Written by Dr. Eric Perry, PhD
Image Credit: Pixabay
“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.” ~Marilyn Monroe
We are living in a world where we are able to form a virtual reality presence on a number of different platforms. Currently, we have YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and numerous other social media and dating apps available to us. Many of us use these apps recreationally for a healthy amount of time. Current research shows that 88% of 18 to 29-year-olds indicate that they use some form of social media, specifically, 78% among ages 30 to 49, 64% among those ages 50 to 64 and 37% among Americans 65 and older. It is estimated there will be 2.67 billion social network users by 2018. For those able to maintain a healthy and responsible relationship with their online presence this is a wonderful way to stay connected to others. It opens a window for viewing other cultures around the world and we can see things that perhaps we are not able to see in our daily life.
Unfortunately, there are those who become overly involved in the creation and maintenance of an alter ego created to keep up with the perceived successes of others on social media. Fueled by FOMO, the fear of missing out, these individuals experience anxiety from seeing others posts on social media that feeds their need to spend an excessive amount of time on these platforms. Before long, their real lives are consumed by their inability to remove themselves from this alternate reality. Some of the social problems that arise from social media addiction include sleep depravity, anxiety, depression, deficiency in academic studies and work and anger management issues.
In some of these make-believe worlds, there is an excessive emphasis on appearance and material possessions. The compulsory need to view someone else’s life often leads to comparisons between the viewer and the images being viewed. We are being exposed to images on social media of “celebrities” who at times no longer look human. Facial features and body parts are becoming overly enhanced and distorted to the degree that it is almost comical. Except, there really is no humor in the effect it is having on some individuals. We absorb what we see and begin to think that this is the norm. We then begin to think our nose is much too big for our face, our lips are just not large enough or some other untruth based on an unreal or altered representation of beauty. We may begin to feel anxious about our lack of material possessions in comparison to someone else that we are viewing in a filtered and edited world.
In my clinical practice, I teach these 5 steps in order to loosen the grip that social media has on my patients. Here are those steps.
It is important to recognize if social media is having a negative impact on your life. If you are spending the majority of time experiencing the world through your phone or computer it is important to bring this into your awareness.
2. Realize Social Media is an illusion
Life is to be experienced by all of our senses. It should be seen, smelled, tasted, touched and heard. Social media presents us with a world edited of all its flaws. There are no worries or fears in that world. The celebrities with mass followers are flawless and ageless without a care in the world. It is easy to get caught in the illusion that if we were younger, thinner or more of something (more successful, had more friends or more anything) we would be happier. Take a moment to think about how much money is spent on marketing just to convince us all that we need something we do not have. Maybe we are not yet where we want to be, but I am sure most of us are better off than we could be.
This step is often the most difficult one. According to current 2018 research, the percentage of social media users who say it would be difficult to give up social media has increased by 12 percentage points compared with a survey conducted in early 2014. Currently, 41% of individuals that were surveyed say they would not be able to stop using social media. As this is self-reported, I believe the actual number may be larger and will steadily continue to increase. It is important to break the cycle and disconnect from the machine temporarily or permanently.
4. Set Boundaries
After a healthy amount of time away from all social media, you can begin a reintroduction phase. It is important that you have regained control over any compulsion to constantly be on social media. Healthy boundaries must be set and followed and there must be some form of accountability. By letting a friend or family member know your concerns about the effects of social media they can help you stick to your goals.
5. Find alternative forms of validation
It is quite normal to want and need validation. This validation should not come from strangers on social media. I am often surprised by the images that I see on some social media sites. The constant need for validation often drives some individuals to overshare and post risque or inappropriate images. One should seek healthy forms of validation from loved ones, family, and good friends. Further, validation should not only be based on one’s appearance or possessions.
If you have experienced some form of social media addiction and would like to share what has helped you find self-acceptance please share your thoughts in the comments section.
The thoughts expressed in this blog post are my own and are not meant to create a therapeutic relationship with the reader. This blog does not replace or substitute the help of a mental health professional. Please note, I am unable to answer your specific mental health questions as I am not fully aware of all of the circumstances.
Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology
M.A. in Clinical Psychology
B.A. in Psychology
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