Like Me, Love Me, Whatever

When did I stop caring about “likes” on Facebook?

I suppose it was shortly after the prank.

Allow me to back up a little bit.

You see, just a few months leading up to the prank I’d already begun an informal investigation into my addiction to Facebook “likes” (or “likes” on any of my other social networks for that matter – Twitter, Instagram). I started by asking my friends how they felt when others “liked” their posts. They were about 50/50 in terms of being greatly affected or completely indifferent. But those who could live in a world of social networks, share things, and not feel disheartened when nobody formally “liked” their posts, felt foreign to me and curiosity got the best of me. I actually wanted to be like them. I wanted to be able to share whatever I wanted with whoever I wanted and not care what other people thought. I even went so far as to begin filming a humorous video in which I engaged in a handful of attention-seeking gestures in hopes of understanding what I needed to do to maximize the number of “likes” I received.

During my research, I began to notice something about those who seemed indifferent to social media “likes.” They may have been immune to the emotional pull of Facebook, but the  real root of “like” addictions is our common need for approval.

Think about it. Deep down, don’t we all want approval from someone? I discussed this with a friend who never cared about whether or not anyone “liked” what she posted on Facebook she freely admitted that her own self-esteem was boosted whenever her boss praised her for a job well-done. For the rest of us, maybe we seek the approval of a parent or pastor or spouse or close friend. If that’s the case then really the main difference between FB and RL is the level of superficiality. Why does it matter what someone I barely know thinks? Why does it matter how someone I haven’t seen in 15 years or more reacts to a post? Honestly, if social media didn’t exist, would I even care?

In many ways, social media is like an adolescent popularity contest. It’s refreshing to meet one of those rare souls who manages to be secure in who they are regardless of whether they fit in with the cool cliques or not. It would be fantastic if we could learn to love ourselves or even just to like ourselves like that.

I’ve spent enough years in and out of psychotherapy to know that my own “like” addiction is strongly linked to my life-long struggle with low self-esteem and trying to find my self-worth. Combine that with unstable moods, a stunted development into adulthood, and some kind of personality disorder and you have someone at a very high risk of engaging in an unhealthy relationship with Facebook.

Despite the frustration of often feeling unheard and unwanted on FB, there was one thing I always prided myself on in all my posts and that was my commitment to honesty and vulnerability. So you can imagine the betrayal many of my friends and followers must have felt the day I decided to tell a lie.

True, in my mind it didn’t exactly register as a lie. It was a meant to be an innocent joke, a harmless prank. Lots of people do pranks, right? I mean, once I remember a Facebook friend announced that he was engaged and no seemed angry at him when he later confessed that he made it up. And perhaps it was a the memory of his prank still lodged somewhere in my subconscious that made my own decision to change my relationship status just for fun feel okay.

Admittedly it was an impulsive decision. I’d never had the occasion to change my relationship status before. The last time I was in a serious relationship was a year or so before I had a FB account. Then one day I was hanging out with a good friend, painting the walls at her place, laughing, regressing, and making up silly stories. In one story we imagined a romantic relationship for us and, swept away in the moment, I logged onto Facebook and updated my relationship status to say “in a relationship.” Then I watched wide-eyed as the “likes” and “congratulations” poured in.

Then I thought, how strange that all that honesty and vulnerability I’d freely dispensed up until then remained in obscurity without any of the available reactions put to use. Yet a mere change in relationship status and suddenly everyone I know is awake and cheering for me.

I continued my ruse for a few more days. Only a couple of friends persistently tried to call my bluff but I refused to allow anyone but me to blow my cover so I misled these friends as best I could. I even tried to enlist the help of a mutual friend. But it all backfired when I made a fake break-up video that some mistook as a real cry for help (compelling me to remove it immediately and consider a career in acting). After that I reset my relationship status to “single” and tried to derive a deeper meaning from it in a follow-up post.

I tried to make it a kind of teaching moment, lamenting to all who cared about what a sad commentary it seemed that people see the act of being in a relationship as far superior to remaining single.

But my friends politely and lovingly disagreed with me. They believed the “likes” had more to do with Facebook’s algorithms that tend to make changes in relationship status more visible to other newsfeeds than anything else I post. So I can’t take this personally, in other words, but at least some of my friends are willing to engage in meaningful conversation about it with me.

For the next few days, I couldn’t stop thinking about my failed prank. Even though only one person directly expressed their disapproval to me and no one unfriended me, I felt an immense sense of guilt. I mean, honesty is perhaps the most important virtue I look for in a friend and I’ve always tried to model it, almost to a fault. But who would be able to trust me now?

In the midst of my inner-turmoil I realized something. Despite all I’d done, I didn’t actually hate myself. Yes, I’d learned a very important lesson and I desperately wanted to talk it out with this one friend I’d somehow offended, but when they turned down my invitation, I pursued it no further. I figure when they’re ready to talk, they’ll let me know. There’s a good chance this particular conflict isn’t really about me anyway.

So what changed in me? How did I come to love myself after so many years of self-hatred?

I guess part of it was planted in me over the summer when I attended family counseling with just my sister and me. We live in the same house and, for some reason, especially in recent years, almost all my anger and frustration has been directed toward her. But she was never the source of it all and so I had to learn to redirect my anger. I had to learn to treat her with the same respect I do everyone else. And yes, I’m still working on that, but it’s getting better.

At the same time I was receiving one-on-one counseling with a different therapist. She taught me about early childhood trauma and how it still can have a strong grip on us well into adulthood. This led me to identify a trauma trigger that had plagued me for as long as I can remember and, when set-off, had me crying right then and there, no matter where I was. It wasn’t a big deal when I was a kid but as a woman in my late thirties it’d become increasingly embarrassing.

The trigger, for reasons still unknown, turned out to be any situation in which I was caught breaking a rule without realizing it and, as soon as another person made me aware of what I’d done, I’d emotionally become a child again, reacting as though I’d done something terribly wrong and would have to be punished. Suffice it to say, I’ve lived my life as an avid rule-follower to the best of my ability, as a way of (on a subconscious level) avoiding punishment, real or imagined.

So I told my counselor this and, though she didn’t specialize in trauma therapy, she still gave me advice for someone who was dealing with PTSD from any sort of trauma. She told me that whenever I feel the tears and the fear of punishment overtaking me, to tell myself that whatever it was that happened to me in my childhood isn’t happening to me anymore. This is a different time, a different place, with different people. And low and behold, I’ve not had those uncontrollable tears triggered since.

Why would the conquering of such a minor trigger result in a greater self-esteem? Well, remember, those were uncontrollable tears that manifested in the public sphere with not even warning enough for me to run to the nearest ladies room and hide. Of course, the key word here is “control.” To be able to control an emotion that I was unable to control for many years means I might have more control over my life than I previously thought.

For those of you who follow the enneagram, I’m a four and I’ve only just begun to delve into the positive aspects of all that entails. But at least in knowing I’m a four, it’s as though everything about my personality, including my craving for constant validation, actually makes sense. Admittedly I’m no enneagram expert. I’m just putting that out that there in case you happen to be like me. It is a beautiful thing, even for someone like me who longs to be “unique” or “special” to basque in the knowledge that she can be just that and still feel connected to others.

This past year I wrote a book, a memoir. I’ve not yet found a publisher nor have I actively sought one out, but it still feels like an immense achievement and it has sewn in me the desire to write more, take more photographs, and create more videos. I’ve never won the masses over by doing any of these things, but for once I’m okay with that. It’s enough now just to know that my work is out there. Anyone can find it if they want to.

Anyway, here’s to 2018! May it be the best year yet!