We can not be who we are not
We can not have what we can not reach
We can not be full when we starve our souls
We can stand in our truth and be seen
The frenetic world in which we live where every waking and sleeping hour is dominated by devices and technology relying on obsessive levels of interaction that become habitual.
The virtual airbrushed universe of Facebook and Instagram thrives on competition, comparisons, materialism, bragging, mockery and ‘look at me’ statements through carefully staged images. In this ‘virtual world, ‘Z” list celebrity ‘reality’ shows are championed and extolled above the basic and containing values of family, kindness, respect and honesty.
For teenagers and younger children, it’s confusing and almost impossible to know who they are and where they begin and end. The pressure is indomitable; self-exposure, sexting and oversharing with WhatsApp groups, become the norm. Who am? Do I belong? Am I boring? Am I pretty? Too fat? Too thin? Do I run with the crowd or be left out? So many challenging questions are forced upon them.
In this world, trolling, bitching and ridiculing are ‘cool’ and anything is fair game, which some would say is fair enough because if you put it out there it becomes public property, despite the privacy settings. You can’t have it both ways.
Facebook timelines display perfect manicured lives that do not show the realities of daily life and lack the authenticity of how most people feel. The edited Instagram images shout ‘LOOK AT ME’, but don’t see me, not who I really am or how I feel, just see the facade and so we disengage from earth like major Tom. God forbid that you should have a bad day, because we don’t do that here and we don’t want to know. I am not suggesting in any way that social media would be the appropriate platform to expose struggles and the more private parts of your lives, but you can easily become immersed and detached from the real world. It is not an escape route and in the vortex of social media, self-worth can become indexed to how many ‘likes’ or ‘followers’, how many friends or comments you receive.
There's nothing wrong with connecting with old friends and seeing joyous family and friend’s events from around the globe, it can be great fun and incredibly engaging, Editing one’s life according to others perceptions can feed into insecurities and vulnerabilities, leaving a hole in your soul. If you are full of self-doubt and have the propensity to feel empty, living on a magnifying glass can shrivel the soul.
Clients often report that the worse they feel, the more they look. The emptier they feel, the more they search for reassurance in the wrong places and this, of course, compounds their feelings. In many ways, they are stalking their own misery. This obsessive watching of other people’s glossy lives, appearing to be so happy, popular, and successful, will confirm all their doubts. They cannot look away. In some cases, I have come to understand it as a form of psychological self-harm, a sort of self-inflicted death by a thousand cuts.
I have one client that spoke of how compelled he felt to look and to check how his ex-girlfriend was doing. He described feeling dirty and sick, as though he had been kicked in the stomach. He would go on dates, any date he could get, sleeping with as many people as he could get. He spent his time posting happy posts with doctored photos and told no one but me how inside, he was dying. He didn't want his friends to see his pain and reality as they didn't know him ‘like that’. He didn't want to risk being shut out or perceived as down or depressed.
Another client, Helen, a pretty young Australian woman, came to me for help with her relationship as it was in big trouble. By the time she came in for the assessment, her husband had left her and she was inconsolable, she couldn't understand how things had got so bad without her realizing. She was devastated, the abandonment echoing the childhood experience of her doting father leaving her aged nine. She became obsessive and desperate and spent much of her time stalking her ex-husband on her iPhone, following his movements on social media. She was totally obsessed that he had found someone else, which of course he had, he had found many others. Knowing this was painful, but she carried on checking. She joined Tinder and swiped until her wrist ached, picking up an array of unavailable and not very nice men to try to release her from the pain though of course this made it worse. Taking it further, she set up a fake account and found her ex and arranged to meet him. It didn’t end well to say the least, but she still couldn’t stop. I gave her a feelings diary to document her social media addiction and it really helped. It helped clarify the pain, showed her that she was looking for reassurance in the wrong places. Eventually she agreed to change her number, close her accounts and wipe the slate clean. She grieved and cried about the loss of her father, showed me photos of them together. We talked about her marriage; she had always known that her husband was just as elusive as the life she portrayed on social media. The work we did was grounding, building a kind and gentle internal world that she could come home too and be herself.
I recently took a timeout from social media. Confronted by images of friends on exotic holidays, on yachts or luxurious locations, I felt a dull thud in my soul. This wasn’t making me feel good or grateful for the fantastic things I have in my life. It made me feel less than, when I know I’m not. It made me feel envious and eclipsed the wonderful and difficult things that are part of my life. It made me feel excluded from places I didn't even want to be. The syntax read ‘I am having so much fun and you are not.”
It made me reflect and I realised that for me joy is about being in the moment, with kind non-judgemental people, accepted for who I am, good and bad. The times when I am truly seen-sad, lost and confused, are the moments I feel most connected. I don’t have to document those golden times to show others, because I am in the moment. I feel alive and I feel that closeness and warmth. There is absolutely nothing wrong with sharing photos of wonderful happy times, but there is so much pressure to keep it up. In the end, I removed the apps and turned my phone off in the evenings. I didn’t miss it one little bit.