From the young age of 8, I began practicing Japanese Karate-Do. My highest rank was 3rd dan black belt. I played rugby at high school with boys 2 and 3 years older than me. I was, and am, physically very strong: with lots of endurance and a healthy pain threshold. My contemporaries in primary and high school were always shorter, and weaker than me. I looked older, was bigger, and more developed than most of them. This made me feel that I was different, very shy and self-conscious.
I hid my self-conscious shyness with confidence and physical achievements. And, I became knowledgeable in many academic disciplines.
To hide my true self from too much scrutiny I used my physical strength, martial ability, and academic knowledge as a defence mechanism. Just in case someone else rejected the REAL me.
Eventually my defence mechanisms added to my problems.
My confidence was mainly interpreted as arrogance. Martial ability as showing off. My intellect demonstrated aloofness and disconnected me even further from those around me.
These are examples of my unconscious minds positive intentions to keep me safe. The results were to make things worse. I dread to think what my life would have been like with the added stress of instant, and constant social media.
Blame is heaped on social media for so many of our modern social ills, for example eating disorders, self harming, social anxiety, or exclusion to name a few. Perhaps these problems are not the cause modern ills, but they may be making them worse. I agree there are major differences that today’s social media have introduced to society at a global level. But I don’t think it is just to place the blame exclusively on them.
You see, for some, social media have given a voice to otherwise voiceless people. They have given eyes that can see beyond walls. The technology make the inaccessible accessible to people in isolation.
Every generation, I think, has had its own social media. Even the Romans had it. Young lads would write boasting about how many sexual conquests they had, and rhymes of undying love. There are even messages that two brothers posted on the walls of a friend’s house. Of course, I do mean literally writing on their friend’s wall, because I’m talking about graffiti. Like social media, Roman graffiti influenced the everyday lives of people all over the empire.
I do not want to oversimplify or trivialise the effects of social media on society. It is a complex phenomenon.
What I can confidently say, is that some of my clients experience real, harmful effects of social media. The effects have affected the very foundations of their personhood. Affecting not only how they see themselves in terms of body image, and social acceptability. But, also in how they experience themselves through the media of other media pages and posts.
Most of these clients feel they have to constantly present themselves as always beautiful. Always accessible, always with it, always strong. And, like our beautiful photo above of the pile of stones, always ready to crash down. If someone either deliberately or accidentally knocks the stack over (negative comments, or not enough likes) it all comes crashing down.
This constant stress results often in generalised anxiety and sometimes crippling panic attacks. If the experience is over a long period, it can lead to depression and sometimes complete social seclusion.
In learning the source of our anxiety, we can relearn its original intention for us. And that means we can change its hold on us. We may experience freedom again.
There are multiple reasons why this is important, one stands out above the rest. If I am so taken up with living my life through the media lens of other people’s media, who is actually living, me?
I help people live their life, not someone else’s version of their life.
Never stop being you.