Here at the Foundation, living amongst the nooks and crannies are spiders who spin a pattern in their web and then position themselves in the middle of it to appear bigger than they are. It made me think of the myriad of ways we create illusions to bolster our self image and attempt to keep ourselves safe.
Self image has never felt as important as it does in the modern world. Through technology we’re not only able but encouraged to create and edit the perfect version of ourselves for the world to see. It’s almost always an egotistical endeavour and after the initial high of ‘likes’ and little smiley faces fade away we feel empty again. Statistics show that most people feel worse about themselves after browsing Facebook because they believe their lives pale in comparison to the imaginary lives of others. Even when we know intellectually that these snapshots aren’t representative of reality we often buy in to the charade subconsciously.
If I said the reason I don’t use social media is because I’m completely confident and at ease with myself I’d be lying. The truth is I know when my obsessive nature and ego get together it can turn into a pretty destructive affair. Even without Facebook, I sometimes find myself on the internet into the early hours of the morning obsessed with some succesful person who seems to have everything I think I want. When I snap out of this state I feel like I’ve been hypnotised and curse the internet for it’s seductive ways.
The internet can’t be to blame for our tendencies towards envy and narcissism which have surely been around since time immemorial. Social media has helped to connect people all over the world, but if these connections only ever exist in the digital domain then we just end up feeling ‘alone together’.
Keith Campbell, head of Psychology at the University of Georgia, and author of ‘The Narcissism Epidemic’ says “Social networking sites are a product and a cause of a society that is self-absorbed.” He continues ”Ideally, you get self-esteem from having strong relationships and achieving goals that are reasonable and age-appropriate. Self-esteem is not something you should take a shortcut to find, it’s a consequence of a good life.”
I know from my own experience that chasing these digital mirages in hope of fulfilment always leads to a frustrating dead end, yet when I am aligned with the people and things I really care about I feel good about myself. Although these moments can seem rare, when they occur worries about self image fade in to the background and make way for feelings of connection and presence.
The word ‘image’ comes from the latin ‘imago’ which means to imitate. The infinite number of trends, styles and fads in the world today are evidence of humans imitating each other to fit in. Very few people are truly happy to walk to the beat of their own drum, unaffected by other’s opinions and judgements.
So maybe we have to accept this seemingly natural desire to fit in without drowning in it. When we realise that everyone feels this way to some degree we can see that there is far more that connects us than separates us. Then we can enjoy expressing ourselves in all the weird and wonderful ways that people do without the desperate anxiety that often accompanies it.
by Alex Delfont