Last night a friend told me she worried about my latest post on Shame. She was concerned that I might be exposing a part of myself not ready for so much attention. I’m glad she outed her concern, because it gave me the chance to explain why I shared what I did.
Recently I’ve been quoted in a number of articles about the downsides of social media. After the first few interviews, I held off doing more, because I had the feeling I wasn’t accurately representing myself. My friend, Boz, wisely suggested address the critiques on my own platform.
So here goes. I don’t think social media is a problem by itself, but I do think it contributes to one. It offers us easy ways to project “Look at me! Look at my Life! Isn’t it Great? And if this isn’t you…Yikes!” It can highlight how hungry we are for validation, and this can happen on hyper-speed through our feeds. Like counts create the distracting illusion that we can gauge our self worth. Here’s a tedx talk I gave on this particular topic.
But friends, I don’t think any of this is social media’s fault. We’ve been doing it for ages, since before the dawn of corsets and fancy horses. We do it through how we dress and what we drive. We show off through who we hang out with, what jobs we take and how we talk about them. We do it in the way we selectively answer questions like “How are you?” and “What have you been up to?”
We haven’t always had Like counts, but we’ve always found ways to gauge our likability. Social media may be simplifying the process, or amplifying the experience, but it’s not creating it. In one way, it’s a hall of mirrors, but in another way, it’s an actual mirror. It’s showing us who we really are. It shows us how desperately we want to be seen as beautiful, clever, successful, and happy, and how much we don’t want to be seen as alone, insufficient, and insecure.
I received more “me too” emails in response to my post about Shame than just about anything I’ve shared in fifteen years of blogging.
We all experience struggle from time to time, but so often we hide or minimize it, both on and off social media. This can cause us to think that if we’re suffering, something is wrong with us. We can think this shouldn’t be happening or wonder why everyone else’s life is so delightfully functional.
We often respond to this discomfort by disappearing into our phones, our work, our jars of peanut butter, our fifth season of The Americans, our whining, and our wine. Then, after our generally unsuccessful attempts to self-soothe, we tell each other, “It’s all good.” and the cycle continues.
Cliché Alert: We all know life has its ups and downs. The Buddha said it well, “10,000 joys, 10,000 sorrows.” Easy math. The problem comes when we permit pleasure and deny pain. We promote perfection, conceal struggle, and end up surrounded by happy creepy clown faces that don’t reflect reality.
I’ve been writing about shame, pain, and anxiety because I want to take responsibility for interrupting the cycle. I have been a contributor to this echo chamber on social media and everywhere else. I often given the illusion through my words, my art, my posts, and my posture, that my life is a beautiful sparkly unicorn full of glitter balloons and trampolines, complete with connection, insight, and sweet, sweet, vulnerability. And it is! Sometimes. But when it’s not, you don’t hear about it…
…Because when I feel like sh*t, I DON’T SHOW UP. I don’t show up to your parties, I don’t return your phone calls, and I don’t show up to my writing. I propagate the illusion that “It’s all good” and possibly contribute to the isolation of others who think “Great, there’s someone else who’s got it all together.”
Public exposure is not everyone’s path. But for me, when I hide, I start to solidify the abusive stories I tell myself. After a while, the walls of shame grow so thick around me, sometimes it seems the only way out is to light a fuse to the facade and blow up my self-made cage, the one my mind tries to call: “Protection.”
For me, social media has been great for this. I have been “coming out” in various ways for years on this platform, and found it incredibly healing, supportive, and community-building. I see social media as much a solution as it is a problem. I see both sides in it, because I see both sides in us.
Many people have been asking me lately about I how feel about contributing to the creation of Facebook and the Like Button. My answer to that is “Proud.” It was the the right thing to do at the time; I still feel sure of that in myself.
People also ask if I feel any responsibility for the pain some people now experience on these platforms. My answer to that is “Yes.” For now, I take it on as a personal responsibility. I feel responsible to find ways to navigate social media that most amplify my own well-being, and then share that, to the extent it may be helpful.
1. I choose not to read much of it. I barely use Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn, and yes, I block my Facebook News Feed. Why? Because I’m just too quick to beat myself up with the crowbar of comparison. I wish I had it in me to be happy for everyone all the time. But so far, I’m just too insecure for that. So for now, I choose is to stay away, and in case you’re wondering, Fomo fades fast.
2. I don’t post many of the activities of my personal life on social media because I know my tendency to want to highlight the highlights.
3. I post when I want to be seen, like these recent shares. Glennon Doyle Melton reminded me that sharing our process while it’s happening, can support our process to happen.
4. I ignore Like counts to the best of my ability. Instead, I look at the faces of each person I know who has Liked one of my posts. Internally, I connect with them and thank them for seeing me, which is all I wanted in the first place. If you’ve made it this far, I see you looking, and I’m looking back. Thank you :-)
5. I try to be as honest offline as online. When people ask me how I am, I try to tell the truth. Last week, one answer was “Angry!” and I ended up doing a six-minute anger dance in front of my housemates before collapsing on the carpet.
I have no idea if I’m right about any of this. I’ve been dodging the “What do you think about social media?” question for years, perhaps because I’ve been conflicted. Now I realize, it’s OK to be conflicted. There are many sides to this story, all valid, all personal and all changing all the time.
So, in the spirit of honesty…I’ll let you know I worked hard on this post. I hope you like it. I hope you share it. I feel a little sheepish about this, but I have a fantasy of thousands of people reading it. I’ll probably check several times today to see if you’ve read it. Why? ‘Cause that’s what we do. And that’s OK too.
This post was edited and clarified by Erica Schreiber, the same loving friend who asked the question that inspired it. If you or your team need support articulating and aligning with purpose, hire her.