Social Media: Influencer or Influenced?
A closer look at the impact of social media on our sense of self
Recently, I was having a conversation with friends about the responsibility of tv and film in depicting certain things accurately. There was some back and forth, and we ultimately concluded that influence onto the masses will always be present. Influence of something that feels distant or unattainable is certainly nothing new—magazines, film, tv, celebrity lifestyle, have existed for the entirety of our lifetimes. What is new, however, is that we’re also experiencing the novel social media influence. It takes what used to feel distant or anecdotal and places it 18 inches from our faces for however long we choose, however frequently. We see stories of people who look like me and you, think like me and you, and we naturally begin to pluck pieces of their experiences and wonder if it fits in ours. In a lot of ways, this is the foundation of connection: hearing other’s stories, figuring how our circles intersect, taking and giving what we can. In other ways, this provides space for assertions to go unchecked and for large paint brushes to come out. Nuance tends to shrink, and we find ourselves putting on clothes that may not fit while insisting they do, spending money we don’t have (constant ads), and/or just plain old comparison. There is beauty in finding others with similar experiences as our own. What becomes most important is remembering that you are the expert of your experience.
Social media can provide an accessible way to remain in touch with friends and family as well as a platform to find others we may never have met who have similar backgrounds. Examples of other positive aspects of social media are support groups. Support groups have been able to connect people from all over the world who sincerely need deep connection while receiving confirmation in knowing they are not alone. Social media can provide specificity for whatever one is seeking. Social media definitely has its benefits and has shown to fit into our lives seamlessly.
The space where social media can have drawbacks is when we throw out our internal compass, our ability to discern what is true within our own lives vs. what we hear others express as their experience. Previously, we would read about a celebrity’s experience in a magazine or hear them speak about it on a show and not think to apply it to our lives as easily; when it’s someone who feels familiar on some level, we can fall into the space of taking on what isn’t ours. Pop psychology has existed about as long as psychology has, and why wouldn’t it? It’s only natural for humans to be curious about the study of how our minds work, why we do what we do, where certain behaviors come from, and it’s natural to want this information to be easily accessible. However, it is far too easy for information to become misinformation, leaving it hard to pump the brakes when we hear something that piques our interest.
So what do we do? First thing, when we open social media it’s important to be mindful of the headspace we occupy and what it is that we’re seeking. What are we looking for when we open that app and start scrolling, what mood are we in? Are you present to you being the expert of you as you scroll? If not, when you lose sight of being the expert of you it hinders your ability to mindfully participate in the world around you and when we aren’t grounded to our truth, anything can sway us. Ultimately, social media isn’t going anywhere, so it’s important to increase our ability to be discerning while scrolling.
If you find yourself struggling with this, therapy is an excellent tool to take an intimate look at your personalife life and aid you in unpacking what lies under the surface.
Therapy may seem scary for some, but the space created will be much more empathetic, compassionate and true connection vs a flashy social media page with infographics and a wide audience. Your life and experiences are unique and individual to you; you deserve space that understands that. When your truth is understood deeply and intentionally, you become better equipped to be a conscientious consumer.