Be Brave. Choose Messy.

Contributed by Tracie Keller, LPCC-S

“Learning to give up on perfection may be just about the most romantic move any of us can make.” –Alain de Botton, English writer

Perfection. If there’s a theme that I’ve noticed in many of my clients, friends, and even myself—perfection is it. Perfection is a driving force in so many of our lives, yet in reality, it’s not even real.

If I pick up my phone and open up any of the various social media apps that many people use on a daily (or hourly) basis—Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, SnapChat—each one shows a perfected view of life. The Facebook or Instagram photos that I post of my kids certainly don’t show the 15 other snaps needed prior to getting the one with a sweet smile or without the dog running through the shot. When I “pin” the picture of the newest home project that I’m bound and determined to try out and succeed in, there’s little mention in that blog post of the struggle or strain related to the task at hand. Most people aren’t keen on sharing the hilarity or quite frankly, ugly, parts of our lives on these apps. Yet, those moments make up so much of our day to day lives.

There is research that has been done in recent years related to social media use and the impact on adolescent mental health. There has been research done on adults in the same way, but less so. As a mental health professional who works with adolescents, young adults, and older adults, I see the impact of social media use on each one of these populations. In my opinion, it appears to be negatively impacting us when we are sharing only the “highlights” with others regarding our lives.  Couple that with the increasing use of these apps, and I understand why perhaps these negative consequences are being seen. We may “interact” with others MORE through these apps than we do in REAL life.

Social comparison is a natural, human behavior. We benefit from social comparison by learning from others and therefore, learning more about ourselves. We need social comparison to develop resiliency behaviors and even learn about safety and avoiding potential threats. The problem lies in the amount of social comparison behaviors that we participate in. When so much of our world is visible to others (particularly in the way that the information can be manipulated and controlled in our favor), is this social comparison behavior helpful?

Depression and anxiety are common experiences that bring clients into my door each day. Depression and anxiety are often biologically based, but are also impacted by situational stressors occurring in daily life.

While I don’t argue that social media can be fun, can connect us to others (particularly those who are not close-by, or with those who limited contact is possible), I also argue that we have to be aware of its impact on our lives. Recently, I was speaking with someone who I haven’t seen in quite some time, about my experience as a parent. After a few compliments of the beautiful pictures that I take and share of my family, I had to stop and make a statement about the “other side” of parenting that isn’t always represented in those photos—the hard days. Because for every beautiful, smiling photo that I share of my little ones or of our activities as a family, there are many more moments of boredom, or struggle, or tears. What’s challenging about social media and its impact on our lives today, is that it runs the risk of taking away the authenticity that is real life (and real living)—the parts of life that are not beautiful or perfect, but are beautiful simply because they’re real.

Rather than compare yourself to the shining photos that you see on the internet, I encourage you to have authentic conversations about life. In the past year or so, I’ve intentionally done this in multiple relationships in my life in order to orchestrate a change toward authenticity that I felt was missing in some relationships simply due to the ways that we socialize today (thanks, Facebook). Sure, I still post shining pictures, because who doesn’t want to see my smiling 4 year old hit his first tee ball or my hilariously independent near-two year old chasing our dog in the backyard? However, I’m also going to be the first person to talk about the struggles that come along with this beautiful, imperfect existence that we call life. Perfection is not real—and it’s pursuit only has the ability to take the real beauty out of our lives. Since we know that perfectionism only breeds vulnerability for depression or anxiety, would you join me in this pursuit? Be brave. Choose messy.