If you love – or hate – selfies, you might have taken an interest in some recent headlines claiming that “selfitis”, the compulsion to take pictures of yourself and post them on social media, has now been proven to be an actual condition. While the validity of this particular “diagnosis” is questionable, the growing body of research on social media does seem to suggest that taking selfies can affect our mental health – both for better, and for worse.
For people who are generally happy, posting selfies – as well as other kinds of posts – can make you happier. A study conducted at the University of California, Irvine found that it’s a way of sharing with friends, and so increasing a sense of connection. Similarly, a study conducted at Carnegie Mellon University found that posting on Facebook to connect personally with friends can make you happier.
And, according to a study reported on by ScienceDaily.com, taking selfies can be part of a larger pattern of using digital media (such as texting) to support healthy relationships. Researchers found that adolescents interact electronically most often with people who are their friends in the physical world. Both face-to-face and electronic interactions are frequently used to promote six core characteristics of friendship, which are self-disclosure, validation, companionship, instrumental support (tangible help, such as offering a ride), conflict, and conflict resolution.
However, if you don’t feel good about yourself, no amount of selfies or other social media posting will truly fill the hole you have inside. Researchers Amanda Forest and Joanne Wood reported in Psychological Science that those with low self-esteem, who frequently posted negative, support-seeking updates, actually received more responses to their positive updates than the ones seeking support. Though selfies shared were not studied, these pictures are likely to elicit the same kinds of responses. And such feedback won’t do much to help those with low self-esteem to feel supported in their struggles.
One interesting way of considering the use of selfies – as well as all photography – is as a form of creative expression. Dr. Harold Bursztajn, a private practitioner and an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, suggested in an article, Photos, even selfies, have the power to heal, that taking and sharing photographs (even selfies) can facilitate healing in those struggling with painful or traumatic experiences. It offers an opportunity for people to express themselves in a way that has the potential to help them to truly connect with others. Dr. Bursztajn explains that it “can be therapeutic in everyday life.”
Considering the many purposes and effects of posting selfies, it might be useful for you to consider the motivation behind your use of them. If you are propping yourself up by trying to elicit positive feedback from others, then you may be in dangerous territory. And it may be time to consider other avenues for finding inner peace and happiness. However, if you are posting selfies to truly connect with friends, and it is working well for you, then keep right on clicking.