Selfies have become the universal digital mirror, and who hasn’t taken one? They’re fun; they tell stories about us. So when I use the term Inner Selfie with my young clients, it seems to resonate. What is an Inner Selfie? It’s simply a way of talking about our internal sense of self, our inner strength and wisdom, the healthy ego that we rely on when our deficits, insecurities, anxieties, and self-destructiveness get in our way. It’s also a part of our young clients that’s sometimes unfamiliar and unexplored, and definitely in the process of developing.
Of course, there are many diverse approaches for building strong ego states and internal strengths. The Inner Selfie can help your young clients down-regulate, guide them to inhabit their body, and them self-reflection. Being still, knowing your own voice, being comfortable with it—these are usually foreign concepts to our young, “cyberspaced-out” clients. So it’s important to give them a clue, a glimpse into a part of them that invites more exploration. We hope that this is a place they will want to return to again and again, like returning to a spring of fresh water.
Five Ways to Introduce the Inner Selfie
1. Teach them the relaxation response. You may have a way that works well for you. I teach all my clients a version of the way I learned years ago when training at the Mind-Body Institute of the Harvard Medical School.
“On your in-breath, fill your stomach up slowly like a balloon, mentally counting 5… 4… deflate slowly on your out-breath, mentally counting 3… 2… 1…. Bring your thoughts back to the counting when they drift off—and they will.” Work with them on this, even for as little as 5 minutes, with their eyes closed.
Check in on their experience, how it is for them being in their body, what it feels like, what sensations and images they have. For many this is not a familiar place!
Normalize any sense of dizziness as good oxygen to the brain. I tell my clients how when we’re anxious or occupied we’re usually using shallow breath through the chest. So their brain is now absorbing a healthier dose of oxygen as their body and mind slow down with abdominal breathing and focused mind. I reiterate the importance of the mind taking a break along with the body.
2. Discuss positive resources you’ve observed in your client, both online and off. Give examples. In my client Hannah’s case, I can point to the great advice she offers online and to IRL friends as a wonderful part of her, a part of her Inner Selfie, an essential part of who she is. This is a way to start building up that inner core.
3. Begin to introduce short trances (what I call trancettes) that will give clients the experience of being totally unplugged, in a down-regulated place. This provides an early induction that allows for listening and observing healthier ego states.
Hannah liked to talk and update for a bit, then do a trancette that focused on a goal and a strength. So I’d guide her with something like, “As you feel different parts of your body begin to relax, you might consider how you can choose to ignore certain things … you can tune out unwanted sounds … your skill on your smartphone proves this … you can shut it down whenever you want … just like airplane mode … drifting off … keeping all your apps and contacts … but giving it a break … just like you did that day at the beach when you and your girlfriends had a contest to see how long it would be before someone would have to check their phone … and how you want to sleep to feel rested and alert and focused.” Afterward, she’d be calmer, more present and reflective for the rest of the session. The Inner Selfie would be stirring.
4. Do you always have to be relaxed to access your Inner Selfie? Fortunately, the answer is no. You can show your young clients how to take a pause, to opt for that “left-hand turn.” Yes, it can be as easy as reminding them that taking a breath or two is the bridge between the mind and the body, as the Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has often pointed out. Invite clients to ask themselves in this pause, “What would the stronger, more confident part of me say or do?”
Encourage listening to that part until they can “hear” it (this might require a few more slow and easy breaths). Have this part convince the other parts to take their Inner Selfie’s advice or at least to temper a behavior they may jump into impulsively and later regret. You’ll be teaching your young clients how to improve self-regulation and sharpen an observer self, rather than seeking immediate feedback online from wherever or whomever they can get it.
5. Fine-tune your therapeutic approaches. I primarily use hypnotherapy, ego-state and parts work, and CBT as my mainframe for strategic interventions. Use what you know well and tailor it to your client’s interest. In one of my inductions with Hannah, she resonated with taking an Instagram of her loving heart, one she could look at in her mind’s eye at any time.
An Instant-Access Support System
As an additional step, I recommend having young clients create an instant-access video that reflects the part of them—the Inner Selfie—that can encourage them when there’s self-doubt or they need a boost to remind them of their strengths.
Many of us record trancework, homework assignments, and meditations on our young clients’ smartphones already. But it’s a good bet that watching themselves will be much more appealing to them than listening to trancettes made by me.
You can start by discussing what they might be struggling with and then invite them to video a way to remind themselves of the ego strengths that can trump shakier, insecure, or self-destructive aspects of them.
Once you press the record button, ask them to remember what they’ll tell themselves when, for example, a part of them that’s feeling insecure has surfaced in an intense way. You can rehearse this with them before recording.
You’re the coach, so guide them along as you’re recording and remind them of those stronger internal parts they’ve been working on. These videos are short, only about a minute or so. You can look at them together, and redo them if they think it necessary.
To check in, I generally ask clients to go into their body for a few minutes and get in touch with how seeing themselves support inner strengths feels. This will anchor an internal awareness of inner strengths that will fire up when they watch the video at other times.
Encourage them to watch the recorded Inner Selfie when difficult feelings arise so that they can be reminded of their greater ego strength and how far they’ve come. Always follow up and encourage the use of the Inner Selfie in future sessions. Make new ones in the course of your treatment. The evolving Inner Selfie is a good image for them as they grow and change.
Adapted from From Real Life To Cyberspace (and Back Again): Helping Our Young Clients Develop a Strong Inner Selfie. © 2017 Tobi B. Goldfus.
Tobi Goldfus, LCSW, LCSW-C, BCD, is a therapist, author, and speaker. Her current book is From Real Life to Cyberspace (and Back Again): Helping Our Young Clients Develop a Strong Inner Selfie. She focuses on predicating factors that make young people on social media and gaming sites more vulnerable to negative experiences and open to those that build strong social networks.