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Has your self-image taken over your self?

by Nancy Colier

  • Have you ever caught yourself checking your smart phone while you’re behind the wheel—even though you know it’s dangerous?
  • Does your text alert chime make you interrupt a conversation with a person sitting right in front of you?

The compulsion to constantly check our devices plays on primal instincts. Even lifelong meditators and people who’ve never suffered from addiction issues now find themselves caught in the subtle trap of these miraculous tools we’ve created.


When “Posting” Our Life Is More Important Than Living It

selfie by Scott Bradley

Pic Scott Bradley


On a recent visit to the Museum of Modern Art with a friend and her daughter, meandering through the museum’s exhibits, I was struck by how often my friend’s 13-year-old daughter asked us to take photos of her (on her Smartphone) in front of the artwork.  Her head tilted, she gazed contemplatively at the pieces, the photos of which she would then feverishly post on Instagram, Snapchat and all the rest. She was not by the way the only young (or older) person doing this; everyone it seemed was busy taking photos of themselves “experiencing” the museum.

This is by no means a criticism of my friend’s daughter (or anyone else). What was concerning, at least to me, was that in between being photographed and posting, my friend’s daughter had no interest in the artwork, a fact which didn’t seem to matter or have anything to do with wanting to post herself as someone enjoying the experience.  The only time that she looked at the artwork in fact was when we were photographing her looking at it, and even then, she was mostly gazing in the direction of the art, with a soft focus that didn’t seem to take in the art itself.  When I asked her why she wanted to put up pics of herself in the museum since she pretty clearly didn’t want to or like being there, she smiled, shrugged her shoulders, and asked me to take another photo of her.

Now when I was her age, I had no interest in going to museums either, and when I did get dragged there, I couldn’t wait to get out of the building.  Having no interest in art at her age (and any age) is completely normal and not disturbing in the least.  But what is disturbing is how much of a young person’s energy these days goes into creating an image of the life they’re living and the character they “are” in that life.  While creating a self-image has always been a big part of growing up and figuring out our identity, social media seems to have changed the rules of the game.  Social media has not just intensified the pressure and possibility to create a self-generated self-image, but also distorted the process by which we become who we are.  Young people now seem to be creating an image of who they are in place of becoming who they are, posting their life rather than living it. The effort that goes into creating an identity and getting it noticed or “followed” has replaced the effort of actually getting interested in the life that they are posting.


“Social media has turned life and its experiences into an exercise in narcissism.” ~ NC


No matter what the experience is actually about, it becomes about you, the person who is living it.  A concert is not about the music, a restaurant not about the food, a sporting event not about the sport, a funeral not about the loss; it’s all about you, the doer, and what the event says about you.  Life experiences are not lived directly so much as they are used as opportunities for announcing what kind of person you are.  Life now is a product through which to promote your image, but (and here’s where it gets really strange) with little connection to whether that screen image accurately reflects the inside you.

Our relationship with social media: the fact that posting where we are and what we’re doing is often more important than being where we are or doing what we’re doing, is one of the most disturbing ways that we are changing in the wake of technology and its offspring.  Our experience has meaning only in the way it says something about us–how it helps create our self-image.  As a result, we feel more separate and disconnected from our life; meaning feels harder to find.  The more we use life to create an identity, the more cut off from life we feel. Instead of being part of it, in the flow of life, we feel as if we have to keep generating new life material, more life stuff, which will announce, establish us, and ultimately, prove our existence.  In the meanwhile, the chasm between us and life grows wider and wider.

An invitation: the next time you are inclined to post your story and all that goes with it, pause for a moment and experience where you are, feel what it feels like to be live what you’re living, sensing what you’re sensing, without doing anything with it—without using life for your benefit, or for anything at all.  Just live, without the narrative.  While it may feel like this exercise could pose a threat to your identity, cause you to miss an opportunity to establish your value, in fact, the benefit it can offer to your true self, to that within you that longs to be part of and not separate from life, will far outweigh any loss incurred.  But don’t take my word for it, try it out for yourself… I look forward to your reports from the field.


*Reprinted by permission of author.


Nancy ColierNancy Colier is a psychotherapist in private practice, interfaith minister, spiritual counselor, author and public speaker. A longtime student of Eastern spirituality, non-duality, awareness and mindfulness practices form the ground of her work with clients.


She is a regular blogger for Psychology Today and the Huffington Post and the author of, Getting Out of Your Own Way: Unlocking Your True Performance Potential, (Luminous Press, 2001), Inviting a Monkey to Tea: Befriending Your Mind and Discovering Lasting Contentment (Hohm Press, 2011) and her upcoming book, The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World (Sounds True Publishing, November, 2016).


In addition, Nancy spent 25 years as a top-ranked equestrian on the national horse show circuit and serves as a performance consultant to competitive athletes and professional artists. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and two daughters



3 responses

  1. Great Post Nancy.

    I agree – at the risk of sounding old and crotchety [I’m 48], I am astonished at the alarming frequency in which I run into – literally – youngsters [i.e. walking zombies] at stores and public spaces.

    Texting and driving is bad enough but texting/walking and not even paying attention to whats right in front of you is mind boggling to moi.

    *I’ve witnessed children/teens bumping into one another, store isles and even parked cars lately.

    Also the other “posting every life event constantly” is why I do not have a Facebook account.

    I can only imagine where this is heading in say, 5-10 more years.


    (proud owner/carrier of a “stupid” phone)

    April 24, 2016 at 4:03 pm

  2. All Forabitnow

    A Twitter post brought me here.

    Although Mrs. Colier is perfectly right in the last paragraph of her essay – the ‘real’ self can be only found in the ‘be-here-now’ experience -, I strongly feel that, at the same time, the author seems to lack the understanding of what is actually happening WITH the 13-year-old. Just like many others, Mrs. Colier doesn’t ask the crucial question: ‘Why is the girl (and billions alike) doing what she’s doing?’ or ‘Why does she need to do it so badly?’, ‘What is it good for?’ I personally refuse to accept that she just does a BAD thing or something. It must be good for some reason, must be pretty important actually, otherwise people wouldn’t be doing it in such an extent. I have a theory of my own about that, however, I would like to hear the author’s opinion first if possible.

    April 25, 2016 at 3:11 pm

  3. Lori Murray

    Thank you for this, Nancy. It speaks to something I am dealing with that feels at times inconsistent.

    I am aware of my true nature. Becoming consciously established as That as Grace dismantles the misidentified self is a joy.

    However, there has been a highly addictive tendency towards food which I have not been able to resist with much success on my own. Recently I have been participating in an online support group daily and have experienced relief beyond anything I could have done alone. There is freedom from blind and addictive self obsession. But I do find myself everyday posting about this imposter. At first I reconciled that this is an extreme situation and just may need to be dealt with on that level, for the time being, but the constant reinforcement being put out and taken in of the continuously created self feels undermining to my spiritual practice. However, the freedom from consuming addictive substances at least frees much of the mental anguish and not ingesting sugar helps for clarity… Thanks, Lori

    Sent from my iPad


    September 10, 2016 at 8:16 am

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