You know how adults have always “been there, done that”? For us old people – we do it on Facebook. And we do it vicariously through our children. And so we model to our list of “friends” (who, for the record, comprise possibly less than 10% of those with whom we have had an actual, face-to-face personal conversation with in the past 6 months) how effective we are as people and parents, from our rose-coloured vistas, to our illustrious careers, to our highly achieving children.
But for you, a young person in today’s digital world, taking it to a whole new level is the vicious world of Instagram or Snapchat. That sense of heightened anxiety that we only have 3 likes of our recent photo… the ability to withhold that positive reaction from others if they have upset us by refusing to double tap, or to block or unfollow. The ability to quickly share any behaviour that might cause the humiliation of others, or as someone not all that far removed from myself did recently – to hop on someone else’s account and get a lovely kid to spill their feelings, then quickly humiliate them for it.
Social media can be a wonderful form of communication, enabling us to transcend borders. However, social media also needs to be treated with all the care and planning of a UN peacekeeping force. Double taps on your Instagram selfie do not and cannot compare to hard work, achievement and all that is true about a person. True connection is between brain and heart, not eyes alone. So please think if you are feeding the narcissistic monster inside of you each time you open up your app, and consider opening up your interpersonal social world instead.
It’s normal to have feelings of insecurity and anxiety, especially when the glossy world you see on your screen suggests that everyone is having such a great time. To be truly honest, everyone feels exactly the same as you – that’s why you see the best and most admirable parts of the lives of those you follow religiously on social media. You’ll find that most everyone experiences the same insecurities about their lives, achievements and looks, posting the best parts of their lives (just like you only post the preferred aspects of your life online) to combat those feelings of anxiety.
If those negative feelings are leading you to really dark thoughts, then reach out to Youthline or the 24/7 free Lifeline (0800 543 354) or talk to your GP about support services in your area. But before things spiral too low, take preventative action to ensure the best opportunities for your mental health going forward. Consider using social media for good by celebrating the people who are actually present in your life just for being them. Why not try practising acceptance for others by sharing on Instagram a post of why you care about a person – share a memory of a kindness someone did for you, share on Snapchat a moment of compassion you will never forget. Because as you do this you get the neurons in your brain to start wiggling towards genuine regard and acceptance, all those positive soothing hormones will start flowing, and you will start to be able to appreciate the true positives in your life outside the number of likes you see. Allow media to not only be social, but to become a pro-social tool in your life, and don’t stand for the interference of your inner narcissism with social media.
– Dr Fran Brinn (DClinPsych), Registered Clinical Psychologist and supporter of the I’m Enough Charitable Trust