In 2002 an Australian journalist coined the term ‘selfie’. June 2007 saw the launch of iPhone and by 2013 the word ‘selfie’ was chosen by the Oxford English Dictionary as the ‘Word Of The Year’. Never as individuals have we been more likely to have a picture taken as we are now. An awareness of how we look, other than what we see in the mirror, is part of our lived experience.
Technology allows us to edit, manipulate or delete images, as we choose. What we don’t like can be edited out, what we can’t bear can simply be deleted. We can edit our selves to a degree that subverts reality.
The selfie could be seen as an expression of a narcissistic, self absorbed, society in which the individual and their image becomes overly important. The selfie could also be a reaction against societal expectations and ideals and a means of expressing individuality. Through a picture one can imagine themselves to be all the things that they might feel that they are, or aren’t.
Which side of the debate you find yourself on we can’t avoid this idea that there is a good, idealized image of ourselves which is sought, and a bad, devalued, version which can end up deleted.
When we speak of idealization and devaluation we’re looking at ways of coping with unbearable feelings. Taking, editing and sharing the perfect picture projects our idealized sense of who we are to the world. It helps us to defend against those feelings which come when confronted by an image that shows a version of ourselves that we find hard to see.
This ‘split’ into either good or bad, idealized and devalued as seen through the relationship to pictures may be revealing unconscious feelings around our sense of who we are. Can we bear to hold onto the images of oneself as ‘less than perfect’?
Thinking about this spilt therapeutically it invites an exploration as to what the client makes of their rejection of some and celebration of other images. Can we help them to recognise these splits and to consider what they might be an expression of? The aim of this is to help the individual to integrate both the idealized and the devalued parts of themselves into a coherent sense of self.
The selfie as a metaphor for how we feel about ourselves could feel like a simplistic idea, but if we can’t hold on to the images that aren’t ideal, are we showing more than we think?
Further reading by David Work –