At least that is what their Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest pages shows.
In reality, life is complicated, dirty, and downright tough sometimes. Yes, life is also wonderful, but not every day. Life throws us curve balls every now and then. Some are easier to catch than others. Jobs are sometimes overwhelming and stressful. Kids act up and out in ways we could never anticipate. Every now and then a vacation is a total disaster. Frequently, we don’t look our best due to fatigue, stress, or lack of time. And, money, even when there is enough, is always an issue in modern life.
So why are there all these shiny, happy families being portrayed on social media when in reality we know that life is filled with complexity? Does this magical life really exist for some and evade others? Or is there something more going on?
Some recent research can give you new information to help you decide what is right for your family.
False Image Presentation in Social Media
Recent data shows that social media sites, such as Facebook, are now being used by 1.11 billion users, or 16% of the world’s population. Social media is a big force and touches most people’s lives, especially those who live abroad to stay connected to family and friends back home in an easy and convenient manner.
Yet, social media can allow individuals to present different aspects of who they are online, such as their real self, ideal self, or false self. The choice of which self to present is multifaceted. Someone may choose to present a certain self to gain acceptance, to win approval of others, or to help construct a new identity.
Research has shown that individuals who experience self-doubt are more likely to present an idealized or false self online. Self-doubt can present itself in individuals who suffer from anxiety, worry, moodiness, envy or jealousy. Additionally, individuals who are extroverted tend to use social media sites, like Facebook, more than introverts. Therefore, extroverted individuals with self-doubt have the highest likelihood of presenting only their ideal self or false self online. The motivation for presenting an ideal self or false self online is to calm anxiety and feel confident about how others perceive them.
How does this research relate to living abroad?
As humans, we know ourselves through social interaction (Mead, 1934). Social media has become a major influence in our modern life as a way to interact with people beyond our physical location. Social media also allows us to capture, edit, and present various aspects of our lives in ways that are not possible with direct physical interaction.
While living abroad, in an environment that is distinct from our native one, it is common to have more anxiety, self-doubt, and worry because we are constantly confronted with different values, norms, and customs. It can be very enticing to alter this experience to show only positive events as a means to feel in control and present a picture perfect experience to friends and family living far away.
Similarly, among acquaintances in the geographic location in which we live, this corrective self-presentation supports an image of control, confidence, and good adaptation to the new environment. Social comparison is used to impress others and to present a unified image.
Based on this current research, the take away information to help you choose what is best for your family include
- Presenting less truthful information to impress others diminishes the reality of the lived experience. Presenting the ideal self/family or false self/family may be a coping mechanism for some underlying issues. Using an ideal or false self to participate in social comparison to impress others may be masking problems rather than addressing them.
- Dealing with underlying self-doubt, anxiety, fear, worry, or feelings of being overwhelmed is better than suppression. Creation of an idealized reality to present to the world cannot eliminate these feelings. If left unchecked, these feelings may lead to phobias, depression, or panic.
- Everyone knows that social media is highly edited. Only the best photos make the cut and normally only positive status updates are shared. Displaying an over-perfect image alerts people that it’s too good to be true. This can cause feelings of distrust or envy/aggressive if people feel you are showing off.
- Allowing real life to be present in social media keeps you and your contacts connected. By sharing both positive and negative aspects of life online, and everything in between, a more realistic relationships can be fostered and maintained.
- Being honest to yourself is really important. You are perfect just as you are. Your family is perfect just as they are. There is no reason to present yourself or your family differently. You and your family are exactly where you are supposed to be in this moment. Let go of the need for perfection.
- Ignoring issues, not dealing with problems, or living in a dream world online will not make your actual life any better. In fact, it can make you feel like your real life is not measuring up to the sparkly life you present online. Only by being honest with the realities of your life, and that of your family, can you address issues and work to resolve them.
The reality of social media is that we choose what to present. We need to accept and show who we are so that we teach our children to accept and present who they are. Moving away from the culture of personality, which values only our image, and moving towards a culture of character, that values our inherent perfection as an imperfect human being, as well as who we are striving to be, is the healthier option.
The culture of character allows us to address where we are and seek assistance, if needed, for where we want to go. The culture of personality forces us to grin and bear our pain in silence so that everyone around us thinks we are happy. Avoiding the lying trap will allow you and your family to enjoy the journey.
Knowledge is power
What new information did you learn from this posting? Did it help you identify something in your family you would like to change? Share your experience below and what steps you plan on taking to guide your family.
About the instructor
Dr. Deanna Marie Mason PhD
More than 20 years of clinical experience helping families:
Bachelor's Degree in Registered Nursing, Master’s Degree in Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and PhD in Nursing. University professor, patient education specialist, pediatric researcher, published author and reviewer to first-line international scientific journals, continuous philanthropic activity related to health promotion and education, wife and mother of two children.