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Mental Health, Pole and Narcissism

Our current culture tosses around the term narcissist flippantly, pointing out self-absorbed or selfish behaviors and then quickly labeling them as narcissistic. With the rise of social media we are frequently barraged by a deplorable amount of Instagram selfies, Facebook statuses and pole videos. There needs to be further exploration into what is healthy behavior on social media and what is not. This is particularly important for pole, which has both grown and thrived as a community in part thanks to social media.

Woman taking selfie while boyfriend is kissing her.

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Narcissistic personality disorder(NPD) is a real diagnosis used by mental health clinicians, it’s officially in the gold standard of psychiatric medicine the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) now in its fifth edition. NPD involves a person who has these difficulties: a grandiose sense of self-importance, preoccupation with fantasies of wealth, success, beauty and/or fame, belief that they are “special” and should associate with high-status people, a demand for excessive attention, a sense of entitlement, a willingness to exploit other people, a lack empathy toward others, easy jealous or envy of others and often accompanied with haughty or arrogant attitudes. There are many qualifying factors and several different personality types that immerge from this disorder. Obviously, a qualified clinician has to diagnosis this in a person. However, like other personality disorders treatment is difficult because most people with this disorder are unaware that they have it.

The issue with people who suffer from NPD is that they will often mercilessly use and abuse other people with absolutely no care of the costs as long as they get what they want. The abuse survivors are generally left devastated and destroyed, this is a very destructive disorder.

Social media allows for a bit of narcissism in all of us, we post photos and videos of ourselves – which is self-promotion. We video a move we finally got, cool choreo we learned and for most polers this is pole life and culture. This doesn’t mean that because you post videos from your pole class that you have NPD.

What Does NPD look like?

Social media offers people with NPD the opportunity to engage in attention-seeking, self-endorsing and exhibitionistic behavior. Several studies have concluded that NPD social users have a few things in common. Often they have more followers then average, the average being around 300 and they post more frequently. The posts are frequently selfies, or photos and videos that show the NPD user alone more than in photos with people. The meta-analysis of 57 studies on narcissism and social media concluded that the NPD user spends more time on social media then the average person and there is a specific set of behaviors that they exhibit. Their posts are often exhibitionistic and frequently in revealing clothing.

Yes, that definition pretty much summed up every pole video ever. In pole, most posts are of a poler alone practicing a move, she is also in revealing shorts and sports bras, and the average poler spends a lot of time on social media watching pole videos. Before finding this alarming, there is a difference between NPD, but those three things can make it easy for someone with NPD to hide amongst the tribe. Studies have proven that most of us already know on a gut level who has NPD on social media. What this all comes down to is healthy posting versus unhealthy posting.

Pay Attention to Behaviors

With my encounters as a clinician and poler on social media with NPD users I can sense desperation in the videos. Desperation for admiration and likes, and don’t get me wrong, social media is designed to activate the pleasure centers of the brain ( it’s called “brain hacking”,it’s why you can’t stop checking your phone) and create a desire for more likes and interactions, but NPD on social is beyond that. NPD users are seeking approval and willing to get it in unhealthy displays of behavior. The behavior is an attempt to show off talent (often stolen talent from someone else), success, ideal love or fame and to elicit likes and admiration.

Another standard is that NPD users frequently engage with strangers and seek out shallow connections but with lots of people. They will actually obsessively cultivate their online image usually demonstrating success or the charade of talent, and they are constantly seeking more followers. This is not the same as a poler promoting a business and trying to build a large fan base for business purposes, however running a business is a great excuse for a narcissist to hide behind.

To address the beauty and talent obession, NPD can also manifest in overtly sexual choreo with no artistic purpose or fun behind it and the goodwill of sharing. The video is clearly a display of the NPD user’s sex appeal and talent. The video isn’t about sharing a sexy dance sequence, teaching other polers fluid movement or having fun with friends in class, but it’s all clearly about the narcissist.

The other tell-tale sign on social media of NPD manifestation is braggadocio statements hidden in text. Lots of comments about how hard they work or how talented they are. They often know how to paint a picture of themselves exactly how they think people will want to see them. Narcissists hide in other industries too, there are many #blessed yogis whose only desire is to show off headstands and their flexibility.

What can you do about it?

First, question is do you need to do anything about it? From a bettering of humankind place, it could be argued that stopping a narcissist means stopping that person from using and abusing other people. This is a noble cause and if you know someone with NPD it's positive to try to discuss the posts with the person. However, your efforts will likely fall on deaf ears. Most narcissists have no clue they have NPD, and as with the other personality disorders, it is difficult to treat, because often the person doesn’t see it. Often they will have to ruin significant parts of their lives in order to seek treatment.

If you approach, the person suffering NPD will probably find your query a threat and they may not respond in anger but in fear. It is very likely they will have an explanation for you of why you aren’t understanding his/her videos or photos. It’s highly likely you will walk out of the conversation feeling like you were way off base in your thinking and somehow should feel ashamed for bringing the conversation up, this is a type of emotional manipulation called gas lighting. People with NPD are some of the most manipulative people on the planet, they have a highly developed set of skills for getting what they want from others and they don’t actually care about other people. Their core desire is to use other people to get the things they want, like more followers or more attention.

It is very sad, often people with NPD had childhood’s full of neglect or abusive parenting.Or parents who compensated fro their own insecurities by telling the child they could do no wrong. This could look like a "cool" mom waning to be friends with her child more than a mom. Often though, it comes down the parent caring more about themselves ( how they look, what they possess, how they achieve or how their chid achieves, how the family looks to the outside world) In order to please and be rewarded the child learns narcissistic behaviors in order to survive and get any scraps of love they can from the parent. When this child becomes an adult they may have developed permeant narcissistic traits.