Monday, April 7, 2014

Narcissism vs Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or: The Selfie-Addiction

Hey guys!
It's time for another pretty long rant. If you don't feel like reading through all of it, I'd still be interested in your opinion on the article in question, so if you read through it, leave me a comment and let me know what you think!

So I just recently came across this article about how "Scientists Link Selfies To Narcissism, Addiction & Mental Illness". Bam. What should I say. I know it doesn't make sense to give this article any more attention when I actually think it's poorly written, but I just wanted to put in my two cents on the topic. Anyway, give it a short read and a few minutes to think about the article before you continue to read here - and feel free to tell me your opinion in the comments!

First of all, personally, I really don't like how this article seems to throw Body Dysmorphic Disorder and narcissism in the same pot. These are like complete opposites. Simply check out traits and signs of narcissism vs signs and symptoms of BDD and notice the differences.

Yes, both may eventually result in ritualistic/obsessive-compulsive behavior of a similar fashion (ie. excessively checking one's looks in mirrors, spending exorbitant amounts of time on planning and altering one's appearance by make up, clothes, and likely even the "addiction" to taking selfies), but the motivations to these behaviors are of the complete opposite. It doesn't help that psychology does not seem to have very exact definitions of what these conditions are (where does "normal" end and "excessive" begins etc) and what types of behavior they includes. But it can definitely be said that while it seems to be assumed that narcissistic behavior may originate indeed from an overcompensation of a lack of self-esteem, (which again would make it similar to BDD), the underlying emotion motivating a narcissist to behave this way is generally their "love for themselves" because they see themselves as great and above average, while somebody with BDD is most likely exerting a certain behavior out of "hatred for themselves" because they see themselves as hideous and unlikeable.
Excessively taking selfies would in the latter case just be a similar coping mechanism (thinking "If I just try hard enough and take a lot of pictures I might find one where I actually like my face") compared to the social withdrawal and isolation from "real life" that BDD often ultimately results in.

The article says....

"Ultimately, online manifestations of narcissism may be little more than a self-presentational strategy to compensate for a very low and fragile self-esteem. Yet when these efforts are reinforced and rewarded by others, they perpetuate the distortion of reality and consolidate narcissistic delusions."

... but this is just not the case for people with BDD, because they have no narcissistic delusions to begin with, instead they probably crave for confirmation that they are not as hideous as they perceive themselves. Personally, I am pretty sure that "online narcissism" is just not the same or even remotely comparable to "real life narcissism". I know a bunch of people who present themselves in a confident way online. They post pictures, the seem super self-confident and happy with themselves. Some might think they're narcissistic. But knowing how these people really see themselves, you begin to realize that they just hide their insecurities very well. And it's way easier to do this online than in real life, so there is no wonder that people who are insecure want to present themselves in the best possible way in the internet world. At least there they have control over how they look, they have time to think about what to say in reply to someones comments, they can chose from a range of pictures to upload as their profile picture that they feel looks best. Personally, I feel that way, and I know I'm not alone with that.

My main problem with the article is that I think that narcissism, at a mild degree, like the average person taking selfies and uploading them, does not do a lot of harm as long as the person can, in real life, still correctly estimate their own abilities and boundaries and does not develop "harmful" obsessive compulsive behviours. In contrast, BDD is extremely destructive to the person who suffers from it, even at a "mild degree" and even more so when the person has no coping mechanism at all and just withdraws from "real life" one way or another.
That boy who was mentioned in the article, who attempted suicide over not being able to take a perfect selfie? Yeah, while I do believe this is probably a gross oversimplification of the issue (describing someones mental state and situation leading up to a suicide attempt in one paragraph can of course not be a detailed image of what's really going on and the Mirror article also fails to name or properly describe his daignosis), he most likely suffers from BDD. BDD - and not narcissism. BDD, which explains his excessive compulsive behavior, anorectic tendencies and description of himself, as well as his withdrawal from social life. Which explains how he could develop such a strong feeling of self-loathing that he would ultimately kill himself over not being able to present himself the way he wants. This kind of "selfie addiction" is not a new mental illness. It just a symptom of BDD like so many other. And it is also vastly different from social media addiction per se - the underlying motivation of which might often be "not to miss anything going on".

Selfie-addiction might be a "symptom" of both conditions, BDD and narcissism, but the the vast difference between them is the self image of the person, and obsessive compulsive disorder in a BDD person has most definitely nothing to do with narcissism.

But what about the "selfie trend" itself?

