Is Facebook Making You Feel Bad?

The other day I was updating my status on Facebook. I shared about a great run I’d just enjoyed on a particularly beautiful Saturday. As I posted it, and read tidbits about the fun my friends and colleagues were sharing, it occurred to me once again what a skewed view of the world tools like Facebook and Twitter can provide. I was reminded of someone who was telling me about her adventures in online dating (okay, I’ve heard this story a lot more than once). The talk began, “…well, his profile picture was at least 20 years old…”

Social media sites like Facebook provide powerful opportunities to connect, reconnect, and stay connected in ways that are (or used to be) unique.  They also provide an almost unparalleled possibility to tweak and censor the view of ourselves we present to the world. If we do enough of that (tweaking and positioning), it’s possible to start believing that version of reality is more authentic than it actually is.

Years ago, studies revealed that women who spent as little as twenty minutes looking at certain style magazines experienced decreases in their self esteem and increased self doubt and worry about their own appearance, body image, and size. The hypothesis was that even a short time viewing women who were portrayed as unrealistically “perfect” (at least physically), left readers feeling like they didn’t measure up. Could this “feeling bad by comparison” be happening to us?

There is so much of real life that rarely gets posted on Facebook or Twitter.

I don’t know about you, but I’m unlikely to post about my skin breaking out from stress or if I’m feeling unsupported and alone, or if my latest project completely tanks. My profile pictures (yes, they’re recent) show me smiling and relaxed. I don’t see a lot of updates about people worried about money or doubting their ability to succeed. Most of us aren’t revealing our moments of despair and self doubt. Oh sure, there are some self-deprecating shares, but we don’t tend to go deep or admit that we’re really scared or insecure, or feeling like a failure.

And yet, we all have these moments.

What’s my point? I am NOT suggesting–at all–that we stop filtering what we share on social media. Facebook and Twitter and their cousins aren’t private conversations and we don’t need to (and shouldn’t) share everything with everyone.  I believe it’s important to be clear (especially if you use these services for business) what the goal of your participation really is. I’m wondering though, about how we are influenced by what everyone else is sharing or presenting–and what they aren’t. And I’m wondering if all the happy, joyful, optimistic, or even the digging-down-deep-in-the-face-of-a-challenge updates and tweets may be intimidating us or increasing our own self doubt.  Could they be making it even harder to admit our own struggles or ask for help with what we need?

It’s so important to remember that there are a lot of conversations that aren’t happening via social media–or at least not often. Unfortunately, what isn’t being said doesn’t show up in your news feed.

On a related note, a few women have shared with me that they’d like to follow the Too Much On Her Plate Facebook Page, but they are wary about other people seeing that they experience overwhelm, overload, or overeating. I absolutely get that (and please, take charge of your privacy settings to control what you choose to share). I also hear the other side of this type of concern–every day.

One of the biggest reasons savvy women get stuck and don’t get where they want to go–in their business, their life, their relationships, or with their health and weight–is because:

a) they feel alone and embarrassed about whatever isn’t coming easily for them, and

b) they are stuck in the mindset that being “strong” means being able to do things (especially personal health and lifestyle things) without help.

The truth? Being and feeling alone and unsupported means it’s up to you to reinvent the wheel. Every time. It could be so much easier.

So, this post ends with two questions–and I’d really like to hear your thoughts. Do Facebook and Twitter ever leave you comparing yourself and worried that you come up short?. . . And how can we have some of the other nitty gritty conversations? How can we talk about what we struggle with, what’s not working, and what keeps us up at night without giving up our privacy and our boundaries? Is there a place for this kind of authenticity on Facebook? Should there be? If not there, where are you finding this opportunity in your life?

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