The ‘Selfie’ and our sense of self

We’ve all been there. Who hasn’t been tempted to snap a selfie to show the world what you’ve been up to? After all, we all want to look our best and now we have a camera with us just about wherever we go. 

The word ‘Selfie’ has just been added to the English Oxford Dictionary – and it’s no surprise. In today’s social-first world, our feeds are full of people taking pictures of themselves. A recent study even showed that the comments we get on our Facebook profile picture strongly affects our level of ‘perceived physical, social and professional attractiveness

Instagram v.s reality 

In our digital age, it can be hard to know what’s real and what’s not. Our feeds are full of people having fun and looking their best, but it’s important to remember that these images are often curated – and one of many. 

Our feeds are a highlights reel of peoples lives and we tend to only see the glossy side. This goes back to my previous blog entries on why we connect to social media. Many of us are connecting more with our virtual self than our physical world. I think the selfie is a great example of why this is. We can re-take a selfie until we get the perfect image for our profile. That image will never age, put on weight or get spots. We can crop it, edit it and keep it up there as long as we want. 

The ‘selfie’ and our sense of self 

Looking-glass is a psychological concept that suggests we develop our sense of self-based on the perceptions of those we interact with, said Andrea Letamendi, a doctor of psychology at UCLA.

“Now that we can interact with hundreds – no, thousands – of people simultaneously, we’ve strengthened the impact that others have on our self-value.” Dr. Letamendi.

According to Letmendi, we now meed more positive affirmation on our image in order to get the same satisfaction that we used to get in the physical world – from a much smaller and more intimate circle of friends.

How can the physical world compete with 100,000 Instagram followers all loving your new outfit? It massages the ego in a way that only influencers and celebrities are used to. Many of us are becoming accustomed to this form of interaction and praise. No wonder we want to spend more time online and less in the physical world.

Studies have linked social media to ‘narcissism, depression, low self-esteem, addiction and a host of other negative effects. For example, Facebook use has been linked to depression, andTwitter use has been linked to low self-esteem and narcissism. 

Selfies and self-esteem

So how damaging is this new way of relating to one’s self-image? A study by Amy L. Gonzanes and Jeffery T Hancock in the paper ‘Effects of Exposure to Facebook on Self-Esteem’ states that Facebook actually raises one’s self-esteem. I can definitely see how Facebook can have a positive impact, but I also have some questions. Is one’s self-esteem based on one’s physical reality or a virtual one? Are a generation disassociating themselves from the physical world in order to feel better through social media and selfies in the virtual world? 

To answer these questions, we must think about why we feel the need to take so many pictures and share them online. I have been known to take pictures of experiences just so I can share them on Twitter. It’s not enough I am in/at the place but I have to show it off for all to see.

Social media, society and self-worth

It is easy to dismiss the idea of a selfie as narcissistic. However, I think it’s quite telling of the society we live in. We feel the need to keep up with everyone else and show the highlights reel of our lives. This is exacerbated by social media culture (everyone else doing the same) and the ‘pics or it didn’t happen’ mentality. In fact, I would argue that the pleasure is not from the experience itself but from the engagement from others on social media. This reaffirms the point made by Dr. Letamendi that we now need the praise of others to feel self-worth.

Starring in our own reality shows

 “There’s a sense that selfie subjects feel as though they’re starring in their own reality shows, with an inflated sense of self that allows them to believe their friends or followers are interested in seeing them lying in bed, lips pursed, in a real-world headshot. It’s like looking in the mirror all day long and letting others see you do it”–  Peggy Drexler

Drexler states that because everyone else is taking selfies and starring in their own reality shows, it gives us permission to indulge ourselves, too.  Taking selfies and engaging in this behaviour enables us to feel connected with society and gain the admiration we so desperately crave.

One Boston-based psychologist thinks taking lots of selfies is an indicator that of a lack of confidence and I can’t help but agree. We are no longer content in our own view on our self-image but need to be validated by others.


Society has instilled in us that we must look our best at all times and post on social media to demonstrate how happy and successful we are. Many of us are ditching our physical image in favour of our online one – where we can be adored by thousands rather than just our small circle of friends. This affirms my view that we are disassociating ourselves from the physical world and gaining  self-worth from our virtual self through social media; using the physical world in order to facilitate our virtual identity when it should be the other way round.

Philip Karahassan

Therapy in London

2 thoughts on “The ‘Selfie’ and our sense of self”

  1. Nice discussion of some of the psychological implications of selfies. I was reminded of the concept of “experiential avoidance” from ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Theory). Experiential avoidance describes when people are experiencing reality in their heads as fleeting thoughts as opposed to reality itself (i.e., the sensation of being in our bodies and noticing what we experience in the present moment). Seems to be that selfies are the epitome of not being in the present moment–it’s like obsessing about an idealized version of the past. The antidote to experiential avoidance and perhaps selfies, is dwelling mindfully in the present moment, and accepting ourselves and our experiences in the here and now. Zach Boone, Utila LLC,

  2. thank you for your response and yes I agree that it seems the Selfies are a way of not living in the actual experience of a moment which I see happening more and more in terms of how we relate to each other and technology.
    My last post was concerning a child acting out a computer game in real life and is a great example of the ACT theory you brought up.

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