THE SOCIAL MEDIA FACADE
When you open social media these days what do you see? I’ll tell you what I see… I see a whole lot of happy people. Their lives look fantastic, and if I do some “measuring up” I begin to feel like I’m falling far short of the social status marker. I’m not in Tahiti. I don’t have a 500 lbs back squat. My kids are a mess (the baby literally has food all over her face as I write this.) My house isn’t as big, my cars aren’t as nice, and my abs aren’t as…. wait a second, I don’t even have abs! What am I doing wrong??? I don’t know about you, but I feel all sorts of pressure to put on a facade that “I have it all together.” And so most of the time what I put out into the world is that, I do have it all together.
Think about the last time you responded when someone asked, “How are you?” What’s the typical answer we give? I know what I usually say. It’s almost always one of two things: “I’m good” or “I’m so busy.” Both answers imply the same thing, “I’ve got it together.” “My life is so busy because it’s filled with all of this great stuff.” But that’s just not reality people.
If I were more honest when I’m asked that question, I’d probably answer differently. Something more along the lines of, “Well s***… Today is hard. I feel inadequate and I’m pretty sure I’m failing.” In my experience, most days are tough. Most days are filled with disappointments and failures. Most days… are not what you see on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, or myspace. (Remember myspace? It still exists! Who knew, right?)
Why do we feel compelled to put on masks and create an image that isn’t real? Why do we have to lead on that we’ve got it all together? Well I have a theory. And luckily, this theory is backed by the research found in many books on this topic, most specifically in any of Brene Brown’s work.
SHOWING HOW WE FEEL IS NOT WEAKNESS
I want to focus on those italicized words in the last paragraph, “feel compelled.” We “feel compelled” to fake it, for a really good reason. We’ve been taught our entire lives that it’s not okay to feel a certain way. It’s not okay to be sad or scared. As little girls and boys we are taught to “suck it up” and “be tough.” To “put on a happy face,” to quote a familiar primary song I sang regularly at church growing up.
The pervasive school of thought in our culture is “Your feelings are not welcome here. Smile, damn it!” The world around us teaches us that there is weakness in showing fear, weakness in showing sadness. People who show how they really feel, are weak.
“We cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” – Brene Brown
GENDER NORMS THAT KEEP US NUMB TO EMOTION
Emotions can be broken down into the four basics: Sad, Mad, Glad, and Scared. Little boys are taught differently than little girls, but we grow up basing our emotional awareness believing similar myths. Men end up believing that they are allowed to feel/express when they are glad and when they are mad. Women are raised to think that they are only allowed to show that they are happy. There’s no room for those other feelings.
Think about it… As a boy, if you show that you’re scared you’re labeled a wuss, or p*ssy. (I hate that word, but it’s so commonplace I couldn’t avoid including it.) I can’t tell you how many times I heard the phrase, “Don’t be a p*****!” or “Man up” growing up. The two phrases are synonymous with, don’t be weak! There is a strong stigma against expressing fear as a boy and that stigma is even more prevalent as a man. If you’re scared, your weak. If you’re sad, you’re broken. We are required to put on the mask of happiness, regardless of what we’re going through. Unless you’re mad, you sure as hell can be angry. Think about how often the media normalizes aggressive male behavior and stigmatizes men who express emotions of sadness or fear as being less of “a man.”
For women it’s even worse, they can’t even get angry! If a woman shows any anger she is labeled… a bitch, or it’s “that time of the month.” Nor are women allowed to be sad. If woman is depressed she’s got “the baby blues,” is a “poor thing,” or is… again, on her period. And fear??? Heaven forbid a woman shows any fear. If a woman expresses that she’s scared, don’t worry, a knight in shining armor is right there to fix it for her. Proving yet again that women are nothing without the men who rescue them.
These are the stereotypes pushed on us day in and day out by the media, our culture, and the societal norms that aren’t ever questioned. We must wear the mask of happiness, or else! We have been taught from such a young age that showing emotion is weakness and we will do anything to avoid being weak. So… a challenge arises. Do I take a risk and be vulnerable or do I continue to numb my feelings with addictions and avoidance?
In our society the answer is always the latter. Numb it out! “You can feel this, but you can’t feel that. So pop some Xanax and make it go away.” Living like this only creates a disconnected and lonely society that feeds on comparison and shame. We need to make a change.
FEEL DEEPLY, EXPRESS OPENLY
How do we change? How do we move away from the story we are told, that showing emotion is weakness?
It starts with vulnerability. Being more vulnerable with our families, being more more vulnerable at work, and yes, even being more vulnerable with our partners! (Imagine that, instead of just being pissed off all the time, we actually talk about feelings of sadness and fear, and feelings of inadequacy, shame, and guilt. What would that relationship look like? It might even be one that is… I don’t know, safe!) Sharing how we feel and expressing when we are scared or sad, is the only way to do it. If we want deep meaningful relationships filled with love and joy, we need to express the darker side of our emotions also.
Men, when you’re angry recognize it, label it, and see what’s really there. Most of the time, it’s fear. When we men feel scared, we show anger. Challenge that urge and let the people around you hear that you are afraid. When something tragic or awful happens, cry. Better yet, cry with someone. Don’t put on your mask, be real! Actually emoting is one of the most freeing experiences we can have as human beings. Be brave and show how you feel. Be vulnerable!
Women, get angry and don’t apologize. Cry with your head held high. Share when your scared and let people around you see that being afraid and anxious is normal. There is nothing wrong with your feelings, your emotions are what make you beautiful and human. Feel them deeply and express them openly!
IT’S UNCOMFORTABLE, BUT SO WORTH IT
Don’t get me wrong this isn’t an easy thing to do. Being real is hard. It’s also not the norm. So when people get freaked out when you respond to the question of “how are you?” with “I’m having a tough day” or “I’m feeling a little sad today,” just smile. Eventually you’ll get used to the discomfort. You’ll start to find even more comfort and more freedom as you stop living the facade and express what’s really going on. Try it out and who knows, maybe the more you do it the less compelled you’ll be to feel this, instead of that.
Please share this if you feel “compelled” to do so. And leave your experiences with being real in the comments below.
Matt Quackenbush, CSW, is a Primary Therapist at Deer Hollow Recovery, a drug and alcohol addiction rehabilitation center in Salt Lake City, UT. He has nearly 10 years of experience in the mental health and substance-abuse arena, and supports healing in the clients he serves from a trauma focused, client centered, and family systems approach.
A fantastic book on this subject is Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, much of what is written above is based on her findings of 12 years of research on shame and vulnerability.
Pick up the book here: Daring Greatly
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