I got the strangest feeling today when I opened my Instagram. I looked at “myself” (i.e., my account) and felt in many ways that it represents who I really am, but also that no matter how hard I try, there are so many ways in which it does not. It’s not that I appear better or worse than what I really am, it’s just that this account is merely a projection of my personality. I am inherently biased in what I project about myself because I am human— we all are and it is natural to only present the parts of ourselves we can accept at that point in time.
There are so many other parts of who we are that we reject and delegate to our “shadow”— a Jungian, psychological concept that is metaphorical at best but serves to give a name and psychic “space” to that part of our mind where we shove all of our experiences, characteristics, etc. that do not fit within our accepted image of ourselves—or who we “want” to be. Mostly this is where we send the parts of who we are that we are ashamed of. We compartmentalize these rejected pieces so that we can simplify the process of denying them, and if we’re very good at this, we don’t even know we are doing it— we are completely unaware of our shadow, and in turn we are not whole.
So it struck me that although I share a lot of myself here that isn’t necessarily “pretty” or “good”— I am still only sharing what I can tolerate about who I am in this moment. And I think that’s okay— there is no reason we have to bare our full selves to strangers’ phone screens. In fact, it may be an awful idea to be so transparent because sadly, a lot of people have bad intentions and will use what you share about yourself against you (as in my “blog” experience in 2017).
So I am not advocating for myself or anyone else to acknowledge their shadow self on the internet. I actually kind of advise against it. But what I am advocating for is always keeping this in mind. What you see here is not all of me or all of anyone else. Most of us know this, but somehow can still fall into the trap of believing that people are their real, full selves on the internet— and we all, especially when we’re young, can’t always help but compare our WHOLE selves to someone else’s mere projection of the parts of themselves they are happy with or can tolerate. The psychological consequences can be rough.
I think this goes a step beyond what was once the main concern— that people were only presenting their “highlights” and best moments, leading others to feel that their own lives were empty and meaningless because they didn’t involve foreign travels or parties with friends or yoga poses in front of sunrises, and so on. I think in reaction to this dynamic, some people (e.g., myself) wanted to present a more realistic picture of who we were. That meant divulging details of the uglier sides of our lives. I think in some ways this was a good first step, and was helpful to many. It possibly even aided the dismantling of that earlier problem I described above.
But it has it’s limits. You must keep in mind that even when some of us choose to share shitty experiences here, sad moods, descriptions of our grief— we are only sharing what we are not ashamed of, and what we have already accepted, or at least started to accept, about ourselves and/or integrated into our self-concept. I see a lot of bullshit circulating this online world lately, and I’ve done my best to distance myself from it but also stay aware so that I can self-reflect and ask myself difficult questions, like why I choose to share the things that I do. Who am I doing it for? For you? For me? Probably for both of us. But I want more than anything to be pure and honest in my intentions. But I will be the first to acknowledge that despite intentions, it is rarely, if ever, possible to have that kind of integrity 100% of the time. That necessitates this message: Take what you can from social media people like myself. Remember that I am still hiding (from you and from me) the parts of myself that I am deeply ashamed of. When I am open about my grief, that is real, but most times that is not the whole of it. I am human and therefore susceptible to biases, flaws, impulsivity, and on. I will always do my best, but my best might not always reflect that intention.
And lastly, turn on your intuition and call bullshit when you see it. There are some very, very fake—and dangerous— people lurking around on Instagram and other online spaces, building a following based on a personality that is carefully contrived at best, and nearly entirely made up at worst. This encompasses predatory people, but also people who aren’t trying to assault you physically— but who will use and manipulate you emotionally to their benefit without any regard to the pain they inflict upon you.
From personal experience, I can say that I have met multiple people in person who I knew over Instagram for some time, and I thought I was going to meet that person I knew through the internet. I ended up meeting a very different person (or people, since again, this has happened more than once)— and I realized the power of deception. I realized how powerful confirmation bias is—that because I loved someone’s work, I wanted/needed to believe they were good people, too. And I did until I came face to face with them and immediately sensed something was off, and felt like, oh fuck— what have I gotten myself into?
(As a side note, I have met many, many people in person who I knew only through the internet—and I want to be clear that most of them have been absolutely fucking lovely people who will be lifelong friends. I’ve met a few of the best of them recently, and am beyond grateful).
Taking it a step further— I’ve even maintained relatively long-lasting friendships with people I knew well enough to know without a doubt that they created a social media identity that was frighteningly in opposition to the person they truly were. What was more frightening is that it worked. It fooled people almost without fail (confirmation bias at work again), especially in situations when the individual happened to be highly skilled in deception.
Real talk: The most broken, damaged people in this world will put all of the energy they have into convincing themselves and you that they are someone they are not. The internet, particularly Instagram, is the perfect place to do this. This experience often leads to pain and heartbreak once you realize it. I have seen it and experienced it enough times to be fairly certain in my conclusions. So, I suppose my main message is: Don’t stop trusting people, but do not be too trusting. Do not take anyone, not even me, at face value. Be intentional in your interactions with people in general (not just online), and if someone tells you it’s better to keep your distance from a certain person— they are almost always right. Find that balance between openness and caution. I’m working hard on it, too.