Facebook as a Tool of Self-Discovery
Our reactions to others’ online personas grants insight into ourselves.
Posted Aug 14, 2013
I remember when I first joined Facebook. I’d been resisting it for years; I just couldn’t fathom why I would want to look at pictures and posts from friends rather than call or spend time with them. This became even more clear when I was on the road with Cirque du Soleil a number of years back. I found it so strange when at each stop, everyone would whip out their laptops to ‘check in’… with people they were just on the bus or plane with!
That said, thanks to their gentle, constant pressure, I finally took the plunge and now love the platform. Professionally, it has made it possible to share articles, events, and updates– as well as myself– more effortlessly than through email. And personally, I’ve been able to stay in touch with friends, colleagues, and family who, for location or lack of time, I otherwise would not.
While my Facebook experience has been largely positive (some days I actually have to turn off the Wi-Fi when writing or I’d never get anything done), I realize that there are those who feel otherwise.
Take for instance, my friend who describes himself as having a serious case of ‘Facebook Envy’. Never posting, he goes to his home page daily to see what his friends and family are up to. Yet rather than feel connected, informed, and inspired by their lives, he more often than not is left feeling jealous and lonely.
Then there’s another friend who, while in person is relatively happy and upbeat, online comes across as the ultimate victim. While her posts garner only encouraging responses, offline, many openly express how unattractive and uncomfortable they find her self-pitying to be.
Indeed, even a cursory look at friends’ pages reveals that we all have a certain online ‘way’ about us, as we do in life. The spiritual seeker, the self-promoter, the silent observer, the victim, the angry critic… whether our Facebook personas are extensions of who we really are, or who feel we can’t be in our ‘real’ lives, we each project a personality that tends to trend with us throughout our membership.
Certainly the psychology of ‘the profile’ is fascinating. Yet what I find particularly interesting is our tendency as well toward a typical ‘reaction style’, including what it can offer us in terms of our own personal growth.
Why do certain people anonymously go on Facebook day after day, knowing they’ll be left feeling sad, lonely, and jealous? Why do some respond to endless complaints with encouragement and support, while others steam with disgust? What about people who feel they need to read tales of success in order to create their own, as opposed to those who through a sense of competition are fueled by others’ failures?
It doesn’t take a psychology degree to answer these questions. We are triggered by what we ourselves struggle with, whether in person or online. And this information– if we’re willing to let it in– can provide not only a source of insight, but a guidepost for the work we need to do in order to return to a sense of equilibrium.
The particular beauty of the online experience in this endeavor is that we can see our triggers and responses– as well as question and challenge them– in a relatively safe vacuum. We can note our unhealthy or unhelpful patterns and work to set them aside in the comfort of our own homes and hearts prior to traveling from guardedness and silence to vulnerability and communication in real life.
This distinction is not to be underestimated. Many of us know what we need to do to improve our relationships, yet crumble in the face of habit or emotion when face to face with those with whom we struggle. Enough of this type of experience, and too often we give up, shut down, and push people away.
Yet online, we have an unlimited amount of time and space with which to practice the patience, courage, humility, and grace that is so needed in our ‘real’ relationships. And that, of course, is the true goal; being online can be a fun distraction as well as a helpful social tool. Yet learning how to better relate to one another in life is the ultimate priority. For those dealing with disempowering or unfulfilling interpersonal dynamics, Facebook can indeed provide a tremendous opportunity to that end.
Jennifer Hamady is a voice coach and psychotherapist specializing in emotional and technical issues that interfere with self-expression, and is the author of “The Art of Singing: Discovering and Developing Your True Voice”. You can find her here on Facebook.