Being ourselves is both easier and harder than it’s ever been before. Easier, because with the internet at our fingertips we can meet like-minded people, explore our creativity and find out what is ‘normal’ for us. Harder, because social media and propaganda dictate how we should live our lives, what we should aspire to be, what we should wear/think/eat.
Without sounding like a cliché, I’ve been waiting to meet parts of myself for 34 years.
I know little bits of myself; small fragments that I’m trying to piece together to make a whole. So much of my life is entwined with the lives of other people, that it’s sometimes hard to see where they end and I begin.
When I was young, I wanted to be liked. What child doesn’t? With a home life that wasn’t terrible, but not exactly happy, I sought solace in seeking out friends with whom I could confide in, or at least with whom I could pretend I had a happier life at home. But alas, I was the outsider, always on the fringes of the tight-knit friendships that little girls forge. I wish I could say that this made me a stronger person. It didn’t. It only served to push me harder to try and make others like me. Surely there must be someone out there who was as lonely as I was?
At first I couldn’t understand why people didn’t want to stick around. I blamed social inequality. My family were poor. I didn’t wear the latest clothes from the fashionable shops. I didn’t watch the popular television shows, as we didn’t have cable. But not so long ago, it came to me: I was trying so hard to make people like me, that I wasn’t being me! I was merely trying to fit in.
Then I met Mr Sunbeam. From the start, I was myself with him. He knows me in ways that I don’t even know myself, and he tries every day to bring a little bit more of me out into the sunshine.
It’s a slow process. Two steps forward, one step back. The biggest problem is that I’m still very much a people-pleaser. I find myself trying so hard to make sure others are happy, that I stress myself out. If no gratitude is shown (which is so often the case these days) I get annoyed at myself for letting someone make me feel so small and worthless.
So why do we let others define us? I say “we”, because I know I’m not the only one guilty of this. Why do we need others to validate who we are and how we live our lives? The truth is we don’t. More precisely, we shouldn’t. The media, or more specifically, social media is largely to blame.
The media has been a strong influence on society for many years now. We’re given the chocolate box image of how our lives should be from a young age, and we’re bombarded with products that claim to help us achieve this dream life.
Social media, though a more recent influence, is a more precarious one. Seen at first as a way of connecting with people, it is now used as a showcase for our seemingly perfect lives. Photos depict ‘snapshots’ of those special moments, although in reality most of these ‘snapshots’ are achieved on the tenth take and only published after being put through various filters.
Trying to keep up with these images can hugely affect our mental health. Comparing our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel only adds fuel to any low mood/depression that may spring up occasionally.
It is for this reason that I came off social media a few years ago. When I realised the effect it was having on me, which in turn had an effect on my family, I decided enough was enough.
Recently, however, I delved once again into the realms of social media. I thought that perhaps things had changed. Perhaps this need to show how wonderful our lives are has begun to dissipate.
What it has done, however, is made me realise that I don’t need to be a part of it. I already know that I have a great life, with beautiful, clever children and a loving, giving husband. I don’t need scores of ‘likes’ to give substance to this. I don’t claim to have a perfect life – in reality, who does? The quest to find me shouldn’t be a quest to seek validation from others -and I won’t let it be.