I would like to think I am a perfectionist in recovery. Not so long ago I put a high price on external measures of success. The perfect house, the perfect job, the perfect marriage, an avid people pleaser, and feeling like I was running a race with no finish line. Like many healthcare providers, I struggled to follow my own advice when it came to self-care, setting boundaries, and granting myself grace. As I have been more intentional about embracing unpredictability, vulnerability, and giving myself permission to question society’s standards, I have recovered feelings of authenticity, contentment, and joy- although this is certainly an ongoing process!
It is human nature to compare ourselves against others. There has always been a pressure from generation to generation to “keep up with the Joneses”. Of course, who the “Joneses” are has changed overtime. For instance, you have had to replace those lovely harvest gold or avocado appliances once so chic with white or black and then to stainless-steel appliances, and now somehow to smart appliances that can order your milk for you.
The way in which we compare has also changed. If we go back a century, our means to compare was based primarily on face-to-face interactions had with neighbors, coworkers, family members, and people within our immediate communities. As transportation and media progressed, we gained greater exposure to different beliefs and lifestyles that we could then contrast against our own. The means for gossip and comparison continued to expand with the telephone, email, the cell phone, the smart phone, and then of course, social media.
For many of us, logging into our social media accounts has become as habitual and normalized as drinking water or eating and in fact, without this ever-present doorway into each other’s lives, some of us can indeed feel deprived or disconnected. In this two-dimensional world, we are often presented with each other’s best moments—filtered, edited, cropped, and portraying a social ideal that is in many ways unattainable. As we scroll through our feeds however, it is hard not to judge ourselves against the smiles, highlights, and achievements posted by our peers. Furthermore, we feel compelled to capture the very ‘best’ of ourselves and then measure our social standing by how many likes or positive comments we can collect.
As a woman I feel this phenomenon to be particularly pervasive. Women and girls are already expected to achieve unrealistic standards regardless; however, our tendency to people please, hide from vulnerability, and cover up our flaws is taken to a new level with social media. Many of us strive to portray perfection in our appearance, perfect family photos, our relationships, motherhood, our impressive exercise routine, and our financial success.
In the end, our need to compare and attempt to keep up with the Joneses comes from a deep need for validation and acknowledgement. Everyone wants to feel important and noticed from time to time; yet in putting forth an edited and filtered version of who we are, the acknowledgement we receive can feel shallow and dissatisfying as we continue to trade an idealized image for authenticity. This can ultimately be isolating especially if the allure of the two-dimensional world supersedes opportunities for three-dimensional, face-to-face human contact. Using social media as the platform for self-portrayal can ultimately rob us from the feeling of being truly known for who we really are. Thus, despite our widespread connectivity, many of us continue to feel lonely, misunderstood, and unfulfilled.
Bringing awareness to our social media habits is a crucial first step to making change. A social media hiatus can be very refreshing. Recognizing the fallacy and unrealistic standards portrayed on our social media feed is important. Prioritizing face-to-face relationships where you can express the totality of who you are is paramount. Appreciate the achievements of others, but embrace your own uniqueness. Be the best version of yourself—not someone else.
Audry Van Houweling, PMHNP-BC, Owner & Founder, She Soars Psychiatry, LLC