“I just love your blog. It makes me feel like less of a loser,” quipped my neighbor Laura, with a mischievous grin. We chatted a bit in her driveway. I was thrilled that she liked my new blog adventure, but also quietly astonished. Laura feels like a loser?
Let me be clear: Laura is not a loser in any form or fashion. I have lived near her for years. Her face lights up with a beaming smile and kind eyes. She is an educated woman, who rose to a prominent level in her career. She has been married for decades to a fine, hard-working man, and they have raised three accomplished daughters. They have a spacious colonial home and a new condo at the Jersey shore. Laura feels like a loser?
But I had my own “loser” moment a couple of weeks ago, so I can relate. I met a high-level psychologist, who presents, writes, and works at an Ivy League university . We were both staying at an elegant spa where I was relaxing, and she was the keynote presenter. Our introduction took place, whimsically enough, in the outdoor hot tub. She was witty, sophisticated, and looked fab in her bathing suit. A couple of weeks ago, this same woman emailed me, to say she noticed I was going to be presenting in her area. Instantly, anxiety flooded me. “She thinks I’m bigger than I am,” I cringed. “That presentation makes me sound like I’m really someone. But I’m not.”
What is this phenomenon? Why is my brain yelping that I am inferior to this other psychologist? I’m no Sigmund Freud, but I’m accomplished enough. And why does Laura need my blog to make her feel like less of a loser, when she is so obviously not a loser in any way?
Social media did not invent the inferiority complex. People have been struggling with self-image issues long before Facebook. But social media definitely exacerbates the problem. Many clients complain that they feel sad when they look at Facebook. Most posts are about people’s successes, either confidently stated or obliquely implied. “So happy to celebrate our 20th anniversary with my great husband!” “Congratulations to little Steve’s soccer team winning the championship!” “Wishing little Emmy two broken legs playing Maria in the Sound of Music!”
Clients glumly report that they hate looking at Facebook because their lives feel nothing like the posts they are viewing. But here’s the thing. Nobody posts about their problems. Some people don’t post their problems because they would find it embarrassing. For myself, I would post about problems (surely you believe me, having read my blog!) but people don’t know how to respond. If someone dares to post that they are lonely and miserable, it can feel attention-seeking or simply inappropriate. So, I too only post about successes, most of the time.
The end result of everyone’s ceaselessly happy posts is that we often wind up feeling inadequate. “I don’t have a shore house,” I might think, looking at a friend’s photo of her beach condo. “My only brother is dead, and I am all alone on Sibling Day,” I mutter, looking at everyone’s photos of their brothers and sisters. “Oh wow, look how good she looks! She is so thin,” I say to myself, pretty much every day.
In my therapy office, I am blunt. “No one is posting about their misery, only their successes.” My client will look at me, quizzically. “No one is writing, ‘Today my life felt purposeless and no one loves me.’ But I can guarantee you that some people are thinking that. Because life is often really hard.”
Here’s my tip on social media: remember that NO ONE is posting the photo when their wrinkles are starkly visible, and their dye job is overdue. No one is sharing that they only have $800 saved for retirement. No one is writing that their son got kicked out of day care for biting. All these struggles are also happening, but we keep these troubles private. But please know that no one’s life is actually perfect, and you are just fine.
So, the next time you go on social media, and see all the glossy photos of triumph and success, please remember that other stories are happening too. There are other moments of hardship, fear and despair that we all feel, because we are alive, and life is plenty hard. These tough moments are happening too. Just not on Facebook.