Written by Dr. Eric Perry
Image Credit: Pixabay
“Too much self-centered attitude, you see, brings, you see, isolation. Result: loneliness, fear, anger. The extreme self-centered attitude is the source of suffering.” ~Dalai Lama
Like many of you, I have a personal Instagram (IG) account where I like to share nature photography and images of trips I have taken. Essentially, I use IG as an extension of my memory and like the easy access when I want to reminisce. I am not a frequent visitor to IG but when I do have some downtime I scroll through the feed of images.
I have to admit that my tolerance for IG is low but I love looking at other people’s nature photography and photographs of other countries. This usually will only last for a few minutes before the clinician in me comes to life when I come across a photo gallery that makes me uncomfortable. This type of account will usually feature only photographs of the gallery owner’s face or body which have been heavily filtered to remove any self-perceived imperfections. I can’t help but feel sadness as I peer into the unreal images of a face distorted by over filtering. Of course, this is not the desired effect but I cannot help seeing the inner void in the person looking back at me. There is an obvious need for validation of their existence. In an attempt to be relevant and noticed, individuals will go as far as sharing photographs of their semi-nude bodies.
Others will post highly dangerous photos in order to seek the spotlight. There have been numerous reports of deaths attributed to individuals trying to capture the perfect selfie shot. These unnatural deaths include being mauled by wild animals, falling off cliffs, trains or other high places and accidentally shooting oneself while posing with a loaded gun. Every year the number of these “selfie deaths” continues to rise. The threshold of what is a cool social media photo is becoming more outlandish and dangerous. A little while ago it was taking photos from a frighteningly tall building as you either dangle your feet over the edge or hang by your hands from the ledge. Some of these photos sadly resulted in death. I don’t know what the current “it” photo is but as long as people continue to seek online fame and the need to feed their validation addiction I expect this upward trend to continue.
Perhaps, it is simply self-absorption and an inability to see the world around them as opposed to a diagnosable personality disorder. Like a tight knot that does not allow any light into its inner core, self-absorbed people are so consumed with themselves that they appear to lack insight about their actions and surroundings. They are solely concerned in feeding their fragile ego. I can imagine that to be the partner of someone solely interested and invested in themselves is to live in a constant shadow that occasionally results in a torrential downpour of negative emotions.
Currently, taking too many “selfies” is not a diagnosable mental disorder. But, in a recent study published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction in January 2018 by two psychologists, Mark D. Griffiths and Janarthanan Balakrishnan, they noted the following, “Those who take three selfies in a day but don’t post them on social media fall into the borderline category. Those who post at least three per day are considered acute, and those who have an “uncontrollable urge” to take selfies all the time and post at least six on social media per day are considered chronic.” Further, another study points out that individuals who suffer from a Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) tend to post more filtered selfies of themselves than any other group.
At this time, I do not know if taking an obsessive amount of selfies should be classified as a mental disorder. However, I do agree that the need for constant validation from others on social media can be damaging to relationships, one’s mental health and can be deadly. In a way, social media has weaponized our mobile phones to murder our self-esteem. I am concerned that we currently live in a society where people crave excessive validation from total strangers. The irony in all of this is that in order to feel good enough to be judged by strangers these individuals have to present a false image of themselves. This creates a very destructive and unhealthy cycle resulting in dissatisfaction with the way one looks and a desire to look like the unrealistic filtered image that receives the most validation. Unsurprisingly, a recent study stated that there has been an increase in people going to plastic surgeons for procedures to make them look like the image they see in their Instagram photos. Other research has linked social media use to heightened feelings of anxiety, depression, poor sleep and body image issues. One study pointed out that it only takes 30 minutes daily on Instagram to change how women view their bodies. They will start to objectify their bodies and believe it exists for others to view. This objectification may lead to depression and eating disorders in young women.
But there may be hope. A recent study stated that 54 percent of U.S. teenagers say they are spending too much time on their cellphones. Further, 52 percent report taking steps to cut back on using their mobile phone and 57 percent report trying to limit their social media use. I recommend that you make an honest assessment of your need for the validation that you receive on social media sites. If you are not able to take a week off from all forms of social media you may have an issue worth exploring. I encourage all of you to take the one week challenge of going social media free. We need to have the courage to be able to sit with ourselves in silence.
For my own mental health and that of my family members, I suggest limited contact with social media or avoiding it completely. I have a young niece who had an IG account for a month and was wise enough to decide she did not have a need for validation from total strangers. You can decide for yourselves and your family what is the right amount of time to spend on social media and what is appropriate to share.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I would love to hear your thoughts on “selfies” and the need for external validation from social media. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.
The thoughts expressed in this blog post are my own and are not meant to create a therapeutic relationship with the reader. This blog does not replace or substitute the help of a mental health professional. Please note, I am unable to answer your specific mental health questions as I am not fully aware of all of the circumstances.
Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology
M.A. in Clinical Psychology
B.A. in Psychology
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