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Rob Gould

Rob works as a digital marketing & public relations consultant to agencies, brands, and individuals. He has 20 years of marketing experience. He also currently serves in a volunteer capacity as director of pr/communications for TEDxDirigo. From 2005-2011, Rob served as director of social media & agency communications at The VIA Agency (Portland). Prior to VIA, Rob worked with several PR & advertising agencies in London & Boston. He is a graduate of The University of Vermont (UVM) and a Maine transplant (2002). Follow Rob on Twitter at @bobbbyg His real-life interests include art, travel, writing, design, psychology, the beach, & exercise (grudgingly at times).

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Social Social with Rob Gould
Posted: April 17, 2014

Can You Take a Healthy Selfie? | Selfies blamed for narcissism, addiction, and mental illness

By now, I’m sure most of you know that selfies are photos you take of yourself tagged with #selfie. Or, sometimes not tagged with anything at all. Except vanity. If you’ve never seen a selfie, you’re definitely not following me on any of my social media accounts. No, I AM NOT A NARCISSIST. I swear. Really. I just accidentally take a lot of photos of myself and then post them to every social network where I have an account. Except LinkedIn. They don’t go over well there. Trust me. Let me have learned that lesson for you.

Anyway, selfies are showing up all over social media — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter — posted by both women and men. And lots of celebrities. I’m looking at you James Franco. I mean, “selfie” was even named the word of the year by the publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary. Now, if that doesn’t make these digital self-portraits worth paying attention to, I don’t know what does.

Unfortunately, selfies seem to be having unintended and negative side effects. In an article for Psychology Today, Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D. says that taking selfies can be detrimental to a person’s mental health and that indulging in them is indicative of narcissism, low self esteem, attention seeking behavior and self-indulgence. Even worse, The Huffington Post recently reported on Britain’s first victim of a selfie addiction with a headline that reads, “Selfie Addiction Is No Laughing Matter, Psychiatrists Say.” Nineteen-year-old Danny Bowman allegedly dropped out of school and did not leave his house for six months in pursuit of capturing the perfect selfie. He apparently dedicated about 10 hours a day taking up to 200 pictures of himself on his iPhone. Unsatisfied with his efforts, Bowman attempted to take his own life.

The article also quotes psychiatrist Dr. David Veale, whose clinic treated Bowman’s addiction, remarking, “Danny’s case is particularly extreme, but this is a serious problem. It’s not a vanity issue. It’s a mental health one which has an extremely high suicide rate.”

Whoa. And, I thought I was just engaging in a little “self-exploration.” After all, the very same Dr. Rutledge who said that selfies can wreak havoc on our mental health also had this to say to Psychology Today:

Selfies facilate self and identity exploration.  One of the most effective ways to know yourself is to see yourself as others see you.  Selfies offer the opportunities to show facets of yourself, such as the arty side, the silly side, or the glamorous side.  We learn about people by accumulating information over time.  Our understanding of everything, include other people, is a synthesis of all the things we know about them.  By offering different aspects through images, we are sharing more of ourselves, becoming more authentic and transparent—things that digital connectivity encourages. 

But this whole selfie addiction thing?  Narcissism, low self esteem, attention seeking behavior and self-indulgence? That all makes me feel very uneasy. I think Dr. Rutledge is really onto something with her whole self-exploration theory. Stick with that Pam. I’m feeling it.

But, I suppose selfie addiction should not be so surprising since addictions to forms of social media have been known to exist. Researchers even have developed a psychological scale based on six basic criteria to measure risk for Facebook addiction.

And, in a Social Social post last year, I covered a study where researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor found that college-aged and middle-aged adults who scored higher for certain narcissistic traits posted more frequently on social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. WHATEVER.

So, be careful out there selfie fans. The life you save could be your own.

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