Jul 18, 2014

Selfie-steem and Relationships: Balancing Our Perspective of the Selfie Generation Dr. Nicholas J. Westers, a clinical psychologist at Children's Health, says we shouldn't draw sweeping conclusions about why people take selfies.

When people who take selfies are not suspected of being narcissistic, they are often believed to have low self-esteem. In fact, some argue that posting selfies is a cry for attention.

It is true that some who post selfies are probably narcissistic; whereas, some likely have low self-esteem. But taking a more balanced perspective means resisting the temptation to draw sweeping conclusions that anyone who posts a selfie wants a quick stroke to the narcissistic ego or a boost to pre-existing low self-esteem.

Research on “Selfie-steem”

Dr. Nicholas Westers
Dr. Nicholas J. Westers, a clinical psychologist at Children’s, says we shouldn’t draw sweeping conclusions about why people take selfies.

No studies have examined the impact on self-esteem of posting selfies, sometimes called “selfie-steem.” However, one study of college students found that posting status updates on Facebook to seek reassurance and approval from others predicted lower self-esteem three weeks later.

Although seeking reassurance tends to stem from a fear of rejection, it often creates just that. That is, persistently seeking reassurance from others may wear them down to the point of ultimately rejecting that person.

Posting selfies could be a more indirect way of reassurance seeking for some people but with fewer negative effects on self-esteem and relationships, although research has yet to confirm this.

Selfies and Their Impact on Relationships

Nevertheless, many people do complain that selfies are annoying. Some cite an unpublished study stating that selfies harm relationships by causing a decrease in intimacy and support (but an increase among close friendships).

Rather than jumping to this conclusion, a closer look at this study indicates it is just as likely that preexisting poor relationship quality causes people to view selfies of those individuals more negatively (not necessarily the other way around).

Selfie Group Shot

Based on the social psychology concept of “in-group bias” (the tendency to perceive one’s own group more favorably) and the study’s results, the latter conclusion is actually more plausible. In other words, people may be more likely to view selfies posted by the “out-group” as annoying and selfies posted by close friends more favorably.

Posting a selfie in order to get a quick emotional pick-me-up or to boost self-esteem does have its risks (e.g., if only a few people or no one at all clicks “like,” or worse yet, if someone makes a negative comment). However, it also may have immediate rewards and may be helpful for some teens having a rough day, regardless of their level of self-esteem.

Tips for Parents

  1. Parents should talk to their teens about these risks and agree upon what is OK to share. For example, is it OK for your son to post selfies shirtless or your daughter to post selfies in her bikini, in the bathroom or in the bedroom?
  2. Validate and acknowledge how a good selfie might make them feel good, and reassure them that they are loved regardless of whether it is the world’s best (or worst) selfie. After all, a selfie is just a snapshot, not a depiction of the whole person.
  3. Let them know that when they need a quick pick-me-up that you are available to talk (be sure to follow through), and encourage them to chat with you before impulsively taking a selfie that could haunt them later.

We hope you found our weeklong series of posts about the “Selfie Generation” helpful and welcome your comments below.