In Search of One’s Self


When I was young, people often spoke about Self-consciousness and Self-doubt, aspects of personality that were frequent conditions back then, and about the need for successful people to develop Self-esteem. In the 1930’s and 1940’s, Dale Carnegie had produced several popular books and delivered hundreds of lectures on this topic of Self-confidence. Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysts promoted Self-exploration and towards a goal of Self-knowledge. In the 1950’s, Abraham Maslow gave us the concept of Self-actualization as the highest stage of personal development. This led to the human potential movement of the 1960’s and 70’s, a time when institutions made it clear that ordinary people could seek personal growth and Self-awareness through workshops on sexuality, Self-expression, psychodrama, Gestalt therapy, primal screaming, astrological awareness and a host of other Self-improvement approaches.  

Throughout the next couple of decades, the glorification of Self flourished with approaches that focused on Self-worth in terms of one’s financial portfolio. There were best-selling books on the habits of highly successful people. Nietzschean concepts of Self-management, Self-autonomy and Self-mastery were revived; the sovereign individual was celebrated. Personal appearance was highlighted and expensive programs on pursuing excellence and dressing for success were marketed. We began to pay more attention to how we look, and the “lookist” society thrived.

Then came the cell phone. Now we can instantly capture our looks and successes in every aspect of our lives. We can circulate our mirrored reflections to the world at large. Hairstyles, pedicures, shoes, breakfasts, doobies, margaritas, tequila shooters, cappuccinos, electric bicycles, home décor, sunglasses, underwater massage experiences, etc., can be instantly replicated and circulated to a global audience.

Does this Self-regard increase our happiness, our Self-esteem? Do the hearts and likes and affirmations from hundreds of followers increase our Self-confidence? Or are we as filled with Self-doubt as much as we ever were? Many psychologists have proposed that selfies are exacerbating insecurity, anxiety and depression and decreasing confidence.

Can we escape this omnipresent presence of Self-regard? About fifty years ago, in discussing Albert Camus’ The Stranger, my college instructor spoke of “the prison cell of Self.” Is that concept relevant today? It seems, instead, that our current philosophical dilemmas are the result of the imprisoning cellphone of Selfies.   

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