Okay, so 2019 is finally here and a bunch of people around you have made resolutions; some grandiose and some a bit more practical. Maybe you did too, or maybe you aren’t too sure about this resolution thing this year. That’s okay. Whether you resolve in a grandiose or practical way, or not at all- these top 3 social message myths are changes that you can toss out of 2019 and are guaranteed to benefit from!
I know from working with children, teens and adults, that these social message myths impact so many people- and while they may show up for different people in different ways, these social message myths do not discriminate- they are alive and well- permeating our culture, and they need to be tossed!
So, let’s just jump right in.
Social Message Myth # 1: “Just not good enough”
Often times, when people feel that they are not “good enough”, they are really comparing themselves to someone else, to an unrealistic expectation or to perfection. What a way to set ourselves for disappointment and failure. Did you know that nearly everyone struggles with some sense of internal inadequacy and many people just figure out how to “fake it til you make it”, so others don’t see how inadequate they are feeling? REALLY! It is not just you. Irvin Yalom, a renowned psychotherapist and author, talked about this in his work. There are also two other commonalities that we humans experience but keep secret- sexual fantasies and desires and interpersonal alienation (feeling disconnected from others; not feeling like we belong).
Despite how common these experiences are for people, we tend to feel alone in experiencing them because they are often considered taboo to talk about. The alternative is to keep’em locked up inside- safe from judgmental glares and comments. The catch is that not acknowledging these experiences actually makes them become more difficult to manage. We start to believe no one could understand, we are in this alone, and that we need to alter ourselves in some way, in order to be good enough. We start to compare ourselves to what we are seeing others do and say, and use it as a gauge for our own enough-ness.
Comparison is dangerous because what we see others doing and saying is often not reflective of what is actually happening inside of them. When we compare our lives to others on social media, for example, what we see isn’t even representative of what is really happening outside of them either- it’s just a glimpse into what they want someone to see, the way they want them to see it, for a brief moment in time. If we are constantly comparing ourselves to false realities, how could we ever be good enough? And who is this good enough thing for?
People deal with not feeling good enough in a variety of ways. It depends on their own histories and personalities, but typically, the “I am never good enough” thoughts and feelings tell you to do more, give more, be more. This goes way beyond a healthy motivation to grow and learn. It is that insatiable critical internal voice that you constantly try to satiate. Maybe even sometimes you think you have satisfied it for a bit, but it keeps sneaking back up with something else to say. It often feels impossible to escape.
In this high-speed culture that we are surrounded with now a days, it is hard to feel good enough. Demands to “hustle” to be “successful” and maintain a worthy social media presence abound. At first glance, it may seem like there are more offerings for us to all connect with one another more thru social media- I mean we can follow one another’s lives, right? We check out pictures, opinions, recommended links, live feeds, etc. Doesn’t this mean we are more connected with our “followers” or “friends”? No. No it does not. At least not in a meaningful relationship sense.
Instead of connecting with one another, we are all too often comparing ourselves to one another. If you are constantly feeling like you are not good enough, and then you are constantly comparing yourself to other people’s fictitious presentations of themselves and their lives, then you continue the cycle of not feeling good enough. Especially if your standard measure for what good enough is, is based on what other people say, think and do. There is nothing wrong with using social media for sharing some things with some people, but when it begins to impact how you measure your own sense of enough-ness, it is time to re-evaluate your real-life relationship with yourself and others– taking a break from social media outlets that you find yourself comparing on instead of connecting on, is one good step, but it’s not the only way.
Let’s be real, social media did not cause this phenomenon of not feeling good enough among us humans. Way before social media, people found themselves not feeling good enough, and needing to do and be more. It is normal and natural for us to crave a sense of belonging and purpose in this world- what we have to watch out for is what we are using as our gauge for genuine belonging and purpose. Constantly working to be good enough, by others standards and inconsistent values, will leave you feeling empty. Meeting all of your goals will not even leave you feeling good enough. If you achieve your life aspirations but lose yourself in the process, your ability to experience joy and embrace life to the fullest will be severely limited. You ARE enough at being YOU! Allow your enough-ness to be measured by who you authentically identify as throughout your life journey- and not how you think you “should” be based on social comparisons or pressures.
Which brings us to…
Social Message Myth #2- Fit In, to Feel Good
Myth #2 overlaps with myth #1, but it is so important and so relevant to our so many, that I knew I had to make this a separate myth. This is one that hits home hard for me personally, and for many others that I know as well; the suffering that is often experienced with forcing oneself to fit in, is what fed my passion and desire to become the therapist that I am today. The thought process is often some variation of “If I don’t fit in, I don’t belong. If I don’t belong, is there something wrong with me?”
Many people do or have struggled with how to explain their experience of being “different” or “other” or “not belonging”. Brené Brown talks about this in her book called Braving the Wilderness, which I highly recommend. By nature, we all desire some sense of belonging- and we often assume that belonging means fitting in or being like some other existing group so that we can be accepted as a wanted part of that group. Most people do not know that fitting in and belonging are not the same. I had never known that growing up, either. Belonging is about acknowledging who and how you are as your own individually crafted person. You courageously own it, and rock it, even when others disagree or don’t get you- because who, what and how you are belongs in this world in this form, with all your gifts and challenges.
Fitting in is different- you wind up suppressing parts of yourself so you can fit into someone or something else’s version of who, what and how you should be in this world, and you wind up trying to squeeze into a mold you weren’t meant to live in. A simple analogy is trying to put the square in a hole. Of course, if you try to push a square peg into a circle hole, it won’t fit well. You have to force it in and change its shape to make it fit.
