It seems like you can now be anyone you want to be. In the past decade, people you wouldn’t have otherwise heard of became social media celebrities. I can’t complain too much since I have a blog and a podcast, which I share on all of my social media platforms, but the negative effects of social media addiction and its impact on relationships is worth exploring.
Most of us have a tendency to glamorize others’ lives, and it’s easier than ever to do so. When one is bombarded with images of random people who became social media personalities, who appear to be so beautiful and active, it’s difficult to take stock of her own life in a meaningful way; the comparison is soul-crushing. I’ve known several people whose Instagram accounts were full of photos of joyous occasions, vacations and parties, yet, behind the scenes, they remained so unhappy. It was as though by proving to us how happy they were, they could, in turn, convince themselves. Other people’s envy is a helluva drug.
In a nutshell, the major social media platforms are used to foster it. I spend countless hours in my therapy sessions attempting to convince my clients that life isn’t what it appears to be on the web, that people on these apps have vested financial and emotional interests in their carefully curated images. Even their friends, who go on and on about how amazing their jobs and relationships are, are full of shit. It’s hard to break away from your toxic beliefs when your therapist is the only one willing to tell you the truth.
It isn’t this black and white, but true nonetheless: in a fundamental way, we have to choose between followers and friends. (More accurately, you will have to prioritize.) People will follow you if they admire you, or consider you to be superior to them, but they won’t be your friends. Friends, on the other hand, will see and accept you for who you are. The thing is: you have to be real. But, that’s antithetical to becoming an influencer. It’s possible to have both, to be genuine with one group and create a persona for another. Yet, doing so would perpetuate the status-quo, leaving your followers feeling helpless and hopeless.
What would make my life, and those of other therapists, easier? Lifting the veil. Envy addiction exists partially because we want to become part of the crowd of the envied. But, like the Wizard of Oz, once the curtain is drawn, there’s a sigh of relief and sadness: on the one hand, disappointment for all of the years lost chasing some dream; and on the other, the ecstasy of releasing oneself from the shackles of mind.
There will always be a part of me that fears vulnerability, but I’m doing my best with my blog and our podcast to let more people in. Having admirers is nice, but the curse of the admired is the visceral sense of committing fraud. We tell people that imposter syndrome is a delusion, that most people have it despite contrary evidence. However, influencers and social media celebrities are really imposters. Many of their followers are bought and most of their photos are simply snippets. There’s so much unrecognized suffering, even in the spotlight.
The thing that makes me most happy in treatment is telling my clients that nothing I’ve done or achieved has drastically changed my life; success, no matter how significant it is to you, is perpetually fleeting. And I can sense their relief when I share my story. We bond in those moments, and I know that I’ve done well in convincing them that they aren’t imposters. Frankly, we all are.