Picture byMarinaArttie

People keep comparing our life today to earlier times to make a point, like saying "Back in the times when you still had to use a film to make photos, you wouldn't waste a hundred pictures on yourself" or "You'd take photos of your kids or family or vacation, but not turn the camera around and take a photo of yourself". And I strongly disagree with that. While it is true that back in a time when photos were still "rare" (yes even in the 90ies and early 2000 when digital cameras weren't yet around that much, taking, developing and storing photos still took money, time and real-life space), people were less likely to take pictures of themselves, the "selfie" was around even then. What else is a family portrait, glued to a Christmas Card and sent to family and friends, than a "selfie" presenting yourself and your family, saying "We look good and happy and are fine!" ? Even earlier than that, traditional artists were drawing themselves, and self portraits are now used to interpret the artist's view of himself and the world.

Nowadays we live in a digital age, and much of our communication takes place online, not face-to-face. As a consequence, our internet persona becomes more and more important. Who we are does not matter as much as how we present ourselves. I wouldn't call it "pretending" or "lying", I suppose almost anybody is intent on presenting themselves in the best way possible in situations with social interactions, that's why you brush your teeth or chew gum before you go out, it's why you put on a clean shirt for a job interview and why you are courteous and nice if you want to impress someone. In the online world, the equivalent to these things are our profiles, self-descriptions.... and profile pictures. We brush our digital teeth and CVs, put on a smile (or not, depending on who you want to impress) and write our opinions about what goes on in the world. OF COURSE this is aimed to get attention. OF COURSE we do these things in an effort to communicate. and of course we present ourselves in the most favorable way possible and control our internet personas as much as we can. Those who are no models or have professional photographers at hand who present them in the perfect light in a perfect scenery, take a selfie, because then at least they can control at what angle, in what light and what facial expression others get to see them.

Taking selfies is just a consequence of our lives becoming more and more entwined with the digital world, but it's not necessarily a bad thing. Of course you can try to interpret others based on their profile picture.
But does a seflie necessarily mean the person is being narcissistic?
Does a pic of their dog as profile pic mean they are obsessed with their pet?
Does a pic of or with their kid as a profile pic necessarily imply that they are fixated on their child and live only for and through them?
Does a pic of some random landscape mean the person is just not confident with showing their face around online or might it just mean their self-tended garden is what they are most proud of? To they want to hide what they don't show or simply show what they love most?

What I'm saying is, psychoanalysis based on the habit of taking selfies or not alone is simply not enough. This should be obvious to anybody when you think about it, but reading this article and some of the comments, I felt like people could easily fall for this fallacy. But it's just not that simple. Simply posting a shitload of selfies does not necessarily mean the person is an over-confident narcissist, just as much as not posting any selfies does not necessarily mean the person is not taking a shitload of them but then ends up not posting them out of self hate and frustration.

The second logical fallacy is a cum hoc ergo propter hoc one. Correlation does not imply causation. Which is the cause and which the effect? While I can agree that excessively taking selfies can be a symptom of either BDD or narcissism, I can imagine narcissism being "fueled" by positive feedback to one's posted selfies to some extent, but I seriously doubt that it will effectively cause narcissism. Or BDD. The title of the article does say that the issue is just "linked" to mental illnesses, but in my opinion fails to specify in what way exactly.

In the end, the author of the article fails to get the point across what exactly the psychological contidtions are he is talking about and why they can be dangerous. Assuming we want to warn and inform, for example parents, about possible mental illnesses and raise awareness of not-so-commonly-heard-of conditions such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder - well, if you truly want to help the "affected" people, informing is the way to go - not making fun of them.

Ridiculing complete strangers by posting their pictures at the end of the article and making fun of them shows nothing but an apparent feeling of superiority and inflated ego - characteristics of narcissistic behavior, by the way. That article would have been pretty much able to get to the point without those selfies being posted at the end, yet the author chose to show "prime examples" of selfies and comment on them in a condescending way. Why? As if everyone who reads this didn't already know what a "selfie" is. Selfie-addiction might by one "modern" symptom of narcissism, but making fun of others because of sheer arrogance and pride is a pretty old one.

What do you think?
Is posting selfies becoming a "dangerous" trend? Or is it just a logical consequence of our "digital lives" ?


  1. I immediately wanted to stop reading right after this sentense at the very beginning of the article:
    "Two out of three of all the patients who come to see me with Body Dysmorphic Disorder since the rise of camera phones have a compulsion to repeatedly take and post selfies on social media sites."
    There's simply no way in whch any kind of well researched or remotely useful information would follow up such a statement.
    I mean, there's a high probability that 2 out of 3 of ALL the patients (not just the ones with BDD) within a certain range of age have a compulsion to take and post selfies. Just take a look at websites like According to that psychiatrist, a pretty damn high percentage of the users there would be suffering from the symptoms of a severe mental illness.
    Due to the ongoing progression of the research in the fields of psychology we slide more and more into an age where EVERYTHiNG has to get tagged and filed, branded with a name and/or has to be pointed out as a symptom for whatever until nothing can be considered "normal" anymore. Plus, as you wrote yourself, they don't even seem to be able to draw a clear line between what's "normal" and what's "obsessive".
    Another thing is that it's true that practically everything we do is a tiny little symptom for something, because everyone's got his/her problems with life. And all of those problems originate somewhere, be it in your social environment, your education or a lack thereof. But please can we not make a big deal out of every single detail of youth culture? Research it, explain it, I'm fine with that, yet nothing of it is a real problem in itself.
    Ok, so there was someone who tried to kill himself because he was "incapable of taking the perfect selfie". Why blame the selfies or the teenager's obsession itself? In other countries people drop dead from a chair in an internet café because they weren't eating and drinking during 50hrs of non-stop gameplay. Why blame the game?
    It's like blaming the bullet or the gun after somebody got shot, but not the guy who pulled the trigger or the circumstances that made him do so.
    People tend to go with the easiest explanation possible, but we need to learn to ask WHY other people get so obsessed with things. We need to treat the cause, not to focus on curing the symptoms or even make every trend an alarming symptom.
    WHY and HOW do they get so consumed by their behaviour and/or sucked so deeply into their hobby that they learn to not just ignore their surrounding but also the warning signals of their own body?
    This question wasn't asked a single time in the whole article.
    "Selfie-addiction might by one 'modern' symptom of narcissism, but making fun of others because of sheer arrogance and pride is a pretty old one."
    In. The. Face. \m/
    NiCE! :D
    But just one look at the website itself tells me that it's not to be taken seriously and that it's just writing about stuff in order to ... write ... something (preferably subjective bullshit) ... about stuff, so they don't get bored during their day in the office.
    If they really wanted to help there would be at least one link to a psychological help or health care center or a serious research website and not just another newspapers.

    [FYI: I had to write all of this all over again after it got deleted because I clicked on the link to the article again and it didn't open in a new tab. Luckily I remember my texts quite well. ^^]

    1. Oh gosh if I wrote such a long comment and it got deleted I'd be too frustrated to type it all again I guess XD
      I have to admit I didn't look at the website, I didn't want to give them any more "clicks" on articles than they had already gotten from me. I just realized from some of the comments that, well... for some people (mainly older people I guess) it really seems that taking selfies MUST be some sign of narcissism. I agree with you that the selfies are definitely not an underlying "cause" of such problems and most people just jump to their "conclusions" way too fast. I find it dangerous that in the case of that young boy who tried to kill himself, apparently nobody, no parent, noticed what was really going on with him. I mean, he stopped going to school?! He was a minor living with his parents, how did they NOT realize he needed some sort of psychological therapy to learn to cope with himself and his life?! Parents not realizing their kid suffers from a serious mental condition can lead to a real catastrophe. It's not necessary bad parenting but rather being oblivious to the world we live in today, oversimplifying things (i.e. "He takes too many selfies, I'll just take his phone away", "He eats too little, I'll just cook more", "He gets aggressive when he plays this game, I'll take it away from him" or the ever popular "He doesn't socialize in real life, I'll just force him to meet with his 'friends' from school" - some parents don't even stop to ask themselves WHY their kids are eating so little, why they don't socialize with their 'friends' from school etc).

      "EVERYTHiNG has to get tagged and filed, branded with a name and/or has to be pointed out as a symptom for whatever until nothing can be considered "normal" anymore"
      This is true. I feel like it's a veritable problem of our society today. On one hand it can be useful, because when you have a term to describe something, like a certain behavior, it will be easier to talk about it and make people more aware of the topic. On the other hand, it's difficult to draw the line between "habit" and "disorder" at some point. Taking a selfie is a good example. Personally, I would say it's no disorder unless it does you or the people around you any harm. Like being unable to socialize with others might not even be a problem/disorder if you yourself feel okay with being solitary. It does not hurt or harm you to be alone. On the other hand, eating disorders clearly harm your body, so they qualify as "disorders":
      Taking selfies hurts neither you nor others, unless it gets so excessive that it takes up all your time and consumes you, like in the case of that boy.
      Unfortunately, most definitions of psychological conditions do not draw that line properly, I think. Like I wrote, narcissism in itself does not necessarily imply any problems - as long as the "affected" person can handle their life normally it shouldn't be anyone's concern.

  2. Ich fand den original Artikel auch eher reißerisch aufgezogen.

    Ich finde es immer sehr sehr schwierig, einen Menschen überhaupt nach online Präsenz zu beurteilen. Es gibt eine riesige Ladung an schönen Menschen, die täglich x Selfies, Outfits, wasauchimmer posten und dennoch von Zeit zu Zeit durchblicken lassen, dass ihr Leben nicht supidubi ist und dass sie auch manchmal den Spiegel am liebsten zuhängen würden.

    Ich meine.. klar, warum postet man selfies? Bestimmt nicht, damit die Leute schulterzuckend dran vorbeisehen. Bestimmt nicht, weil man sich selbst auf dem Bild so hässlich findet. Nein, zum einen ist es immer Selbstbestätigung, es hat meiner Meinung nach immer etwas damit zu tun, wie man sich selbst sieht. Wie du sagst: Kontrolle. Hier gefällt mir mein Gesicht, hier sehen meine Haare schön aus. So sehe ich mich selbst (oder möchte mich sehen)

    Zweitens freut sich natürlich jeder über ein Like oder Kompliment, mir kann keiner erzählen, dass er sich nicht freut, wenn ihm jemand sagt, dass er heute hübsch aussieht. Ob das jetzt mit Narzismus zu tun hat... nein, das glaube ich nicht. Vielleicht mit allgemeiner Verunsicherung über das eigene Aussehen. Oder mit dem angeborenen Streben nach Erfolg und Bestätigung. Man muss da nicht unbedingt eine Krankheit hineininterpretieren.

    1. Ich kann mir schon vorstellen dass in der heutigen Zeit die, wie du es beschreibst "allgemeine Verunsicherung über das eigene Aussehen" größer ist als vielleicht noch vor 50 oder 100 Jahren. Einerseits sind wir mit einer viel größeren Informationsflut konforntiert, andererseits leben wir "vernetzt" und viel mobiler als damals. Das bedeutet zum vor Allem dass wir eine viel größere "Konkurrenz" haben mit der wir uns vergleichen (müssen), zum Beispiel wenn es um die Partnerwahl geht oder einfach um einen Job. Ich denke wirklich dass es nur eine logische Konsequenz des "Online-Zeitalters" ist, und ich denke auch, solange es keine schädlichen Züge annimmt (wie im Fall von dem Jungen) ist es einfach eine Art Hobby wie viele andere auch.

  3. Ich empfinde soetwas nicht als Sucht. Okay, sage ich vllt als selbst 'infizierte', da ich schon einige Jahre Fotos von mir selbst mache. Ich tue dies aber aus Leidenschaft, weil ich gerne Erinnerungen sammle. Ich mache Fotos von allem und jedem was ich mag - selbst von mir. Ich dokumentiere somit mein Leben, könnte man quasi behaupten. Und wenn mir danach ist, dann sehe ich mir stundenlang Fotos von früher an und denke mir ' sah ich mal aus? Oh... die Kombi der Klamotten muss ich noch einmal machen!' oder 'Nie wieder diese Frisur/Figur/Klamotten/ect pp!!!!'
    Also...keine Sucht. Ich betone in meinem Blog auch immer wieder gerne, dass ich den Blog wie eine Art Tagebuch führe, um gute und schöne Dinge festzuhalten. Die Fotos sind bessere Überbringer der einzelnen Situationen als ein ellenlanger Text - in meinen Augen. Ob ich nun Selcas mache oder ob ich Dinge fotografiere spielt da keine Rolle :3

    Btw... das Pokemon Bild ist echt giga! x3

    1. Ich sehe das genauso - für mich ist es auch eine Erinnerung. Aus der Zeit wo ich ca 11 bis 19 war gib es sogut wie keine Fotos von mir. Rückwirkend gesehen finde ich das irgendwie auch schade, denn Fotos aus der Vergangenheit helfen einem ja auch zu sehen, wie man sich entwickelt hat. Wenn ich manchmal so meine alten Blogeinträge lese geht es mir auch so, das ich mir denke "Wow, du hast dich ganz schön veränder". Jap, für mich ist es auch wie ein Tagebuch :D


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