let’s talk (with kids) about social media

An interesting discussion took place at my home last night.  It involved social media – specifically facebook – and feelings.  The participants were me, my husband, my step-daughter, and my step-son.  My husband and I are former facebook users, and my step-kids are both too young to have their own accounts, but that does not necessarily mean any of us are immune to being a part of the social media platform.  As anyone who uses the service knows, your picture can be posted without your permission, and anyone can mention you  or post about you without your permission.  You can have a presence without your knowledge or consent (that’s a bit frightening, but not what I want to talk about today).  Our previous conversations have focused primarily on the fact that once you post something online, it’s out there and you have zero control over what happens to that information, but this time our conversation was mainly about self-esteem, self-worth, and comparison.

Our conversation specifically centered on receiving and not receiving accolades on social media, and the feelings surrounding both.  I won’t go into details, but let’s just say that one child was mentioned on a facebook user’s page for the child’s achievements, and the other was not, due (presumably) to the fact that the other child had not achieved quite as much.  Now, in my opinion, both children achieved, and achieved well, and I made sure each knew that, but that message probably lost out to the original message which was that one was left out while the other was essentially paraded to who-knows-how-many “friends.”

My husband and I frequently discuss facebook and other social media platforms with the kids.  They know we both had facebook accounts, and they know that neither of us have them anymore, and they know why.  They are growing up in an age where social media is the norm, but we do not want them to just accept the norm without questioning it.  We want them to decide for themselves, after being fully informed, whether facebook, Instagram, twitter, or any other social media platform is right for them before joining just because seemingly everyone else has an account.

I fear that we are raising a generation that will look to social media for approval… that if something they post doesn’t garner enough “likes,” then they’re, well, not liked.  And if something they post does receive a lot of “likes,” then they’re set – they’re liked.  The problem with this (ok, just one problem) is that the online community is not community.  “Friends” are not real friends.  Connecting on facebook or Instagram is not connection.  And we are hard wired for connection.  Connecting on the internet is shallow and will never provide the authentic connection that we as humans crave.  Authentic connection means connecting authentically.  Ok, I know that was not very helpful. Authentic connection means sharing meaningful conversation, opening up and revealing feelings, needs, desires, successes, failures, heartbreaks, dreams, hopes, and fears.  Who does that, truly, with all of their facebook “friends”?  So when we connect on social media, often we are left hollow.  And that ultimately leads to shame.  It’s a path that one has to travel, and shame is the result.  If we are not connected, we begin to fear something is wrong with us because of the lack of connection.  The next step is to begin to think that the something that is wrong with us is that we are unworthy of love and belonging.  No one wants to connect because we are not good enough.  Ick.

During our family conversation last night we talked about the various feelings involved, and they ranged from being proud to be mentioned to being sad and a little hurt for not being mentioned.  My husband and I could understand both sets of feelings, and knew there were teachable moments for both.  Being proud of oneself is great.  It took me a long time of living this life before I was able to say I was proud of me.  But when I did, it was because I embarked on something I never thought I would be able to do (law school), and I actually did it quite well.  I said I was proud of me before anyone other than my family and closest friends told me.  I came to that conclusion nearly on my own and it helped me push through when it was most challenging.  Social media was not a part of my life when I applied for and began law school, and I am so glad, because I shudder to think of how I would have been affected throughout that part of my law school journey if I had been relying on others for my confidence to make it through.

Not being mentioned and feeling sad and a little hurt about it is also completely understandable.  In fact, my husband admitted that he struggled with that very thing when he was on facebook. But the danger here is taking it to that next level of “because I was not mentioned, I am not worthy.”  And again, feeling unworthy always leads to shame.  Looking for our value and self-worth from comments or likes on facebook or any other forum will, at some point, leave us feeling empty, especially if we start comparing ourselves to others.  There always have been and always will be ready opportunities to compare ourselves to others, but never has it been easier than now.  When I was growing up, I compared myself to my sister, my friends, and people I saw on TV, movies, and in magazines.  That was plenty.  But now, the comparison web stretches so much further, and it seems to be never-ending.  It’s hard enough to sift through what’s realistic and what isn’t as an adult, but imagine trying to do that as a child.  I shudder.

Finally, our conversation touched on perfectionism.  As one who has struggled my entire life with perfectionism, but who has only recently been made aware of the struggle, I believe it is more important than ever to discuss with our children that what you see on social media is not real life.  It is a snapshot of what people want you to see.  As I have said before, few of the billions (I don’t think that’s an exaggeration) of social media users actually post their real life ups and downs.  So what we’re left with is a skewed version of life.  If we don’t filter what we see through a strong reality check, we can begin to believe that everyone has a perfect life but us.  And I can tell you from what I have read and from my own experience that perfectionism leads straight to shame.  Because perfect does not exist in our lives, and because there is no possible way to become perfect in this life, we are fighting a losing battle.  And if we believe that we can, in fact, achieve perfection is some area of our life, because we will ultimately fail, that failure will lead to feelings of unworthiness.  I must have failed because I suck.  Because I suck, I am unworthy.  I don’t know about you, but I do not want the children in my life to be saddled with perfectionism because it’s the primary message they are receiving from this social media world we live in.

