Published: Sunday June 1, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday June 1, 2014 MYT 9:36:28 PM

In bed with 'selfie': Why our photographic narcissism is becoming dangerous

Selfies are a reflection of who we are to ourselves and the world — but relentless selfie-taking accompanied with pleas for validation may point to issues of self worth and body image.

The term ‘selfie’ came about in 2005, and was first coined by Jim Krause in a book he wrote describing the advantages of selfies. They could be taken anywhere, anytime, and they are a convenient way to share yourself with the global world at large.

Most people I know have taken one or two selfies. They are useful if you are travelling alone and want to show your friends what you are visiting, you’re with your partner and you want to be in the photo together, or with groups of friends as a way of remembering where you visited.

Selfies became  very popular in medicine when a patient lives in a rural area and has developed a condition they need help with. They can quickly take a photo of the lesion or area of concern and text it to a physician.

However, although they can be useful, they can also be psychologically harmful. People who become obsessed with taking selfies blur boundaries, share too much information and have a tendency to become self-absorbed.

Selfies are contributing to the onslaught of body dysmorphic disorder (body hate), because the majority of selfies are posed and have been shot from more than one angle, more than one time.

Women are more prone to taking selfies, and they also suffer more from the idea that there is a standard of beauty that determines their worth. 

Body dysmorphic disorder is being seen at younger and younger ages in all areas of mental health care.

“#aftersexselfie” was one of the most popular hashtags used on Twitter in the past two weeks, and this speaks volumes to the blurred boundaries we are seeing among selfie users.

The need to be seen among friends as a 'celebrity', and that they look good no matter where they are, including their bed, speaks volumes to the user’s motivation.

When you give your power to determine your worth, you end up feeling worthless if you don’t get a comment of reassurance.

This has led selfie users to thoughts of suicide when they began feeling as if no one noticed, validated or cared.

The selfie problem

A good way to assess whether your selfies are becoming symptoms of a dangerous obsession is to look at the motivation or intention of the selfie, and the frequency of the selfie-taking. Ask yourself these three questions.

1. Why are you taking the photo?

2. What do you want to achieve? I would ask this especially of “#aftersexselfie” hashtaggers.

3. Is the selfie for fun? Or do you need positive comments to feel good about yourself?

4. How much time do you spend taking selfies in a day? (If it's more than two hours per day, it's an obsession.)

When you become obsessed with posing and taking photos of yourself, relationships become more shallow, you may develop intimacy problems, your need for reassurance becomes problematic, and your self-esteem will become more vulnerable to others’ opinion of you. None of these are signs of a well-adjusted person.

As a general rule, think about your own use of selfies, and use this as a guideline to help monitor yourself.

When you feel good about yourself, your selfie will be less engineered, more spontaneous and less frequent. Insecure selfies have more editing, more frequency and more sexual content. —

Mary Jo Rapini is a relationship counsellor in the US.

Tags / Keywords: Health, selfie, mental health


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