The Dark Side of Social Media

Last Saturday I had the privilege of being a guest on Woman Talk Live, a radio program on WCBM talk radio 680.  The topic was the lonely side of social media.  It was a great opportunity to reflect on how women experience community and, conversely, isolation through social media.

The applications expand to men and women, as the program evaluated the evolution of social media and the emotional effects that arise for digital natives.  Here are a few thoughts that came out of that conversation.  To hear the program, click here:

Social media often encourages more isolation than community as people craft carefully edited versions of themselves to post on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.  Others’ crafted images become the backdrop for our failures, as we end up comparing our every day experiences against the successes of our peers.  This breeds insecurity.  When people do post unedited versions of themselves, it often leads to judgement or scrutiny.  These feelings of judgement, insecurity, and failure create barriers to authentic connection with others.

Rather than responding with this kind of insecurity or judgement,  we would do well to consider our own authentic image-building.  What does it look like for me to be authentic in appropriate ways in these different communities?  Social media is a wonderful context for identity development.  It quickly becomes a litmus test for how comfortable we are with ourselves and with the way others perceive us.  Consider what it would look like to put a genuine, balanced representation of yourself on Facebook.  What would feel risky about that?  How would you navigate those risks in order to be consistent?

Along with authenticity, in order to create a social media community we want to learn to encourage one another rather than competing.  How often do we respond to valuable quotes, important updates, or new pictures?  Some people do it masterfully and are really encouraging.  I know that I’m not nearly as vocal as I should be when I see something that I appreciate or enjoy.

As we begin to be intentional about our social media usage, we can be inspired by the power of digital community.  Social media offers connections that are profound and our influence can extend far beyond what we may ever know.  It’s exciting to consider the possibilities inherent in this type of community, and when it’s used well, it can be a powerful and effective agent of change.

To hear the radio program, click here:


Dynamic Balance

In order to work at Wellspring Counseling, each of us therapists has to endure many, many conversations on the value of redefining balance, contentment, and fulfillment in life.  I have come to enjoy these conversations, even though I complain about them.  They’re useful on multiple levels.  And they help me to evaluate the language I’m using with clients and how well it reflects my operational definitions of these themes.

In that spirit, here is my take on balance, redefined.  Most of us look at balance, in theory and practice, as this ideal place of self-actualization where everything is aligned in symmetry and operates in perfect harmony.  We view those people who have “arrived” as the ones who have it all together because they look perfect, act perfect, have the perfect job, and are involved in multiple activities without being overly stressed.  In this definition, we’re constantly comparing ourselves to an unattainable image.

In contrast, when we work towards balance, in our own lives, it often feels clumsy and awkward like an elephant trying to stay on a bouncy ball, while it rolls around.  The balance is tenuous, shifting, risky, and it feels like if anyone adds one more task to our list, the brief moment of stabilization will end abruptly and we’ll fall, bringing everything down with us.

I’d like to come up with a working definition of balance that describes it as dynamic, intentional, and value-driven.  These core concepts get at the heart of balance, and help to illumine an, otherwise, nebulous journey.  Balance is dynamic because it is a constantly shifting process.  We will never arrive at a point of perfect balance and stay there.  That view is a static perspective that eliminates our ability to change and grow.  Without that growth potential, we aren’t in balance.  With a dynamic  view, we are on a pendulum that is moving from side to side, but staying within a median range.  Practically, this means we may have to make our job a priority over exercise for a week or two, but we intentionally re-calibrate when we get the chance and focus back in on what’s been set aside, and what we need to do to make up for lost time.  We know what our top priorities are so we can be evaluating how well those priorities are being addressed on a regular basis.  The way we understand and appropriate balance changes as we enter different life stages, jobs, parenting stages, and even as we move through crises.  We’ll want to assess a dynamic view in regards to relationships, habits, and boundary setting.  A dynamic view of relationships means we may spend focused, intentional time with our spouses for a week, but then have to devote more time to the kids the following week.  We’re evaluative about this and careful to decide where we place our priorities.

In order to have a dynamic view of balance and still maintain our equilibrium, we have to be intentional.  Creating our own working definition of balance means that we have to be very thoughtful about when we’re in and out of balance, and what needs to be done to assess getting back into a dynamic pattern.  We’ll want to ask questions, like, “Who am I?” Because how we define ourselves will dictate how we act.  “What do I think and feel?” Because these thought processes and feelings end up driving us if we’re unaware of them.  “How do I relate to the world?” Because the way we relate to the world around us is foundational to how we act and prioritize.  This type of intentionality means creating a picture of what drives us and how we want to connect with and interact with our worlds.

Finally, balance is value-driven.  The way we prioritize our lives indicates what our true values are.  We may say we value having a vibrant spiritual life, but if that doesn’t occupy our time and thoughts, that’s not a true value of ours.  If you’re trying to understand what you value, ask yourself, honestly, “What do I want?”  This will be a great indicator of what’s most important to you and where you will spend your time.  Our motivations define what we value.  We may say we value setting boundaries, but if we can’t say “no” to others and we let their agendas override our own, we value people-pleasing more than boundary setting.

Consider these three areas as you craft a vision for what you want your balanced world to look like.  I find it helpful, in discussing this, to come up with your own personal metaphor for balance.  What’s a word, concept, or image that describes what you want balance to look like?  For me, that image is the pendulum that swings from side to side, slowing down in a middle range.  It doesn’t stop moving from one side to another, but it shifts more slowly, and stays within a determined area, not moving to the extreme ends of either spectrum.  I want my own life balance to include a dynamic approach that allows for flexibility without moving too far to either end of the spectrum.  What about you?