In life before social media we would put up nice photographs of people and times we want to remember on the walls of our homes and we had albums of holiday snaps to share with family and friends.
Since when did sharing our fun times become inauthentic?
I’ve heard so much lately about “being authentic on social media” and it’s been declared that seeing people’s good times and not the bad is not being “real.”
By that reckoning, if you enhance a photo, is that using some of your photography skills, or being inauthentic? Is using a filter now inauthentic? Is wearing makeup inauthentic? Shaving your legs? Is it inauthentic to clean yourself up, or wear nice clothes? It could get ridiculous.
What is more authentic: your best self, or your worst self? And who is to say?
It seems to be a human predisposition to judge and so we shouldn’t be surprised that the judgement is now being turned to social media.
To be “vulnerable” is the new cool and while I am a huge proponent of being open and honest, vulnerablility by definition needs more careful consideration.
Dictionary definition: Vulnerable:
1 capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon
2 open to moral attack, criticism, temptation etc
3 (of a place) open to assault; difficult to defend
Vulnerability is in fashion right now and everywhere people are implying that if you are not being vulnerable then you are not being “real” especially on social media. This could not be further from the truth.
In life we form relationships with others; some people we would describe as acquaintances and those relationships tend to be more superficial. Then we have the people closer to us who know us well and we are safe with. These are the people we would naturally choose to be more vulnerable with because we have used our discernment and know we are SAFE with them.
Your safe circle is those you know won’t judge you, or hold what you say against you in any way because they know who you are. They are the people who you can trust to hold a safe space around you in the midst of your shame and raw emotion and strong and lasting bonds can be formed accordingly.
On social media you are linked to more people than your safe circle. Putting something on social media, out into the ether, it is easy to forget that on the other side, whether we like it or not, there are people judging us who are not all caring and supportive.
As I said at the beginning I fully support honesty, openness and transparency but oftentimes oversharing on social media is not vulnerability but a problem with not having healthy boundaries. Even Brené Brown, the biggest encourager of vulnerability, says:
“Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: “Who has earned the right to hear my story?” If we have one or two people in our lives who can sit with us and hold space for our shame stories, and love us for our strengths and struggles, we are incredibly lucky.”
Here are a few guidelines to staying healthy on social media:
Your own content:
It is your page, so post the things that you want to share, or things that you want to remember. Post things that align with your values and make you feel good. Remember, everything that you put out on social media tells each person that can see it something about you. Make sure it is something you are comfortable with people seeing. Even those people who don’t know you so well. It is worth being conscious and aware of what you are posting but not to the extent that you are trying to manipulate people’s idea of you (that will do nothing for your self esteem).
Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you post:
- Does this make me happy?
- Does this feel good to post?
- Is this something I truly believe in?
- If I am re-sharing is it from a reputable source?
- Am I posting this because it will make me look a certain way?
- Is this in accordance with my values/morals?
- Am I taking pictures because I am enjoying the moment, or is it purely for social media?
- Am I trying to evoke some kind of reaction?
- Am I misrepresenting this situation?
- Are my feelings likely to change about this in the near future?
- Does this represent who I feel I am?
- Does this inspire/interest me?
- Am I open to discussion about this?
- Am I going to feel bad or triggered if someone disagrees with me?
To truly be authentic… is to be essentially the same whoever you’re talking to, and whatever situation you’re in.
If you have the feeling when you post that you are not pretending to be anything you’re not, then that is as “real” as you can hope to be.
Sometimes you may feel called to share something more vulnerable about yourself. It may be that you have been through something difficult and speaking out could help others to find their way through a similar situation, or to feel they are not alone. There is definitely a place for sharing this sort of thing as many people can find it useful and comforting. If this is the case it is safest for you and most helpful to others to share after the lesson has been learned and the wisdom has been gleaned. As Glennon Doyle says:
“If you’re going to share widely—make sure you’re sharing from your scars, not your open wounds… You have to be still with your pain before you can offer it up and use it to serve and connect with people you don’t know.”
It can be damaging to share before the experience has been fully processed. Posting a transient and fleeting “woe is me” sentiment is no more real or authentic than anything else (unless of course you are a person who stays in negative emotion without moving through it) and it certainly demonstrates less than healthy boundaries. Negative emotions are to be worked through, perhaps with a trusted friend or therapist. But know that they are passing through; they may be how you feel for a moment in time but they are not the “real you” (unless, of course, you choose them to be).
You are responsible for your mental health only. People are as prone to judging social media as they are everything else. Anything you post could be triggering for someone, and you are not going to please everyone. If you post something happy or celebratory you could provoke jealousy, if you post something you are struggling with people will call you a moaner. You are going to get it “wrong” either way. Look after your own mental health and wellbeing by making sure you post what YOU are happy with.
Other people’s content:
Social media is entertainment and if it is making you feel bad and less than entertained, take a break.
Focus on you for a while. If you are feeling triggered by anything you are seeing on social media, that is a message for you, telling you what you need to work on within yourself.
Here are a few things to remember when browsing other people’s content:
Know that humans have bad days
Keep a sense of perspective while scrolling through social media. To be human is to know pain. As the Buddha said “Life is suffering”. Yes you may be seeing mostly the moments people want to remember on your news feed but hold the thought that everyone is human and has their ups and downs. A news feed full of misery or hardship is not going to make you feel good either unless you are a masochist, or someone who can only feel good when others are worse off (neither of which is healthy).
Celebrate other people’s good news
Bearing in mind that humans have bad days, celebrate the good times that you see on your friend’s news feeds. In knowing that life isn’t all sunshine and light, can you find it in yourself to be pleased for people when they are having a good time? You will find that if you celebrate other people’s good news with them, it will actually make you feel good too.
Take ideas and inspiration rather than making comparisons
When you see things on social media that provoke envy in you, use it in a constructive way. This is your body’s way of telling you what you would like to see more of in your own life. Don’t go down the route of thinking, but I haven’t got the time, money, contacts etc. Have a think about what it is that you are wanting to create for yourself (travel, social life, achievements…). There are always ways you can see more of what you want in your own life. You might come to the conclusion that it isn’t worth it for you to make the changes necessary to create what you thought you wanted and then it will be your own choice. Either way, that thought process will make you feel more empowered and more able to be happy for other people’s good fortune.
If you notice anything disingenuous it’s their problem not yours
It can happen that you have a friend and their life looks completely different on social media from what you know it to be. Bear in mind that this is their problem, not yours. They may have issues with self-esteem, feeling inferior, or feeling that they are lacking in some way. People are entitled to post about who they aspire to be as well as who they actually are. It’s their page and social media can be a great place to get creative. If you feel someone is being deliberately misleading, you are not obliged to follow them. Your job is to deal with the feelings that this provokes in you. If you can get yourself to the place where you are truly happy with you, it will matter less what everyone else is doing.
Notice how you feel
Be aware of what is coming up for you when you look at your news feed. Don’t ignore how you feel; this is the perfect opportunity to get to know yourself better and work through some of your own issues in a healthy way. You may want to talk things through with a trusted friend or therapist, or journal about it to get it out of your system.
If there are things on social media that you come across that are constantly making you feel bad, exercise your right to unfollow. You get to choose to follow what is good for your mental health.There are tools you can use to snooze someone or not see what they post while still being friends. Just like your page is your own, your news feed is also your own, use it to follow people and organisations who inspire you or make you feel good and those you feel are in alignment with what matters to you.
Social media has become a part of modern life and if we are going to be a part of it, it is to our benefit to learn healthy ways of doing so. In social media, as in life, it is important to have healthy boundaries; so that we can be our authentic selves without being vulnerable.