At the end of the conversation, we thanked the kids for being honest with us about their feelings and encouraged them to think about what they want for themselves regarding social media.  As I mentioned before, this was not the first conversation about the topic, and it certainly will not be the last – much to the kids’ chagrin, I’m sure!  But every time we talk about stuff like this – including their feelings – it gets easier.  Every time we talk about something that is uncomfortable, it gets a little less uncomfortable.

I have said it before and it bears repeating:  I am not on a mission to get anyone to stop using social media.  What I am on a mission to do is to get people to start thinking more about the impacts social media has on their lives and the lives of others.  Something that seems innocent might actually cause a lot of harm.  We cannot tiptoe through life constantly worrying about what may or may not hurt someone else’s feelings, but we can become more aware, and often simple awareness can lead to big positive changes.

the one who shames me the most: UPDATE!

So remember that post I wrote about showing up 24 hours early for an appointment with my therapist?  Well, I have an even better one for you!  Yesterday, I went to meet a good friend for lunch.  We planned to meet at 11:30, and amazingly, I arrived a few minutes before the appointed meeting time.  I fully expected to see my friend there, as she is always punctual, but I was the first to arrive.

I waited for several minutes and then I started to wonder… (again, this particular friend is never late).  So like the last time, I went back to the emails we had exchanged to confirm (what was actually this time my growing suspicion) that I had, yet again, goofed.  YEP!  I had!  The email exchange we had specified the first FULL week of June, and this year June began on Monday – the second day of the week.  So this time, like last time, I was early.  But unlike last time, this time I was a FULL WEEK early.

But more importantly, unlike last time I did not berate myself.  My first thought was not “I’m such an idiot,” or “I’m so stupid.”  I actually chuckled to myself.  THAT, my friends, is progress.

So I called my friend to verify that we are indeed meeting next week, and she confirmed the same.  She was kindly, and unnecessarily, apologetic.  I was the one who goofed, after all, she wasn’t.  And you know what?  It was ok.  I laughed about it with the woman who took my carryout order (all was not lost – I still got to eat what I was looking forward to eating that day!) and told her I would see her again next week, I am able to meet my friend next week, albeit on a different day, no harm was done, and again, I was kind to myself.

This might not seem like a big deal, but to me it is.  I can see the change in myself.  I am starting to shift from the one who shames me the most, to the one who forgives me the most and shows me the most grace.  It’s a daily practice to show ourselves grace, but I can tell you based on yesterday’s experience, that the practice pays off, and the victory, even though it’s one moment in one day, is pretty sweet.

never enough

Do you ever feel like you will never be enough?  Oh, let me tell you, I do.  I’ll never be thin enough, smart enough, a good enough lawyer (my day job), a good enough wife, stepmom, sister, daughter, and friend.  Not to mention I will never be a good enough housekeeper, decorator, or weed-controller (seriously, they grow like twenty million feet overnight).  Whew.  That’s a lot of never good enoughs, huh?

We don’t come into this world thinking and feeling like we will never be good enough.  But the thoughts and feelings take root and grow (much like those pesky weeds) throughout our lives.  Our culture is excellent at promoting the never good enough feelings.  Just look around and you’ll notice, if you have not already.

Maybe it’s a decision, or series of decisions you have made that turned out to be mistakes.  You think that because of those mistakes, you will never be enough.  No one will ever truly love you or even just accept you.  I used to feel that way.  I have been divorced twice and married three times.  Never in my life did I think this would be my story, but it is.  For years I was embarrassed and ashamed of my story.  Despite the roughly 50% divorce rate, I still felt a stigma attached to me because of my twice-divorced status.  And I was twice-divorced before the age of 33, mind you, which made my story infinitely worse.  For years I embraced my singlehood and vowed to never again marry.  I think somewhere deep inside I believed I couldn’t “do” marriage.  I wasn’t enough to have a successful marriage.  Well, I don’t know what defines “success” in a marriage.  Some days I think I am successful, and others I know I am failing miserably, but what’s important in my opinion is that I have finally found myself in a place where both parties are 100% committed to the marriage.  So that, to me, is success.

But just because I am in a committed relationship does not mean I don’t feel like I am not enough.  As I mentioned, there are some days I know I am failing, and it’s in those moments that the never enough-ness settles in deeply.  These are the moments that shame threatens to take over and take me down with its nastiness.  These are the moments I feel unworthy of love and belonging.  I am not enough and I never will be enough – for my husband, for my own expectations, for my friends and family who know my story, for those I have yet to meet and tell of my story.  This is when I sink low.

And I sink low when I fall into the comparison trap.  I try to stay away from social media as much as possible.  As I mentioned before, I quit facebook a few years ago, but I still remember what I often felt when I scrolled through my “friends’” posts and saw perfection and more perfection and nary a whiff of real life.  I avoid pinterest for everything but scrapbooking ideas because the beauty and perfection that fills the screen is often just too much for me.  It fills me with anxiety – not just because I find it visually overwhelming, but because you’ve got to be kidding me, people have the time and energy to make all of those perfect (and often complicated) creations???

