”What do you suppose your life will look like when you aren’t relying on other people’s approval for your happiness?”
Bam. Like a therapeutic sniper, my eloquent and nauseatingly serene counsellor had disarmed my confident fascade with an unexpected emotional ambush.
It was all I could do to produce an “Um, what?!! ” as I sat on her otherwise comfy couch feeling suddenly exposed and vulnerable. Not unlike those horrible dreams one has of being naked in a public place with nowhere to hide.
I imagined my glass of water tipped on her head.
Then I remembered I was paying for her insights. And I HAD asked her why I was having trouble with aspects of my online identity. And in fact, also with my love hate relationship with social media in general.
And she is nice after all.
But I still left 30 minutes later feeling indignant, with an overwhelming urge to commence yet another google search for great therapists. I mean, it’s not like I’m a young single uneducated narcissist who is using social media in order to feel better about myself or escape feelings of low self-esteem! (Andreassen, Pallesen and Griffiths 2016). Surely not.
I’m a 51- year old married mother of four with a University Degree and over 700 facebook friends!
And yes, the irony of including that last statistic in this sentence is not lost on me. So, by the time I slumped into the safety of the driver’s seat of my car, I knew that this psychoanalytic Ninja was on to something.
Bugger it. I was afraid of the reactions to the self I would project and what this might mean for me.
What a Pandora’s box we might be opening. But I was up for it. Particularly because I wanted my online ME to be ‘authentic’ and I didn’t think I could do that if I was scared.
But will the ‘Real Me’ please stand up?!
I’ve realised that my need to be ‘authentic’ emerged from the feeling that I’ve been pretending a lot of my life as a by-product of comparing myself to other women. I wrote an article in 2018 called The Great Pretenders in response to the escalating incidence of mental health issues in women yet an ongoing inability to talk about what is difficult in our lives.
But what IS ‘authenticity’ in an online world? How could I be ‘ Me’?
Do I even know what makes me me at any given moment? And is it really possible to convey a completely static ‘truth’ about who I am or have been?
The more I read and researched, the more I understood that it isn’t. Our interactions with others, whether online or face to face, will be influenced by our relationships with them and the purpose of those interactions. My online identity will always include some element of ‘stage management’ or ‘calculated authenticity’ in which I am aware of my audience and the version of myself I wish to present to it ( Smith and Watson 2014 p 75 ).
My profile pictures for example, on facebook, my twitter account and blog all reveal both my level of comfort within those forums and who I am communicating with.
The comedian Celeste Barber, who I adore, presents apparently unfiltered and ‘more real’ images in her photographic parodies of model shots. However Celeste also knows that there is a hungry market for her representation of herself. Her bravery in presenting an ‘authentic body image’, is similar to how I would like to present aspects of life as a middle- aged woman.
However, we will both be doing so, with the full awareness of what our audiences want. Our intentions can still be argued to be genuine, and our ‘authenticity’ might then be perceived in this context. It’s therefore also the choice of what we post, not necessarily the complete authenticity of the content that tells people who we are ( Kylie Lang Ted Talk 2014 ).
My audience saw me before I did!
My Facebook friends are the reason I was inspired to start this blog.
In 2017 I posted something I called, ‘What You Don’t See on Facebook’ as a stream of consciousness in a counter attack to the highlight reels we showcase on social media. I was sick of being held prisoner by them. And wanted to start ‘getting real’. And I suppose I hoped to be able to free a few fellow inmates in the process.
The response was unexpected, with 184 likes and 74 comments. Someone suggested I submit it to an online magazine. I did. They published it here. Someone else suggested I start a blog. And here I am. It is important that I keep in mind then, what you, my readers want; how I hope you might respond; how I present myself over time; what interaction I have with you and what actions I might ask (Smith and Watson 2014 p 74 ).
It’s all Me after all.
I must also admit that until recently I’ve been an unwitting disciple of the dystopian view that the online world separates me from my ‘real self’, and is the enemy of my sanity.
This belief was in itself however, causing me great distress as both a publicist and an aspiring blogger and businesswoman!
I’m now realising that like everything, it is about balance. It is easy to ‘blame’ technology for my challenges. As much as it is easy to blame ‘other people’ for the way I see myself. And how I feel about me.
Damn that great therapist for making me own up to that.
I’ve also come to accept that I will not always be approved of, online and off. But that I will do my best to create an online identity that is congruent with whatever me I am.
But I need to remember that there will always be more to me than how I present at any given time, what I post ( Lang 2014 ) and others’ response to it.
So no, I didn’t sack my therapist. Because she really is great, whether she likes me or not.
Andreassen, C, Pallersen S and Griffiths M 2017 ‘ The Relationship between addictive and use of social media, narcissism, and self esteem: Findings from a large national survey’ . Journal of Addictive Behaviours, Vol 64, Jan 2017 pp 287 – 293. Netherlands – Elsevier Science.
Smith, S and Watson J. 2014, ‘Virtually Me: A Toolbox about online Self Presentation’ in Poletti, A and Rak J. 2014, Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online, University of Wisconsin Press, Wisconsin.
Lang, K. 2014. ‘Being Authentic in a Digital World’. Ted Talk. You Tube.