When was the last time you scrolled down your Facebook wall, wondering what your friends were up to?

Oh, just a few minutes ago. Don’t worry. That means you’re just like everyone else.

How many selfies did you see? You know … the self-portraits where someone is holding their smartphone at a suspect angle?

How many happy, smiling faces did you see having gobs of fun or travelling to wonderful, interesting places?

We live in a sharing world.

On the converse side, we live in a voyeuristic world.

Not only are we sharing pictures and status updates with our friends and family, we’re absorbing all of their pictures and status updates, too.

We have to start considering what it’s doing to our selves and our relationships.

What’s in our heads

I just had an incredible time on the beach and swimming with my niece and nephew. Do you know what we didn’t do? Take any selfies. We just enjoyed the experience. We did take a couple of family pictures, one evening on the deck, but we didn’t post any of them.

They were for us, and only us.

As a society, however, we seem to have come into this idea that we can’t be anywhere without taking a picture to prove to whomever we were there enjoying ourselves.

We were taught to share when we were kids, right? It’s a good thing, right?

But what does it mean when we’re sharing so much about our lives?

We are, in fact, reaching out to find validation from our friends, family and, sometimes, strangers.

Dr. Jim Stone, a philosopher and avid student of motivational psychology, wrote earlier this week in Psychology Today that we are incurably self-conscious.

“We are self-conscious because we need other people. We need to associate with them in various ways, and we worry that, if they don’t like what we have to offer, they won’t want to associate with us the way we want to associate with them.”

Trouble is, we rarely ever get a clear picture of how much value we hold for the other people in our lives.

We’re left to ask:

  • Who am I?
  • What do they think of me?
  • What kind of relationship do I have with this person?
  • What kind of relationship do I want to have?
  • What do they expect of me?
  • What do I expect of myself?
  • Can I meet their expectations?
  • Do I want to meet their expectations
  • How can I get them to see what I have to offer?
  • Am I smiling enough?
  • Am I talking too much?

Stone says these questions and other forms of self-conscious thinking are how we manage our relationships with others.

“But sometimes it can get away from us,” he says. “It can make us freeze up in the middle of a presentation or performance. It can make us come across as being too much “in our heads.” And it can lead to hours of brooding.”

Of course, that’s when you know you’re letting your ego take the wheel and drive the bus. You’re in the back seat with no control!

Scrolling our lives away

You’d think social media would be the answer to our prayers for validation.

We post selfies and watch the likes and “you look great!” comments start to pile up.

Not so much.

As humans, we aim to satisfy our core values. With social media, however, we’re putting a hazy, gauzy film of Maslow’s hierarchy.

Do we have a need to be seen, to be heard and to have a voice? Absolutely!. Social media is a form of engagement in that core value but, instead of really interacting with people, we’re looking at our laptop or mobile screens, scrolling down a page and making innocuous comments on updates and pictures.

Or just hitting a “like” button.

We’re trying to find a way to belong without having actual conversations with people.

The trouble with social media?

Sure. I do it, too. I’ll spend a half hour on Facebook liking my friends’ posts. It’s my way of saying “I’m glad you did that; congratulations, that looks like fun.”

But what am I doing to make a real investment in the connection? And with whom am I making those connections?

Here’s where the problems lie:

  1. We aren’t getting our needs for contact met in making an exchange. When we engage with someone’s posts on social media, we identify and acknowledge that person’s existence but we aren’t getting much deeper contact than that.
  2. We can sink into a place of comparison. Back in 2012, Forbes wrote that mounting evidence showed intense internet usage contributes to increased anxiety and depression and even psychosis. Some months later, we learned in a TODAY survey of 7,000 moms that Pinterest was causing stress among moms who “see all of the photos of other women’s food, home and craft triumphs as evidence of their own failure. We’re needlessly stressing ourselves out because of what others have and what we don’t!
  3. We get a skewed image and perception of what really is going in someone’s life. A social media picture, especially a selfie, or a status update is a snapshot in time. We really don’t know what’s going on in anyone’s lives unless we reach out and ask them.
  4. It’s far too self-affirming. Look at your friends list. Who are the people with whom you’ve connected? Friends and family, right? We don’t connect with people who don’t like us and, often, we don’t connect with people who don’t agree with us. We typically only get a lopsided view of the world, one that reminds us we’re right. Even if we aren’t.

We are all looking for love, happiness and belonging. Nobody wants to be isolated. Even introverts still find ways to reach out for social interaction.

But with social media, we’re really disintegrating what social interaction looks like.

Reach out to the world

We aren’t lost causes.

OK, maybe some of us are. If you gotten this far without switching back over to your Facebook feed, you might even be thinking “Janice, you’re so right but how do I break free?”

We have to start looking at ourselves internally and realizing what’s missing in our lives that requires that external validation from social media.

If you aren’t getting your needs met, you have to identify your:

  • Desires: what do you long for?
  • Goals: where do you want to be?
  • Expectations: what does that end road look like?
  • Gaps: what’s preventing you from getting there?
  • Resources: what training, education or people do you need to help you reach your goal?

A good first step might be to get involved in an activity and have face-to-face interactions with people.

You could join a community organization, play a sport, sing in a choir or start a dinner club among your friends.

Whatever you enjoy doing, find people who do it, too, and connect with them in a live space.

You could also have dinner with no TV and no tech at the table (Put. The. Phone. Down. And no pictures of your damn dinner either!)

One of my clients admitted her family only eats dinner with the TV on. They would chat during the commercials. Just the commercials! They were only getting sound bites of discussion.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out they had a lot of communication problems, but the starting point was turning the TV off and talking to each other.

Social media as a tool

Social media is an incredible platform to start and develop connections, but we have to stop looking at it as a means to maintaining those connections.

If it supports physical connections — a place to make and build friendships, a place to schedule events, a place to learn, a place to encourage meeting in live spaces — it can be healthy and supportive of our core values.

You just have to get yourself connected on a bigger level than just clicking “like.”

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