The Oxford Dictionary announced that “selfie” was their International Word of the year for 2013. In case you don’t know – a selfie is “a photograph one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website”.
Since that announcement I have been paying a whole lot more attention to the ever-increasing proliferation of these self-portraits. There are days when my Facebook feed is full of them. Funny, silly, gorgeous, questionable or just plain odd. They show a moment in time — a moment that person has chosen to capture and share. Which prompts the question “why”?
There has been a lot of discussion amongst my friends and colleagues about whether this rise in selfie portraiture indicates a rise in narcissism in our culture. Most of them think it does. Reading I have done as well leans toward the conclusion that selfies are a clear indicator our society is more self-absorbed than previously. On the other hand students tell me selfies are more about self-esteem and confidence than narcissism.
It seemed to me it was worth further exploration.
Pamela Rutledge, in a Psychology Today article, says “Put aside your anxieties over rampant narcissism and the moral decline of the digital generation and exhale.”  She goes on to talk how selfies can be perceived to be “self-indulgent” or “attention-seeking” and why we, as a society might view them that way. She also talks about how they can be used positively. She suggests selfies “can enable a brief adventure into a different aspect of self or a relaxation of normal constraints. Needless to say, there are some unfortunate uses of selfies. But that doesn’t mean the act of taking a selfie is a bad thing.” In another article by Rutledge she lists ideas for taking healthy selfies. 
Mike Langlois (gamertherapist.com) also writes about selfies and how the counselling profession seems to view them “as a “symptom” of the narcissism of the age”. He suggests instead that “People who take a selfie are not explaining themselves, they are acknowledging that they are worth being visible.”  It’s an interesting idea.
What really intrigued me are his suggestions on ways to use selfies in therapy. Here’s some questions he proposes asking clients about their selfies.
“What were you thinking and feeling that day you took this?
What do you hope this says about you?
What do you hope this hides about you?
Who have you shared this with?
What was their response?
What might this selfie tell us about who you are?
What might this selfie tell us about who you wish to be?
Where does that spark of belief that you are worth seeing reside?”
I can see how asking these types of questions and engaging clients in a discussion about selfies would open up a rich discussion.
Langlois’ conclusion? “What if we looked at the selfie as a form of play?….We sometimes seem to privilege despair as somehow more meaningful and true than joy and celebration, but aren’t both essential parts of the human condition?”
He has a point!
Dawn M. Schell, MA, CCC, CCDP is an affiliate counsellor with Worldwide Therapy Online, Inc. http://www.therapyonline.ca
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA