In looking through some old photograph albums from three generations, I noticed some absences. For example, my father is in very few of our family pictures. In my family’s albums, I am the one who is absent.
Why? Because the people who take the photographs are not in them. My father and, later, I were the men behind the cameras. It was considered more important to document the growth and activities of our spouses and children. We were far less important in the family history.
Things have changed dramatically. Social media has given birth to a whole new narcissistic phenomenon. Look at most any Facebook page and, with rare exceptions, who are the featured people in the photos?
We are. We take photos of ourselves and post them, for the world to see. A new word, “selfies,” has been added to the common dictionary. Selfies are photos of us. Us in front of buildings, us in front of scenery, us in the bathroom mirror, and us wherever we happen to be. There are even “selfie sticks” to help us take our own photos at a distance.
Where, once upon a time, parents and grandparents were obsessed with taking pictures of children and grandchildren, now we are obsessed with taking pictures of … ourselves.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism. A narcissistic personality disorder causes problems in many areas of life, such as relationships, work, school or financial affairs. You may be generally unhappy and disappointed when you’re not given the special favors or admiration you believe you deserve. Others may not enjoy being around you, and you may find your relationships unfulfilling.”
Sound like anybody you know? I, too, am guilty of this disorder. A few summers ago, a relative took a photo of me in the swimming pool. I threatened that, if the photo showed up on Facebook, grave and permanent harm would befall the picture taker.
Social media is an opportunity to edit ourselves, to present ourselves in a way that we find acceptable, and to show off our best selves. We can even delete those images that show us in a less than perfect manner.
On “Throwback Thursday,” I often post photos of myself from college, high school, or military days. Why? Because I looked better back then. What did the Mayo Clinic say? “… a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”
And, if Facebook isn’t evidence of our narcissistic obsession, millions on Twitter post their every activity, perhaps believing that somebody out there really is interested in what they are eating at the moment or any of the other mundane details of daily life.
True, social media can be a force for good. My daughter-in-law in New Mexico uses social media in the cause of animal rescue. Pro-life organizations, churches, religious groups, non-profits, and other socially conscious folks put their messages out to a wider audience.
People on the Left and the Right will make their arguments and slam those who disagree with them. But many average Joes and Janes will use this technology to promote … themselves. Or perhaps they log on to gossip or give voice to their rants. Anything to call attention to themselves.
It is said that the average person looks at themselves in the mirror at least 10 times a day to make sure they look good. But to have the expectation that tens, or hundreds, or thousands, or even millions of people are interested in our photos, our opinions, or our lives seems to be a bit … narcissistic.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at email@example.com.]