The Big Secret: we're human

girls on iphones.jpeg

messy insides vs. tidy outsides

I'll admit it--I get a kick out of facebook, instagram, and silly shared videos. I dip into social media throughout the day to take a peek at pictures, posts, and various tidbits that friends are sharing. It's a short break during my work day, and keeps me connected to others in a light and simple manner. Peeking into friends' lives via social media keeps me updated on friends I don't often see in person, and allows me to reconnect with pals from thirty years ago. It's brought laughs, insight, and knowledge into my world that I wouldn't have otherwise encountered.

But with the filtered pictures and witty status updates come numerous opportunities to compare my internal world (full of it's complexities, insecurities, doubts, and emotions) with the gorgeous, sparkly, intelligent, and "has it altogether" external presentation of the folks I encounter in my feeds. If I'm not careful, I can slip into believing that no one else has "messy insides"--a distorted belief that for many people can spiral into self-judgement and a desire to mask our feelings. And once we hide our feelings, it's a short trip to loneliness. So much for the "social" aspect of social media if it takes us to a place of isolation, right?

ordinary pain into extraordinary suffering

A man in his mid-30's sits deflated in my office after viewing his ex-girfriend's instagram -- chock full of new pictures of her looking happy, gorgeous, social and fulfilled. On top of the understandable grief of losing an important relationship, he's now also telling himself "she's already over me" and "what's wrong with me that I'm still sad?" Once this magic ingredient of self-criticism gets introduced, it's a quick and easy jump to thoughts and feelings of shame. Without self-compassion and an understanding that messy feelings are Human, his ordinary pain becomes extraordinary suffering.

Rationally we might know that feelings are "normal", but when we're in the thick of a difficult emotion or an existential crisis it's so easy to imagine that we are the only person to experience such pain. We tell ourselves "there's something wrong with me" and we might even believe that holding onto our friends, our relationship or our job means hiding the fact that we are struggling. And Oh, does that feel lonely.

the Big Secret: everyone has insecurities

One of the many benefits of being a therapist is we truly know that EVERYONE has doubts, insecurities, needs, and messy feelings. NO ONE has it all together. We all have times when we feel like a dork at social gatherings, want so badly to fit in and hold doubts that we do, make mistakes, feel confused about our direction in life, and at various times feel sad, anxious, self-critical, needy, hopeless, and lost. These are the experiences that make us part of the human race. And yet so often we work to hide these very parts of ourselves that are universal, as if belonging and being worthy of love depends upon our ability to ignore the fact that we're human. Sigh. Humans are odd creatures--that's a shared experience too.

Last year I attended a Mindfulness training and the teacher engaged us in a discussion on hiding our vulnerabilities.  He said, "It's like we're all walking around with a big secret, but it's The Same One for all of us." We laughed in acknowledgement. We ARE all walking around with some version of the same secret: I'm not perfect. I have flaws. I have needs. Sometimes I'm scared, lonely, and don't know what I'm doing. I'm human.

The problem isn't that we're not perfect. The problem is that we judge our imperfect, complex selves against the glossy highlight reels of others. In our moments of vulnerability, need, fear and doubt, we add to our suffering by telling ourselves that these feelings must mean there is something wrong with us, that we are alone in this experience. Ouch. Talk about kicking ourselves when we're down.

take a risk, let 'em know you're human!

So, am I suggesting that we all start posting our deepest fears and biggest fails on facebook, or sharing pictures of our warts on instagram? Not necessarily--although you're free to do so! What I am voting for, however, is we keep a consistent and deep recognition that social media is only a teeny tiny little window on the human experience--one that often layers a sparkly filter over the dull and messy reality.

What if we all took a risk to admit we're human? What if we challenged ourselves to share a bit more of our full experience, perhaps on facebook or instagram, but more importantly in our real lives? What would it look like to take off the sparkly filter and allow your friends, family, neighbors or coworkers to see even a tiny bit of your struggle? How can you invite others to share their whole selves more often with you? Shifting towards vulnerability is scary, but is exactly the shift that will help us to create more compassion, connection and humanity for ourselves and for others too.

Brene Brown, researcher, writer, and Goddess of Vulnerability, shares some thoughts: