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We are living in an age of narcissism. Nothing is more celebrated than the self. Lives are carefully curated content – images, opinions, experiences – that are then idealized, digitized, publicized, and monetized.

Narcissism is usually described as extreme selfishness and self absorption, with grandiose views of talents and accomplishments, and grandiose needs for attention and admiration. Another classic trait of narcissism is a lack of empathy.

Social media has propelled selfies and self promotion into an art form with the highest achievement in our society being fame. When fame is not attainable, people settle for the brief and addictive high of the passing praise that comes in the form of likes and shares.

Social media rewards narcissism and creates narcissists one ‘like’ at a time, where the goal is to present the most idealized image and lifestyle to gain fans and followers to shower them with attention and affection.These followers are nothing more than a source of external validation.

People that fall into the trap of chasing this external form of validation create idealized personas – they are richer, better looking, more interesting, and far more glamorous online than they can ever be in reality. But all the filters in the world won’t change your reflection in the mirror. This harsh dichotomy of an ideal self versus the real self creates feelings of shame and worthlessness. Eventually, it leads to self-loathing; and this is how narcissists are made.

Self-loathing is the heart of narcissism – but the feeling of self-loathing is so unbearable that the opposite traits are presented and projected. Those grandiose needs for attention, the entitlement, and arrogance are what narcissists think love looks like. It is a distorted version of love, as though reflected in a funhouse mirror, that ends up looking like nonstop bragging, manipulative behavior, and cruelty to others.

Narcissists use people to feel loved and powerful, they seduce those around them through charm, compliments, and manipulation. And once they have the love and devotion they so desperately crave, they can never forgive their victims. Narcissists will torment their admirers, often punishing those that love them most. Because those that love the narcissist must be unworthy or broken: “If you love someone as awful as me, there must be something terribly wrong with you.”

This self-loathing is so great and so deep that they will punish everyone, especially those that love them, but also those who don’t. It is a self-hate so complete, it extends to all of humanity.

An age of narcissism can only lead to an age of misanthropy. And humanity may not survive it.

The only way to counter both narcissism and misanthropy is by cultivating empathy and compassion. By doing so we can bring our idealized and real self into alignment, as well as love ourselves a little better.

There are countless ways to increase our empathy and compassion, here are just a few:

Practice Active Listening

Listen to others, without interruption or judgement. Also without trying to find solutions or offering opinions. Ask questions, stay engaged, and focused on the person speaking. Let them be the center of attention, and simply be there for them.

Read More Books

Studies have shown that reading fiction increases empathy. When we engage our imagination and are transported into other worlds and experiences it increases our empathy, thus making it easier for us to put ourselves in another person’s shoes.

See The World

Of course travel will always open our horizons and give us new perspectives, but we don’t need to get on a plane to see the world. You can watch foreign films, try an unfamiliar cuisine, read an English language newspaper from abroad, visit an unfamiliar house of worship, or talk to an immigrant. Experiencing the unfamiliar gives us a chance to see new cultures, while also giving us a taste how foreign people feel in our own.

Be Curious

Ask questions, get to know your acquaintances better, start conversations with strangers. Be open to learn from everyone around you. Every person we see has a unique life and story to share, full of wonders and heartaches. When you connect with strangers you see a slice of life you may have never imagined.

When we only focus only on ourselves, our world gets very small, and our lives shrink. Similarly when we obsess on our our idealized self, the more miserable we become. Through empathy and compassion we can better connect with others, making our lives richer, and ultimately, make ourselves more satisfied with our own lives.

Seeing the flaws and faults of others makes us more accepting of our own, and allows us to align our ideal and real self so that we can know and love ourselves all the better.