By focusing on fitting the square into the circle hole, you wind up ignoring the fact that there is a whole set to this sorting block. There are a variety of shape entryways and a variety of shapes. They all belong as part of the set, even though they do not all fit into each hole variation.
When you shift your perspective from fitting in to simply belonging as you are, it is empowering. However, with power comes responsibility, and in this case, by empowering yourself, you are also accepting responsibility for identifying your core values and holding to them. You can no longer lean on someone or something else as a scapegoat for an action or statement. It is the difference between saying “I did it because everyone else did” and “I chose to do it”. Whether “it” was a mistake or an accomplishment, you hold yourself accountable for your choice as well as what can be learned from the choice you made. This can, at times, feel lonelier. Brené Brown calls it living in the “Wilderness”. When you are living congruent with your own core values and you are showing yourself compassion when you mess up, and honoring all parts of what makes you uniquely you- then you won’t need to fit into someone else’s mold. You start to realize there’s nothing wrong with you, you were just trying to squeeze into a mold that wasn’t your own- you didn’t and don’t need to fit into it. While nothing can prevent pain from being experienced in life, shifting to a belonging perspective will help diminish internal suffering.
If you have tried the fitting in thing for a long time, it can be hard to let go. If you have had a lot of trauma throughout your life, I don’t suggest doing it willy nilly. Seek some guidance from a psychotherapist- lots of personal stuff is likely to come up when you are sorting through all this. It is worth it. You can stop equating belonging with fitting into someone else’s mold, and you will feel a positive difference.
Okay, so doc, are you saying that I just state my values and act a certain way no matter what? I mean, I can’t act the same with my boss as with my child; isn’t that the same as being fake or trying to fit in? No. Nope. Not at all. There is a difference between adaptation and being fake. As a species, we have to adapt to various situations, it keeps us safe and sane. Adapting does not mean we change our core values, it means that we demonstrate them in a different way given the circumstances of our environment at the time. If you value compassion and helping others, then when you are with your kids you demonstrate compassion and how to help them when they mistreat you, very differently than when you’re in a meeting with a boss who is violating your boundaries. Your response is different because the setting, circumstance, and people are different, but the core values that guide your chosen response remain intact. Being fake, would mean changing what you choose to value, leaving you feeling bad or disconnected internally because you behaved so inconsistently with the very beliefs that give your life meaning.
Understanding and living in line with your own personal core values does not mean living rigidly. A value isn’t a desire, like “I get what I want” or “Have people do what I want”. Values are core to our own sense of self; they are individualized and give our lives meaning. They are not goals. We can never accomplish values, we use our values as a compass to guide our decision making, so that forces external to us (like social media, gender norms, and other social pressures) aren’t in charge of telling us who and how we “should” be and think. Connecting with your core values, also does not mean that you get to push your values on others. Your values are your own only, and not someone else’s.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a great place to start if you are interested in finding out more about how to get in touch with your values. Here’s a good resource: https://portlandpsychotherapyclinic.com/values_exercises/
Remember, our culture thrives off of us not feeling good enough and desperately yearning to fit in. People make a lot of money off of selling various products that are presented as necessary for us to finally fit in with this, that or the other. This type of “fitting in” may have temporary moments of feeling good, but they aren’t long lasting because they can’t be. You feel good for a bit, and then circle back and do more of what you can to try to fit in, so you can feel that temporary, artificial high of fitting in again. Instead, get in touch with your innate belonging in this world, at this moment and for this lifetime. Discover your core values and use them as your guiding compass through life. Life is an amazing journey, filled with ups and downs- your journey is richer when you get to experience it as your authentic self.
Social Message Myth #3: Ignore those pesky feelings, they’ll go away and quite bugging you eventually.
Lots of people work hard to try to suppress their feelings or otherwise distract themselves from uncomfortable feelings, so this whole “ignore my feelings so that I can just not have to deal with them” thing is very common. The issue is that we all experience feelings for a reason, and although feelings can be experienced as overwhelming, numbing them prevents us from acknowledging them and giving them the recognition, they need. It becomes counterproductive. The more we ignore our feelings, the more they want to be heard, and we often wind up in a tug of war between our bodies innate ability to experience emotions, and our social desire to move on and ignore what is hard.
What helps to manage emotions, is actually the opposite of ignoring. We need to give ourselves time and space to acknowledge and experience how we are feeling, safely. I do not mean if you feel angry then go ahead and let that anger take over, then wind up tantruming on someone or something. Not at all.
Instead, we need to recognize the feeling for what it is (sadness, fear, etc) and figure out where that feeling sits in our body. Our bodies and minds are connected, and so when we experience overwhelming feelings about anything, our body and our mind are recalling an experience that connects in some fashion, to what we are exposed to at that moment. Validating the reason for the feelings that come up, helps prevent them from snowballing in the long-run. Giving yourself time to feel, rather than escape, will also help prevent you from trying to constantly numbing yourself to valid feelings. You’ll likely realize that feelings are not as scary as we sometimes build them up to be, and that you are much stronger than you give yourself credit for.
Trauma complicates our ability to manage emotions and engage in meaningful and healthy relationship interactions- so if you want to toss these social message myths and begin your healing journey after trauma, I recommend connecting with a local therapist.
Whether you made a resolution this year or not, I hope you experience a fulfilling 2019.