John Whelehan Therapeutic Counselling

Counselling Psychology in FULHAM & Epsom

I’m not crazy about reality, but it’s still the only place to get a decent meal – Groucho Marx

Navigating the Social Media Landscape: Balancing Connection and Authenticity
In the early 2000s, platforms like Myspace and Friends Reunited introduced us to a novel concept – reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances online. Fast forward to today, and social media has seamlessly woven itself into the fabric of our lives, shaping a global culture unlike anything seen before.

The Appeal and Pitfalls
Initially, the appeal of these platforms was clear. The ability to see how old school friends were faring and stay connected with family members across the globe was ground-breaking. However, my personal experience with social media has led me to approach it with trepidation. It raises a question: why, despite having the autonomy to disengage, does it consume my time and emotional energy?

Biological Conditioning and Locus of Evaluation
This phenomenon, I believe, stems from our biological conditioning. The need for acceptance, crucial for survival in our ancestors' world, manifests today as an innate desire to be liked. Carl Rogers' concept of the "locus of evaluation" comes to mind. Are our feelings of validation predominantly internal, or do we rely on external sources for affirmation? In the age of social media, the latter often holds true.

The Evolutionary Quirk

While an external locus of evaluation might have been advantageous for our ancestors, it raises questions about its utility in our contemporary world. The constant need for approval finds its way into marketing strategies and the design of social media platforms themselves, playing on our instinctive desire for acceptance.

The Stress of Virtual Approval
The advent of social media has resulted in unprecedented levels of hormonal responses, not dissimilar to those of our ancestors facing immediate threats. The desire for acceptance triggers dopamine responses, while rejection prompts cortisol reactions, contributing to stress levels. The world has changed significantly, but our biology remains rooted in survival instincts.

The Perils of External Validation
Donald Winnicott's concept of the false self becomes relevant in this context. When we excessively associate with an idealized projection of ourselves, whether in advertising or social media, our true selves are shielded from insults or offense. The external locus of evaluation, when disproportionate, can lead to a perilous reliance on external validation.

Navigating the Social Media Terrain
So, how do we navigate the landscape of social media effectively? Perhaps the guidance starts with recognizing its value and leveraging its benefits while understanding that our online presence is an idealized projection. Acknowledging our uniqueness and imperfections, both online and offline, may be the key to finding true value in the virtual and real worlds alike.

Conclusion: Embracing Authenticity
In the poem 'If' by Rudyard Kipling, and in the wisdom of Public Enemy, we find counsel in treating triumph and disaster with equanimity and not believing the hype. As we engage with social media, let's strive for authenticity amid the virtual idealization. Embracing our imperfections can be a powerful antidote to the stressors of external validation.

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© John Whelehan

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