By: Philip Hemphill, Ph.D.
Program Director: Professional Enhancement Program
Are we really interested in knowing the truth about ourselves? With all of the innovative social platforms that people can use to present themselves today, a new global self-esteem issue has also risen. People can choose the way they are portrayed to others on the internet on sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and the list goes on. Instead of offering an opportunity to socialize and share, this behavior has been received with intense judgments of all sorts- both internally and externally.
Some social media users have been found to alter photographs of themselves, lie about weight or careers, and even invent relationships with made up accounts in order to self-promote and satisfy their need for acceptance. Some users follow hundreds of strangers’ accounts in order to increase their social circle, and thus receive more feedback. There is a plethora of accounts that are not people, but are made specifically for real users to “follow” so they in turn can increase their own follower count by association. The vast influx of followers increase activity on one’s page and further satisfy their need for attention and appreciation.
Recently, the conjunction of social media and self-esteem has taken a more serious turn as individuals with real mental health problems have taken to social media to aid these desires. Some “tags” have been removed from sites like Instagram because masses of adolescents were using the site to find and share “thinspo”, or “thinspiration”. When adolescents are so impressionable and have such a wide variety of opportunities they can choose with the click of a button, it is no surprise that things can get out of hand should a behavioral abnormality evolve.
An odd development occurred on the website Reddit, an entertainment, social networking, and news website that allows users to upload their own content. The content can become a worldwide phenomenon due to the close knit community of users. Nonetheless, there is a place for any and every type of information, stored on its own topic specific page called a Subreddit page. One Subreddit page caused backlash because it was titled “AmIUgly?” Anyone can anonymously post their photo and more anonymous users can vote accordingly. There are over 45,000 subscribers.
Why would someone ever want to ask Reddit to judge how attractive they are? We all saw this scene from ‘Social Network.’
This page obviously sparked a strong response from the mental health community and the rest of the internet, as individuals with eating disorders were the highest population posting and being judged by thousands instantly. The reason for the attraction to this frenzy which obtains followers is to receive the most feedback possible from others which can confirm a grossly distorted belief system.
If you were to ask your coworkers how attractive you are do you think you would get the most honest answer? There is a level of safety in no one knowing who you are while judging you, and there is an assurance that people will answer you truthfully because you don’t know who they are. Thus explains the irony of social media and true social interaction. People misrepresent their real selves- for whatever personal reason- on social media profiles, and then in order to receive some real feedback, everyone else dishing it to them must be anonymous.
The Internet and the world of instant socializing are here to stay, what really needs to be done is the setting of standards in our own community. When it’s realized that the invincible feeling that anonymity brings can be harmful to others, we can stop feeding the egos of those who have self-esteem or even worse issues. When we stop being superficial in our use of social media ourselves, we can start using it for what it was created for- enhancing actual and fulfilling interaction.
Dr. Hemphill is the Director of the Professional Enhancement Program at Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services. The Professional Enhancement Program (PEP) is a comprehensive continuum of integrated behavioral health treatment services for professionals offered through Pine Grove, one of the nation’s leading treatment facilities. PEP is designed to help professionals with addictions and addictive illnesses, disruptive behavior, boundary violations, personality disorders, interpersonal difficulties, and vocational issues.
Visit www.pinegrovetreatment.com or call 1-888-574-HOPE (4673) for more information.