The Link Between Selfies & Narcissism, Addiction & Mental Illness
“Selfies: (self’ie) n. A picture of oneself, taken by oneself, as opposed to a picture taken by another.” This is not actually Webster’s definition of a selfie, but it comes pretty close. Selfies have become a phenomenon in our culture, appearing by the thousands on social media sites such as Facebook, Pintrest, and Instagram. Selfies have become such a phenomenon scientists and mental health physicians and psychiatrists are becoming concerned. They see a trend towards increased narcissism in all of these self-portraits posted online. Psychiatrist Dr. David Veal states “Two out of three of all the patients who come to see me with Body Dysmorphic Disorder since the rise of camera phones have a compulsion to repeatedly take and post selfies on social media sites.” Dr. Veal utilizes cognitive behavior therapy to treat these patients, and help them both recognize the reasons behind the compulsion for selfies, and learn to moderate the behavior, but the rising trend of selfies has him worried.
The need to have a perfect self-portrait posted on a social media site is growing upon the younger generation. As they obsess about which detail to emphasize – eyebrows, nose, chin, skin tones, etc. – they take more and more selfies, ever questing for the perfect picture to show the world. This shows a disturbing concentration on outer looks, as opposed to personality. How you look is, in the long run, meaningless. It’s who you are, and how you think and feel that truly matters. This message is getting lost in the social media world, and it’s getting farther away with each selfie. The social media-obsessed generation is focusing on looks and fashion trends, instead of what’s really happening in the world today.
Such obsessions with looks are dangerous; they’ve even led to attempted suicides. A British male teenager became so obsessed with taking the perfect selfie he dropped out of school, stopped interacting with friends and family, and stayed in his room taking selfie after selfie. He lost thirty pounds in this obsessive phase, and eventually tried to kill himself after he failed in his efforts to get the perfect selfie. His mother saved his life, and therapy has helped him back to a more normal view. He told a British newspaper about his experience: “I was constantly in search of taking the perfect selfie, and when I realized I couldn’t, I wanted to die. I lost my friends, my education, my health, and almost my life.” Fortunately, this young man has a second chance to live. His case is extreme, but there will be others who will try, and some who will succeed, in killing themselves in despair over not being able to take a perfect self-portrait.
This obsession with selfies shows a deeper problem in our society; this obsession with getting likes over how we look points to a generation that has no perspective, and one that has a deep need for love, affection and above all, approval for something real. What is a like, after all? It’s a symbol of someone’s approval. The younger generation, raised in a society of working parents and schools obsessed with self-esteem and not knowing what it is, feels lost and unloved, and more importantly, not approved of by anybody who matters. Schools try to generate good self-esteem, but they don’t understand basic human nature; kids are smart, and they know when they get lashings of approval over trivial things it’s meaningless. We want to be approved of because we deserve it and we’ve earned it, not over empty achievements. Instead of kids coming out of school with good self-esteem, they come out with no self-esteem at all; kids know instinctively approval has to be earned, not given unconditionally. Unconditional love comes from your parents and family, your significant other, and from God. Unconditional approval is not wanted, and when given, does more harm than good.
The digital age has supposedly given rise to an increase in narcissism. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, narcissism comes from Greek mythology, from the story about Echo and Narcissus.
From the story, Narcissus has become associated with extreme vanity and self-love, giving us the term narcissism. The obsession with selfies is seen as a narcissistic tendency, but it’s my personal opinion, for what it’s worth, the selfies are an attempt to win approval for something real and tangible. Humans need approval, but they need it to be for something real.
The younger generation is coming out of school half-educated and with very low self-esteem, and they see likes on social media for their selfies as approval for something they have that is real – their looks. The need for approval is driving the selfies, and in turn this is driving the taker to obsess over their looks. Just as anorexia is driven by a person’s need for control, the obsession over looks is also driven by the need for approval and also control – the taker feels he can control his looks and take the perfect selfie, thereby getting more and more earned approval. The premise is flawed, as looks are truly unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but for someone who feels their life is out of control and they are not approved of by anybody who matters, the premise is beside the point.
Selfies seem like harmless fun for the vast majority of people who indulge in them. However, they can become a serious problem for increasing numbers of selfie takers. The reasons for the obsessions are not really the selfies, but the selfies are the trigger. The next time you think about taking one, ask yourself why. Is it so important to have your face on Facebook? Why do you feel you need to? If you’re honest, and you have these underlying issues, perhaps you’ll take the first step to a better life by asking for help. Then, when you’re better, have someone else take a picture of the new you. You’ll treasure it forever.