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  • Go to any of the most beautiful places in the world, and you'll see people taking pictures...of themselves.

  • We think of this as a new thing.

  • Selfie only made it into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013, when it quickly became word of the year.

  • But selfies are about as old as photography.

  • The first was taken in 1839 by an American named Robert Cornelius.

  • So why have we used photography, this miraculous invention, to take pictures of something we can see in our bathroom mirror every morning?

  • Something odd is clearly going on.

  • And who better to explain human oddities than Sigmund Freud?

  • Freud invented psychoanalysis and popularised many ideas like the ego, the unconscious, and talking to a therapist.

  • One of those ideas is narcissism, or excessive self-love.

  • In a Greek myth, a young man called Narcissus sees his reflection in a pool and spends so long staring at his own beauty that he loses touch with the rest of the world.

  • And eventually drowns trying to embrace his own image in the water.

  • Freud thought that a bit of self-love was a natural part of being human.

  • But Freud also thought that self-love can turn into a psychological disorder, when someone loves himself to the exclusion of everyone and everything else.

  • And that's what we usually mean by narcissism.

  • Psychologists have developed tests for measuring personality traits like narcissism.

  • Here are some results.

  • Narcissists do tend to be more active on social media.

  • And posting selfies is strongly related to narcissism, but only if you're a man.

  • Women tend to be less narcissistic than men, even though women post more selfies.

  • Perhaps more worryingly, narcissism is rising.

  • The psychologist Jean Twenge has shown that, over the past few decades, it's risen at roughly the same rate as obesity.

  • Freud derived most of his insights from everyday life observations, so he would have been very interested in all this data.

  • He would have concluded that narcissism is only part of what's going on in the rise of selfie culture.

  • Some people are posting selfies not because they're in love with themselves, but because they want other people to be in love with them.

  • Freud would have seen that need for approval as neurotic or hysterical.

  • Freud began his career in the late 1800s, a much more sexually repressed time.

  • Men and women were kept strictly separated.

  • And they were taught to be ashamed of feeling... sexy.

  • Many of Freud's female patients in Viennese high society suffered from 'hysterical paralysis' - an inability to walk that had no physical cause.

  • Freud believed that these women were, without knowing it, stopping themselves from walking because they wanted attention.

  • So, if we need attention so badly that we'll paralyse ourselves for it, why not post a few selfies? Isn't that better?

  • Well, Freud would find something unhealthy about selfiesnot just because of what they say about the people taking them, but also because of what they do to the people seeing them.

  • Selfies show people's best moments, carefully curated and heavily stage-managed.

  • So we're increasingly surrounded by images of other people's apparently perfect lives and bodies.

  • Recent studies show that this makes us feel more envy, inadequacy, isolation and insecurity.

  • Making us, in Freud's terms, more neurotic.

  • Freud said, "the aim of psychoanalysis is to replace neurotic misery with ordinary human unhappiness".

  • So next time you reach for the camera, remember Narcissus and focus on your friends instead.

  • You may not get as many likes, but you'll get a thumbs up from Freud.

Go to any of the most beautiful places in the world, and you'll see people taking pictures...of themselves.

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