There's a BIG difference between learning to love yourself and being a narcissist.
As i built my profile — for work — I was protective of my personal information. I kept up with all of the privacy updates, kept my "wall" on lockdown for friends’ eyes only, and was careful not to post anything that wouldn't jive with the public image others expected me to present.
Fast forward to 2012.
Once my ex and I told our children and those in our professional lives we were divorcing, I took that leap anyone who has divorced or gone through a significant breakup in the past five years will recognize all too well.
I changed my Facebook relationship status to single.
That may seem trite, but it's huge. HUGE.
Once my divorce was final, I became increasingly more active on social media.
Along with taking more risks with what I was willing to share, I changed my profile picture for the first time in years. Fun! Now that I didn’t have to fit anyone else’s vision but my own, I could play with which pictures.
Without realizing it, this meant I could play with my identity. Something I desperately needed to sort through.
How did I want the world to see me that day, week or month? How did I want to see myself?
Sometimes when I changed profile pictures, I would worry my friends might start to think I was narcissistic.
There are so many jokes out there about selfie addicts, and here I was learning to respect myself again — not trying to disrespect myself further.
I am reasonably self-aware, and so I knew conceit certainly wasn't the motivation behind my picture changes. If anything, I have a history of not thinking highly enough of myself to expect to be treated in the same manner I would treat someone else.
I was curious about other perspectives on the same phenomenon, and did a little digging.
According to an article in Psychology Today, a recent study found that “both narcissism and self-objectification were associated with spending more time on social networking sites and with more photo-editing ... Self-objectification [is usually] associated with low self-esteem, quite the opposite of narcissism, which is correlated with high self-esteem.”
This study supposedly “confirms” the idea that narcissists post more selfies than the general population.
However, the study sample was only composed of 1000 men — zero women — making it small and non-representative at best, and it didn't specify whether the subjects posted the pictures as newsfeed uploads or as profile pictures.
Additionally, the results show that both narcissists and those with low-self-esteem (who tend to become their partners in co-dependency) love selfies.
In my humble opinion, these scientists, like most of us, are misunderstanding a HUGE piece of the selfie/self-love equation.
When you’ve been in a long-term relationship, your personality and identity shape-shift to fit the couple-mold you build together. Life isn’t only about you anymore. It's about both of you — maybe eventually all of you.
That’s just what happens, and it generally plays out in one of three ways:
- The mind-body-soul meld makes you both better people. Not new people — just better-rounded, more satisfied versions of who you’ve always been. These marriages endure for a lifetime.
- Both people remain more focused on themselves as individuals than on the couple they’ve become. They ask everything from the other, leaving nothing to give on either side. This makes for tremendous friction and frequent explosions.
- Instead of two melding into one, one person leeches off the other, demanding and demanding, while the other allows their partner to drain them of everything they have. Eventually the demander needs more than the drainee has left and looks for resources elsewhere, or the drainee realizes they're running on empty and makes an quick escape.
People in Scenario One are probably not going to turn into selfie maniacs. Those in Scenario Two may, but if so, they probably were before they got married anyway. The demander in Scenario Three is probably too busy demanding from someone new to bother changing their own profile picture much.
It's the giver from Scenario Three, most likely NOT a narcissist, whose latest picture change may have you rolling your eyes.
It’s those of us in the self-esteem-challenged department who worry what you think because we’re not so sure how we feel about ourselves.
The first post-divorce photo I used for myself was from a pre-divorce black tie event. I chose it because I thought I looked pretty, and I wanted to feel pretty. Looking at it today, I can see I did not look happy. Big difference.
Then I gave selfies a try.
It was fascinating to see if what I captured in that photo reflected my own self-image back to me.
This became a simple way to rethink myself on any given day.
About a year into my selfie progression, I ran into someone I hadn’t seen since my divorce. As we chatted she complimented me on how I good I looked on Facebook. She also told me that a few of my formerly closest friends — with whom I'd “lost contact” after my divorce — were gossiping about my frequently changing profile pics and how full of myself I MUST be.
In particular, they considered one selfie I took while wearing red lipstick to be hard evidence of my conceited new persona.
My friend said, “I told them, 'Are you kidding? She deserves some happiness! And she looks hot! Be happy for her!'”
I immediately went home and deleted the majority of those recently taken profile pictures, including the picture with the red lipstick.
What a shame.
I took some of those pictures on my worst days — when I needed to force myself back into power mode. After getting dressed and put together, I could take a picture, see that I still had it, and remember that I could do better than just survive.
The next time a friend who divorces or breaks up with a long-term love starts flipping profile pictures, try to remember these three things:
- Maybe your friend is hurting and working on cheering himself/herself up.
- Maybe your friend is feeling especially good about himself/herself that day.
- Maybe your friend is feeling totally confused about who they've been, who they've become, how it all happened and where on Earth they will go next.
Whichever it may be, drop a note to say "Hi" and ask how things are going.
As far as I'm concerned, you can never take too many selfies if they help you find peace, and you can never have too many friends offering to help you along the way.