Please welcome back guest blogger Michelle Dabach, MA, MFT, of the Roanne Program in Southern California.
You have to admit, you are not the same person online that you are in person. Online, you’re courageous, more confident, and you have an opinion that you don’t second guess. You might be more or less confrontational, you’re successful, happy. You and everything about your online personality is perfect. School is great, your job is amazing, and life is grand.
In reality, your life is a bit messier. School is hard, and you might be struggling to pay your tuition. Your roommate gets on your nerves, and that picture you posted of your perfectly decorated apartment was a one-off or, forget the apartment, you’re living at home with your parents and trying to pass the space off as your own! You’re definitely not as put together in real life (IRL) as you make yourself out to be on your social media streams. And, you’re not alone.
Via Facebook: P.L. says “I am definitely different online than in real life. Online I am very verbal and I genuinely feel confident about myself. Real life is where I feel the persona takes place, that is where I act confident but do not feel confident inside, so I kinda go overboard in trying to act confident and outgoing. “
J.W. concurs: “Most times tho i try to show i am ok & fighting like H*** to persevere with my illness, when all i want to do is really …. [the opposite frown emoticon] Feeling like i still have this “mask” to show at times….& not show others how frustrated & sad & empty i really feel inside most times.”
Some more of your comments that came in on this topic on the Healing From BPD Facebook Page:
Add to the pressures of keeping up with an online persona the debilitating effects of a mental illness, such as Borderline Personality Disorder, and things get even more complicated. So, how can you show the world that you’re suffering from these drastic mood changes, that your depression is so debilitating that you can’t imagine how to continue living, or that you’ve just self-harmed? Or, maybe you’re the opposite, leaving cryptic messages as your postings for anyone to make any kind of meaning, good or bad, out of it? Leave it to the reader to figure out what’s going on with you today.
The question comes up, then, why bother hiding your “real self” online? Are you afraid of stigma? Do you really value what other people might think of your symptomatic posts? Do you base your self-worth on the number of likes or re-shares you get? Where does the pressure you feel to keep up with this online persona come from? And, how does it contribute to even more distress than you might already be feeling?
Many young adults, with mental health issues and not, feel immense distress at trying to keep up appearances. For those suffering from BPD, you’re trying to keep up this appearance that all is ok and that you are “normal” like anyone else. In some instances, you might be trying to hide your BPD from the general public. But, this hiding of one’s true self not only causes great stress because of trying to hide and not get caught, it causes distress from you ultimately believing that you should be like your online self! Now, you’re not just attempting to keep up with the Jones’, but you’re trying to keep up with Social Media You. Social Media You doesn’t suffer like you do. This attempt at trying to maintain a personality that is not truly you may contribute to your depression and anxiety and make it much worse than it needs to be. You may become even more depressed that you’re not as perfect as you’re making yourself out to be and anxious that someone is going to find you out. Or, you’re leaving those cryptic messages and depressed at not getting the responses you were hoping for and anxious that no one seems to care enough to save you.
What about when a family gathering presents itself and now you have to face all those friends/family that you’ve only been in contact with online? How are you supposed to be Social Media You when you’re in the same room as Aunt Sue? The reality is that you can’t be Social Media You in real life because Social Media You doesn’t really exist. What happens instead? Your anxiety and stress levels increase drastically, which causes a shift in behavior. Now, instead of being slightly depressed, your mood is raging in one direction or the other and one of two things happen: You either end up skipping the function to AVOID or you go and have a complete MELTDOWN, neither of which accurately portray Social Media You.
The best advice I could give that you didn’t ask for is to always be true to yourself, both online and off. Your self-worth isn’t based on how many followers you have, how popular your posts are, or how creatively you say that you’re depressed and have no will to live. Your self-worth is what you make of it. If you value your life, others will, too. And, when you are suffering, those who know and love you will offer their support. Best of all, if you need that extra support, all you have to do is ask for it!
Wow! This is one of those articles which hit me where it hurts! I don't like hearing these types of truths but it is a great article and you get to face the fact that your Social Media You isn't really who You are.