In this social distancing and quarantine, online connection has never been more important. As a society, we continually progress forward, making our relationship with tech all the more personal. But how does it change our relationship with ourselves and with others?
Sometimes it feels like your personality, values, purpose, and perspective are all on display and open for judgment. It’s hard to be “yourself” when there are so many other, more perfect selves you compare yourself to online. So many of us, myself included, struggle before sharing our experiences with the world digitally. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
According to psychologist Abraham Maslow, there is a hierarchy of important human needs. After the essential physiological needs, such as food, water, health, and safety, there are emotional needs, including love, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. But what many people don’t talk about enough is how important authenticity is in acquiring those upper echelon needs.
Without truly taking the time to understand yourself, how can you be yourself? You can’t. That’s why those who pay more attention to their own genuine impulses and values instead of what other people think are more satisfied and engaged with their online network. Instead of asking “Will my photo or status be liked by others?”, start asking yourself “Do I like what I’m posting?” and “How do I feel about what I am sharing?”
The Ubiquity of Artificiality & Angst
The bitter truth is that the pressures of social media have created a world of artificiality. Our feeds are cluttered with people’s lives we really don’t care about. Unintentionally, we start caring about something that originally didn’t mean anything to us. And by being inundated with faces of people you really don’t know, we feel like we don’t know them well enough to share our true self.
Ironically, a study at the University of Pennsylvania found that high usage of Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram increases feelings of loneliness. Higher usages of social media usage are associated with higher rates of depression and anxiety. Many users even develop a sort of self-absorption that distances them from their real-life connections.
Social media has become a tool of self-validation and a false one of that. Influencers, the online “celebrities” that supposedly drive sales for poorly made detox-teas and skin products, actually drive people to download photo-editing apps like Facetune that make feelings of body-dissatisfaction ubiquitous.
With all of that said though, there’s hope.
How to Retool Your Social Media Presence & Your Mind
To combat this, it’s important to consciously reflect on your actions online. It’s really like a self-audit. Here are five questions you should ask yourself before posting:
- What’s your frame of mind? If you’re crafting a tweet or an update and all you’re focused on is how witty it is or how it will impress your followers/friends, your authenticity probably isn’t really there. Spend time thinking about what you truly want to say. If you can’t make that post without feeling anxious about how you will look, draft it for now and come back to it. It’s difficult but definitely worth it.
- Why are you posting? In questioning your reasons for making a certain post, your authentic self is revealed to you. Are you posting something because you feel obligated to? Or that it is expected of you? Do you feel that sharing this particular message is relevant to your own desires, passions, interests, and true self-expression?
- Who’s your genuine audience? You are not the only one struggling to be themselves online. Everyone is. Many of your followers and friends certainly deal with the same insecurities that occupy your mind. But being yourself is always easier with a certain group of people. If you share with the people who know and love you for who you are, you will start feeling closer to them and to yourself. Posting won’t be as stressful as before.
- How much do you curate yourself? If you find yourself editing and rewriting your tweet or taking a selfie dozens of times to get the perfect angle, you’re drifting a bit from your true self. It is OK to want to carefully craft a caption or comment to say what you really mean, but obsessing over your post will never produce a very authentic expression. (Think about what you would do in the real world.. When meeting a friend, would you do 10 retakes of “Hi. How are you?”)
- Are all of your selves aligned? This is probably the most important check of gauging your authenticity online. Envision all of your selves: how you see yourself, how others see you, how you put yourself out to others, and how you see the world. If most of these versions line up, then you’re doing a great job of being genuine. If they are sort of mismatched, then you know you need to spend some time re-evaluating. When you do, your relationship to social media will be much more positive and you will start to feel much better about yourself and our online interconnectedness.
As bestselling author and professor Brene Brown says, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let out true selves be seen.”