Think back to a first date. Remember how you wanted to look your best? You wanted to present your best self, look “put together,” sound successful and be engaging. Viewing other peoples online image is like being on a perpetual first date. On a first date people are generally a filtered version of themselves designed to make the best impression possible. The problem is that some people’s online personas never move beyond the “first date” to a more genuine and balanced self-portrayal.
I don’t know about you but I generally don’t post pictures of the dinner I burned last night or photos of myself as I roll out of bed in the morning. I don’t take videos of the disagreement I had with my hubby right before we went out to dinner! Even thought I do intentionally try to post less than ideal moments, parenting fails, and disappointments, my online presence is still slanted toward the positive. For example, I’m writing this while in my robe with my hair in a pony tail, and not a stitch of make up on and I’m not going to post a picture of me in my current state with this article.
If you struggle with envying other people’s virtual lives, the first thing to do is to remember is that cyber life doesn’t equal reality. It is a filtered version of reality. It’s always skewed toward the positive aspects, the successes, the fun activities, the times that things are going well.
When you see someone’s newly decorated kitchen or family photo with matching outfits, it’s easy to turn those feelings of envy into ‘shoulds’… I should be like her or my family should be like that. I should get family photos taken like that, or I should redecorate my kitchen. Just because someone else posts a photo online that is appealing to you doesn’t mean that you should change anything about your own life. Celebrate the positive things that your friends are experiencing and recognize that it’s only half of the story. Someone else’s successes and accomplishments mean absolutely nothing about you or your life.
One of the gifts of being a therapist for two decades is having glimpses into the darker parts of people’s lives, the stuff that is never posted on Pinterest. I have felt the painful burdens and the stinging disappointments of individuals who look like they have their lives put together on the outside. My clinical experience has helped me to know that everyone has struggles and challenges and that there is always more to the story of a person’s life than they are sharing online.
If cyber-envy is bringing you down and you’re having a hard time separating online personas from the realities of life, you may want to unplug for a few days. Go on a “digital cleanse” and take a break from Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, or reading your favorite blogs. Stepping back from social media can help you get more connected with you own life. While you get yourself centered again, try investing more time and energy in your face-to-face relationships. Focusing on your real-life and practicing gratitude can help shift your focus from what you wish you had to what you do have.
Instead of letting cyber-envy fester, consider letting it inspire you! For example, if you see some amazing photos online from a friend’s weeklong family cruise, instead of thinking, “I’m a horrible parent… Our family has never taken a cruise!” you can think instead, “That looks so fun. I think it’s time to start planning and saving to take my family on a fun trip.” Notice the things that other people are posting and consider that it be information about what you like to do or that you’d like to try. It is possible to transform cyber-envy into cyber-inspiration.