Selfies: Why do we post them, and can they affect your mental health?
If you're anything like the majority of the population that's under 35, you probably post selfies now and then; you may even have developed a bit of a selfie habit. But did you know that we're at risk of becoming dangerously self-obsessed? Experts have linked selfies with mental illness and conditions such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (1). Dr David Veale, a consultant psychiatrist for South London and Maudsley NHS Trust says, “Preoccupation with selfies can be a visible indicator of a young person with a lack of confidence or sense of self that might make him or her a victim of other problems as well.”
What's your reason?
It seems the reasons behind posting a selfie are important. It's not actually the images themselves that are harmful, it is the impact we allow them to have on us. We all seek affirmation; it's only human to want to be noticed and receive positive affirmation. Whether it's your intellect, your gorgeous children or your ability to run a marathon that you're proud of, now and again we all need to be told how well we've done and how good we are at something.
It's when this praise is no longer enough that the problem starts. Seeking external affirmation can quickly become every bit as addictive as that morning run (and with zero health benefits). At the end of the day, if you don't feel happy in your own skin and deserving of praise or compliments, it is impossible to get enough.
We're programmed to seek out the approval of others from the time we are very young – when you sit a test at school and have it graded, it tells you how smart you are, and when you win a race at sports day, you get a medal. Positive feedback from proud parents and teachers encourages us to try harder and push ourselves to meet challenges and achieve our goals. But do we really need that affirmation to succeed? Not really.
It's all about self-awareness
It's important to be aware of how both positive and negative feedback or affirmations affects the way you think and your actions. You shouldn't take negative comments personally, yet by posting a selfie on social media, you're opening yourself up to both compliments and criticism. When you're comfortable in your own skin, praise and compliments aren't really necessary. Sure, they're nice, but you still feel good without them.
The problem is that those posting selfies are getting younger by the day – more young people than ever before are posting selfies as a way to receive compliments, mostly on the way they look. What started as a harmless celebrity trend has become a worrying obsession. Young people might not have the tools and life experience to cope with negative comments, which could lead to the development of mental illness, depression and anxiety.
So why do we post selfies?
We want people to compliment us, whether it's on our recent weight loss, our amazing gym body or a new haircut. That's all well and good, but ask yourself why you need that affirmation, and how you can feel good without hundreds of 'likes' and comments on your Instagram or Facebook selfie.
Here are a few tips which will help you to get in the right headspace:
- Treat yourself kindly – Everyone has days when they don't feel great, but remember you're only human. That's doesn't mean you are worth any less. Treat yourself kindly instead of beating yourself up and try to focus on the bigger picture rather than turning your worries inwards on yourself.
- Be grateful – Think about one aspect of your personality that you're grateful for; something you don't need affirmation for. It could be that you're great with kids, that you're kind or that you're a loyal friend and a good listener.
- Ask yourself “What's the alternative?” for every negative thought that comes into your head. This remind you that you can always choose how to deal with negative thoughts, and the choices you make influence your mental health and physical well-being.
For example, you might think, “I'm no good at my job.” You could try to focus on how you could improve, such as asking your manager for more training in the role, or looking for a job that better suits your skillset. Or you could sink into negativity and tell yourself you're lazy and terrible at your job, it's all your own fault and no matter what you do, you'll never improve.As you can see, there is always an alternative to putting yourself down, and the sooner you learn to think more positively, the less you will need outside affirmation.
So, should we post selfies?
Sure, post away, but don't let the comments and likes have an impact on your life or who you are. Ask yourself why you're posting that selfie, and if the reason is purely narcissistic (and you know negative comments will bring you down), step away from the screen. Or just post it and get on with your day!
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