Festival of Literature
Visitors browse through the titles at Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Narcissism is spreading around the world like a pandemic, much of it fuelled by the crave for attention on social media, heard the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai on Saturday.

Narcissism -- admiring oneself constantly, having a deep need for constant attention, holding no empathy for others -- could be a “worse pandemic than COVID-19” in the long-run, said behavioural expert and bestselling author Thomas Erikson, who joined the event virtually from his home country of Sweden.

‘Spreading like grasshoppers’

“It sounds dramatic, I’m not here to scare anybody, but narcissism is spreading ... its behavioural traits are spreading like grasshoppers. More and more people want more and more focus on themselves, which gives us definitely a challenge when it comes to turning this whole thing [of conflict resolution] around and making people listen to the other side,” said Erikson during a panel discussion. ‘Going for dopamine’

Thomas Erikson
Best selling author Thomas Erikson says that narcissism could be worse than COVID-19 pandemic. He was speaking during a panel discussion at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai on Saturday. Image Credit:

He said the “problem” is being fanned by the need for “immediate satisfaction” through ‘likes’, ‘views’ and followers on social media. Erikson likened the situation to drug addiction. “People are going for dopamine all the time, which gives you a quick fix, so to speak, but it’s a short-term thing because it is so addictive.” Even the names of social media platforms focus on self-centredness and instant gratification, Erikson said, referring to ‘My’space, ‘Face’book, ‘You’Tube, and ‘Insta’gram.

He added that in the short-term, it can be ‘good’ to be a narcissist because “you can get attention, feel valued and even make some money”. But in the long-run, “some people will dislike you and when you go away, they will speak the truth about you”.

Pressure to post

Erikson said there is a pressure on everyone -- including himself -- to be on social media. “Well, ‘if you’re not on Instagram, do you even exist?’ That’s the question we’re talking about here.” He has friends who are quitting social media or logging off for a month “as a sort of detox”. It could be a sign of “a countermovement”, Erikson said, of people logging off and saying “I feel better than before”, and deciding to meet friends in person rather than on social media.

Narcissists rewarded at work?

Narcissism is not only rising and being tolerated, but even rewarded in the corporate world, said co-panelist Sherif Arafa, a self-development author, editorial cartoonist and public speaker. “Please note there is a corporate responsibility when it comes to narcissism because, a study found, people who have dark traits are more successful in their careers,” Arafa said. The two experts were speaking during a session titled ‘Why is Everyone an Idiot?’.

Sherif Arafa
Sherif Arafa, a self-development author, says narcissism is not only rising and being tolerated, but even rewarded in the corporate world. Image Credit:

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‘Broken system’

“Another study found that men who are less agreeable have 18 per cent more income than agreeable men. This is a broken system because the corporate rewards you [for narcissism] when you achieve the target, but they will not reward you if you are kind-hearted. This should be put into consideration when we evaluate people. ‘You achieved the target, but how did you do it? Is this good for us in the long run, or did you do something bad just to achieve the target?’. The target should not be only sales. The intellectual property, your image, how people perceive your company -- those are also an important things that have worth.”