How many times have you been dealing with a rough spell in your life and you go online to zone out or de-stress (or even out of sheer habit)? While online, you see a social media post or advertisement which makes you somehow feel worse. What is that? Are we so self- destructive that we go looking for places to compare ourselves when we’re feeling down?
We know more about one another’s personal lives than at any time in human history. One click on a social media icon brings us into one another’s photo albums. We learn one another’s religious and political views.
We learn about each other’s relationships and the minutia of thoughts that we wish to share. Sometimes as a culture we forget the toll this can take on the individual mind.
While social media and round the clock access to world news, trends and goods are aspects of convenience and interest in our lives, they also usher in a dark side. We have become accustomed to the ease of access to information and dependent on it. We’ve also learned to trust it more than it may warrant.
It may even be fair to say that as a culture we have become over self-indulgent in the excess of technology.
It has caused us to become a bit entitled. Entitlement does not leave us feeling satisfied because nothing is ever enough. It is easy to become disenchanted when we’re under the assumption that what we’re seeing online is all true. What we forget is that humans are icebergs.
What we see on the surface (even on the surface of their social media pages) is actually only about ten percent of what exists below.
Advertisements and pop culture media barrage us with images of what “ideal” looks like. Everything from the ideal appearance, to the ideal home and relationship is plastered all over our screens.
When our own personal lives do not resemble those cookie-cutter presentations, it only serves to reinforce our negative self-perceptions.
When we are bombarded with information, photos, “facts” and other details, our mental filters become so overwhelmed that we go into a trance-like, dissociated zone. This is a mental space in which our psychological defenses are at risk. This is especially true when our defenses are already compromised because of depression or anxiety.
It is at times like this that we need to set some useful limits with ourselves to avoid risk of unnecessary harm.
Protect Yourself and Build Resilience
None of us can be completely immune to the effects of media, unless we go live in the mountains somewhere and rid ourselves of television, cell phones and computers. And magazines, newspapers and radio.
This may feel like a terrific idea some days, but it’s certainly not the way of life for most of us. There are some simple ways to shield ourselves from the damage of media to our self-esteem.
Take regularly scheduled social-media breaks:
Every few months, take a break from social media for a week or two. It may be useful to take a longer break such as a month or six months if needed. This break time can be a healthy way to reconnect to “real” aspects of your life; visit a friend, read a book, do some gardening. Engage your creative mind.
Take it all with a large grain of salt:
Remind yourself that there is always a backstory you aren’t seeing. No one has a perfect life, no matter how ideal it may seem on social media.
Challenge yourself to identify your needs:
If you are comparing yourself to others or feeling shame or inferiority, explore your underlying needs. Ask yourself some questions about those feelings.
“What about this situation makes me feel inferior?”
“What are some steps I can take to make myself feel better about my own circumstance?”
Often our feelings of inferiority stem from some kind of an unmet need that we can work on addressing to bolster our self-perception.
Stop playing the game:
As you explore your underlying feelings, you may come to realize that you are part of a larger game. While your social media friends and loved ones certainly intend no harm, they are also playing into the game that media has taught us to love and hate throughout our lives. Before social media we were passive members of the game.
Now that social media has taken hold, we actively participate in the culture of selfies, self-aggrandizement and the ‘public self.’
Often this competes for the more natural version of self that doesn’t rely on “likes and shares” for self-worth. You can choose to abstain from the competition. You can set your own standard and put away the manufactured version of yourself that social media sees.
Part of reclaiming yourself from the hold of media can mean challenging some of the biases that exist.
First examine your own idea of what ‘ideal’ means. Do you carry your own assumptions that need to be explored? Look at your situation and identify some of the ways in which you are living the ‘ideal’. It may even help to begin a gratitude journal.
This will push you to challenge your thinking on a daily basis to consider the best parts of your life. Ideal for you may be different than ideal for someone else. Keep in mind that there is no one “correct” way to live, no ‘best’ way to look or standard by which to compare yourself.
These are false ideas that only separate us from one another and bring us individual misery.
We were not born comparing ourselves to these artificial standards, we are taught to do this, in subtle ways across our culture. It doesn’t serve any of us well. We don’t have to engage in it. If we see it for what it is, we can avoid being played. Because if we recognize our inherent value and stop striving for false, irrelevant standards, we can embrace a life with health and resilience.