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Mirror Mirror on the Facebook wall…

Nahida Esmail takes an in-depth look at narcissistic personality disorder and society’s obsession with themselves.

Do you know of people who always seek attention? Do you have friends that always want to be the center of attraction? Do these friends get easily frustrated when they are not? Do they sometimes act desperately for attention? Do they crave an audience to such an extent that they sometimes use excessive or inappropriate behaviors?




Having said that, it is normal to look for validation every now and then. Human beings are social by nature and want to be noticed as a way of being accepted or supported. However, when the attention seeking behaviour steps beyond the normal boundaries then it can become dangerous. In that case you are looking at the new disorder that I would like to call the ‘Mirror Mirror on the Facebook Wall’ personality. And surely it is on the rise! There are many factors that lead to this behaviour and one of those factors can be the ease and speed of social media. I have met too many people like this recently, so I decided to investigate this type of personality.




Let’s first look at where the classical phrase of “Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of us all?” comes from. It was used by the evil queen step-mother in the fairy tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. She possessed a magic mirror and would ask it that question. The mirror would answer honestly and tell her who was the fairest. What she always wanted to hear was, “Queen, thou’rt fairest of them all.” At one point when the mirror informs her that she is not the fairest of all, she is furious and is willing to take steps to make sure she stays the fairest of all, even if this means killing the newly ‘fairest’ Snow White.




So what has the evil queen step-mother’s mirror on the wall and the Facebook wall have in common? A lot! We have to first understand the relationship between the evil queen and the mirror in order to establish a link with Facebook.




The queen was preoccupied with herself, her looks and her fantasy of being the prettiest woman on the face of the earth. She constantly asked the mirror to be assured that she was pretty. No one should surpass her in her beauty. She was seeking out admiration. Her main concern was with outer beauty only.




Narcissistic personality disorder

Well, the queen step-mother could easily be classified as a narcissist. Narcissism is a personality disorder recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA, 2000)[1]. It is marked by grandiose thoughts of oneself, self-absorption and a lack of empathy for others amongst many other behaviors. In order for a person to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) they must meet five or more of these symptoms. (See list below)





Recently, science has linked selfies to Narcissism, Addiction & Low Self Esteem. There are even stories of youth who attempted suicide or otherwise harmed themselves because they did not get the approval and admiration from people of their selfies.




Can you imagine? Posting a selfie on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or any other social outlet and getting so highly distressed for not getting the amount of likes that it leads you to want to end your life? This is a crisis! And a growing one too.




Selfies and other personality disorders

In these cases, selfies can be linked to other personality disorders. For those who spend hours taking a ‘right’ selfie to post on the wall, obsessing that people approve of their looks, this could be an Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD). Just like the queen-mother who constantly checked her reflection in the mirror and asked it for its opinion.




Histrionic personality disorder is when there is a need to constantly be the center of attention, over-reacting to problems and being excessively emotional and continuously seeking attention. The queen-mother reacts emotionally and dramatically when the mirror tells her she is not the fairest of all.




Mind you, Facebook and other media misuse can contribute to other maladies. Facebook addicts are more comfortable checking in and interacting with the outside world from behind the comfort of a manipulated image. The evil queen mother was uncomfortable outside of the castle and most comfortable talking to the mirror. Using social sites excessively can detach one from social relationships, as the person feels more comfortable with the virtual friends and virtual relationship.




A mirror

What does the mirror represent in Snow White? Well, for one thing, it is surely very honest. We can give much credit to it for casting a true reflection of the evil queen.



The Prophet (SAW) stated, “A true believer is a mirror to his brother. He prevents him from any harm.” [Abu Dawood]

“The believer is like a mirror to other believers (in truthfulness).” [Abu Dawood]




Unfortunately, the role of the mirror in Snow White was to inform the evil queen of her outer appearance only. And having taken into account that the evil queen was the fairest of them all for a long time, how did the mirror set the criteria for beauty? Who sets the criteria for beauty? Is outer beauty more important than inner beauty? Well, not according to beauty in the fairytale, Beauty and the Beast.




We have to be careful of the companions we choose for friendship. But do we know all those that we add on our Facebook wall? These very same people that we choose to validate our lives. And if we don’t get a ‘like’ from this virtual friend, we feel upset! Are your friends as honest as the mirror?




Choose friends who will be like a mirror to you. Who will be honest to you. Friends who can draw you closer to your Creator and carve a way for you to Jannah. And don’t depend too much on your friends – virtual or not – to make you feel good.




What is the Nafs and the types of Nafs

Nafs is an Arabic word meaning the self, ego or the soul. The Egyptians have a common phrase that they use to tell you to take care of yourself “Khallibalik min nafsik”. If you look deeper into the meaning it could also mean to take care of your ego, for if it gets out of hand, it will cause you guilt. The nafs of the evil queen gets the better of her when she realizes that she is not the fairest of all in the kingdom. She becomes envious and jealous. Envy is “to desire what another person has”. The queen therefore busies herself day and night to possess what Snow White has, which is ultimate beauty.




People on Facebook spend day and night posting images of themselves or other personal posts so they can get people’s attention. This is when the nafs gets the better of you; making you think that the world revolves around you. Some people post images of everything they do, and this makes other people think that they live a lavish lifestyle, whereas they may not. This leads to insecurity from the part of the person posting and envy on the part of the person reading.




So it is good to tame your nafs. There is nothing wrong with deriving some pleasure from material things so long as you don’t attach to this pleasure and think that your possessions are indicative of who you are or make you a superior person to others.




Your nafs can take you away from the fitrah and purpose of life.




Avoid falling into the ‘Mirror Mirror on the Facebook Wall’ personality trap. You don’t need your ego stroked every few minutes. As a Muslim, learn to have enough self-confidence that you don’t have to depend on people for appraisal. Pride and arrogance will prevent you from entering Paradise. Being envious will not get you what you want. Rather, turn into a productive Muslim, accept and be grateful to the favours that have been bestowed upon you. Try and raise your nafs to be Nafs al-Mutmainah (a self that reaches the ultimate peace). Kill your ego when it gets too attracted and attached to the dunya. Don’t give into consumerism. The world does not revolve around you!




[1]Narcissistic Personality Disorder (http://psyed.org/r/pers/pt/narcissisticpd.html)


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (American Psychiatric Association, 1994, pg. 661) describes Narcissistic Personality Disorder as a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

  • has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements);
  • is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love;
  • believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions);
  • requires excessive admiration;
  • has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations;
  • is interpersonally exploitive, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends;
  • lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others;
  • is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her;
  • shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.




Nahida Esmail grew up in DaresSalam, Tanzania and has lived in the UK, Egypt and South Africa. She enjoys reading, travelling, keeping fit and photography. She cycled 377km from Mount Kilimanjaro to Ngorongoro Crater to raise fund for access to clean water. Being a published writer for children’s and young adults books, she has won four Burt Awards. Her latest book is, “Living in the Shade: Aiming for the Summit”, which will be launched at the end of this month. She won the Tanzania Women’s Achievement Award for the education category in 2015.