting, genetics, and the environment. There are many theories of study surrounding personality development, but what it comes down to is personality involves inborn traits, character, temperament, the cognitive and behavioral pattern which impact our thoughts and actions. Personality is ever-evolving, responding to outside influences and experiences. Much of personality is determined by exposure to experiences in childhood or young adulthood.

Think of the relationships our youth experience on social media platforms. Unfortunately, many are experiencing the type of relationships I described above. Sadly, these relationships are influencing their developing personalities and mental health. What is even more difficult to digest is often the exposure is to people they may love or even call close friends or family.

There is a disconnect or lack of empathy between what is posted on social media behind a screen, versus what one might say if two people were sitting in the same room together. I’ve even observed outright hate and discrimination. This lack of caring is similar to the demonstration of arrogant and superior behaviors or attitudes someone with a personality disorder may exhibit. The excuses for this immoral behavior are often, “I have a right to my opinion.” Or even, “Quit taking things so personally.” Similarly, are the excuses for someone with a narcissistic personality disorder might use in a relationship.

What are Personality Disorders?
The Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) currently defines personality disorders as long-term patterns of behavior and inner experiences that differ significantly from what is expected. The issue is our definition of what is expected is changing considerably in such polarized times. Additionally, with personality disorders the pattern of experience and behavior begins by late adolescence or early adulthood and causes distress or problems in functioning, and must affect at least two of these four areas; (1) Way of thinking about oneself and others, (2) Way of responding emotionally, (3) Way of relating to other people, and (4) Way of controlling one’s behavior. If part of learning and development is through assimilation, then what do you suppose our youth are learning?

Although I have mainly discussed narcissistic personality disorder, there are ten different types of personality disorders with each having their own set of criteria. Without treatment, personality disorders can be long-lasting, as can the effects of being in a relationship with someone with a personality disorder. Nevertheless, it is usually not possible to determine if an individual has a personality disorder without the diagnosis of a mental health professional. Meaning, don’t go throwing around an armchair diagnosis of your Facebook friends and family, but rather create awareness for yourself as well as your children. Sometimes people are just rude and uncaring. Regardless, it is essential to define what a healthy relationship looks like and be discerning of whom we allow into our personal lives through social media. I, for one, would not invite people with unhealthy and rude behaviors into my home for a chat over a cup of coffee looking at photo albums of my children, nor will I support hurtful comments or actions in my social media environment.

With this said, how is social media impacting the personality development and mental health of our youth? Like I stated earlier, the relationship is complicated. Yet the complexity of the issue must not be ignored.

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