Selfies, Self Esteem & Humility: Why They Matter

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In recent research conducted by graduate students at Penn State University, we find increased evidence for the connection between increased viewing of selfies or groupies and a decrease in happiness:

Frequent viewing of selfies through social network sites like Facebook is linked to a decrease in self-esteem and life satisfaction, according to Penn State researchers in mass communications. “Most of the research done on social network sites looks at the motivation for posting and liking content, but we’re now starting to look at the effect of viewing behavior,” said Ruoxu Wang, graduate student in mass communications.

It seems that Wang and co-investigator Fan Yang, graduate students in mass communications, point us again to the negative impacts of the “lurking” behavior in social media that has so many of us tricking ourselves into a perception that everyone else’s lives are better than our own.

When I read this study, I was not surprised. I have enough anecdotal life from my own (all too frequent) consumption of Facebook and Instagram to understand that the more I see my friends posting their own happy, skinny, well-lit and perfectly arranged selfies, the more likely I am to fall prey to more than one of the seven deadly sins.

How do selfies make you feel? What motivates you to share them? Image copyright 2016 Lisa M. Hendey, all rights reserved

How do selfies make you feel? What motivates you to share them? Image copyright 2016 Lisa M. Hendey, all rights reserved

But today, I’m also pondering again the connection between selfies, self-esteem, and the virtue of humility. Is humility even possible in the era of the selfie? We read in scripture:

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also]everyone for those of others. Philippians 2:3,4

As the “taker” of selfies, a few ways that I can be more humble of my sharing of them is to:

  1. Go unfiltered: Don’t carefully curate these moments. Post “real” moments in my real life, including those where my hair is messed up and my wrinkles are showing.
  2. Share my needs: I have a tendency to post only the happy moments. As a member of the Body of Christ who uses social media to grow in faith, it’s a humble “best practice” to share my more vulnerable moments too. I’m wondering what will happen next time I share one of my less than perfect days and ask my friends for prayer.

As a viewer of selfies, a few ways that I can more humbly–and with greater mental wellbeing–view my friends’ photos:

  1. Recognize them in context: This involves knowing my “friends” well enough to understand the placement of a selfie in their overall life story. Is a child being married? Are my friends on a special trip or adventure? Does a selfie denote something uniquely wonderful happening in the world?
  2. Pray my feed: Rather than feeling despair or envy when I spot a “perfect” selfie, it’s more humble (and better for me mentally) to genuinely offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the moment my friend is experiencing. Recognizing and thanking God for moments of joy and happiness in my friends lives is a beautiful way to pray my way through social media. I already pray intentionally for friends who are going through illness, trauma or despair. It will be nice to compliment those prayers with offerings of praise for the good times of the selfie takers.

As the selfie generation ages  and social media becomes a more thoroughly entrenched part of our lives, learning to take in social media content in a manner that is both emotionally healthy and spiritually virtuous seems more important than ever.

A question for you: How do selfies make you feel?

Copyright 2016 Lisa M. Hendey

Image copyright 2016 Lisa M. Hendey, all rights reserved

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About Author

Lisa M. Hendey is the founder and editor of CatholicMom.com and the bestselling author of the Chime Travelers children's fiction series, The Grace of Yes, The Handbook for Catholic Moms and A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms. As a board member and frequent host on KNXT Catholic Television, Lisa has produced and hosted multiple programs and has appeared on EWTN and CatholicTV. Hendey hosted “Catholic Moments” on Radio Maria and is the technology contributor for EWTN’s SonRise Morning Show. Lisa's articles have appeared in Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, and Our Sunday Visitor. Hendey travels internationally giving workshops on faith, family, and Catholic technology and communications topics. She was selected as an Elizabeth Egan Journalism Fellow, attended the Vatican Bloggers Meeting, the “Bishops and Bloggers” meeting and has written internationally on the work of Catholic Relief Services and Unbound. Hendey lives with her family in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Visit Lisa at www.LisaHendey.com for information on her speaking schedule or to invite her to visit your group, parish or organization.

3 Comments

    • As a mother of many and a grandma of twelve I love seeing pictures of any and all, family members, far away friends, high school classmates or even strangers who know any or all of these people. To me a picture is worth a thousand words. In our crazy , big , uniquely wonderful life pictures have always played an important part. They make us laugh and they make us cry. Selfies are the funniest. We of course delete the none flattering ones but inevitably one of our family members will repost it at a later date. We all have a good laugh than agree, we are not laughing at you but with you. Some times the worst of moments in our life caught in a snapshot become the only or last memory we will have of that loved one.

      In my book everyone is beautiful in their own way. Selfie or not seeing one we know face to face in a picture makes me feel close no how far away they may be. I do not only see the picture but I immediately hold fast to the memories of our times together. Even though time has passed on by I feel close at heart. Man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart. If our hearts were once joined in life, even if they have changed on the outside, they are still the same on the inside. I guess that is why people say when they haven ‘ t seen each other for years, ” You haven ‘ t changed a bit !” They are looking through the eyes of the heart. So let there be selfies!

  1. I (talk about selfie) started praying the Litany of Humility a couple of years ago. At first it was intense and difficult to voice. But then, I submitted to Mary consecration and the prayer turned me inside out. I am a happier person.
    I try on social media to be others centered. I comment and congratulate and through the sacrament of confession, I confess jealousy.
    Trying not to be selfish,
    Susan Swims

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