But I get caught up in food blogs, the occasional Instagram account, and the messages that are rampant while browsing the internet, watching TV, and reading magazines.  It takes a LOT of self-talk to stay out of that I-am-not-enough black hole.

Brené Brown talks about this never enough-ness is her book, The Gifts of Imperfection (and lest you think I receive anything in return for mentioning Brené and her books, I can assure you that Brené Brown does not know I exist – but I will confess it’s my dream to meet her someday.  Her books have helped me tremendously, and I want to share because I know they can help others, too). This concept is referred to as scarcity.  Scarcity can take different forms.  Brené explains this by quoting author Lynne Twist’s writing in The Soul of Money.  Lynne writes that one form of scarcity is the mindset that we do not have enough time, sleep, money, etc.  Many of us wake up every day thinking these thoughts and setting ourselves up for not having enough – for not being enough – throughout the day, and then we go to bed feeling inadequate because all we can think about is what we did not accomplish, what we do not have, and where we are lacking.  But the form of scarcity to which I am referring, and which Lynne also addresses, is what I consider to be more of an emotional scarcity.  And that is what I experience when I think, and consequently believe, that I am not enough (not thin enough, not smart enough, not good enough).  Scarcity = inadequacy.  Has anyone reading ever experienced that?  Well, as I mentioned above, I certainly have and do, so all of that rang true to me.

But I have to admit that what came next in the scarcity discussion kinda irritated me.  Brené says we need to let go of the scarcity mind-set and choose a mind-set of sufficiency.  And here is where it gets tough:  sufficiency is not about having more, but about recognizing that we are enough.  By recognizing and embracing our enough-ness, we can dig ourselves out of the deep dark pit of never enough.

Sounds simple, right?  Well, it’s not (which is why I feel irritated).  Especially when we fall into the comparison trap.  I am actively working on shedding myself of my scarcity mind-set, and one way I try to do that is by telling myself “I am enough.”  I will set this as my intention in yoga, and repeat it as my mantra throughout the day… when I remember to do so, that is.  It takes a lot of practice, and is an active process.  I can’t just wish myself into I am enough-ness.  I also try to shield myself from my personal never enough triggers.  Staying away from social media, not picking up those magazines with perfect airbrushed models and celebrities on the cover, avoiding watching TV shows that depict “reality” that is anything but.  And not comparing myself to others in my life with whom I interact who appear to have it all together.  I have no idea what lies beneath, so why would I waste my time convincing myself they have so much more than I do?

I also have tried to focus on my strengths instead of my weaknesses.  I know I am a great cook and baker.  I know I am a great friend.  I know I am smart (although it took about 34 years for me to actually say that out loud and not feel weird).  I know I am fit, and more importantly, healthy.  I know I am a beloved child of God.

I know I am enough.  But when I am fighting with my husband, feeling like a terrible step-mom, just binged on chocolate, haven’t returned a friends’ call or text, or am behind on work promised to a client, it’s all too easy to sink into the never enough-ness.  That is why I believe it takes constant work and checking in with a therapist, a great “self-help” book, close friends or family with whom we can share these vulnerabilities, and a lot of prayer.  Setting an intention or daily mantra, while it may sound hokey, works.  The messages we invite in inevitably come out… in some form.  I have found the best thing I can do is to fill my mind, body, and soul with as much positivity and reality as possible.

I think the battle of never enough-ness will be ongoing in my life.  I do not think I will ever completely overcome those feelings that creep in from time to time.  But, as I said before, it is a process.  I know I am improving, and as long as I actively work on squelching the negativity and ingesting positivity, I believe I will begin to feel more and more that I am enough.

What do you do when you start to feel like you are not enough?  Do you have a mantra, a prayer, or a meditation that you repeat to yourself or offer up?  Do you call a close friend and share your vulnerabilities?  What has worked to help get you back on the path to I am enough?

survey says

A few days ago, while waiting to be called for my appointment at the hair salon, I picked up a copy of Redbook Magazine.   I flipped through the pages and found a survey Redbook conducted of 1,000 women.  The survey was about lying.  Here were the questions and results of the survey:

Honesty Takes a Backseat When:

  1. I’m trying to protect someone’s feelings: 58%
  2. Someone asks me something too personal: 19%
  3. I’m attempting to stay out of trouble: 12%
  4. I’m worried the truth will change someone’s opinion of me: 11%

I found this super interesting, especially in light of my last post.  What I found so interesting is that besides the first reason of trying to protect someone’s feelings, all of the reasons are shame-based (although I can make an argument for ALL of them being shame-based, actually).  If you read my last post, reason 4 should not surprise you at all, but the other two may not be as obvious.

  1. Someone Asks Me Something Too Personal:

Obviously, it’s our decision whether to answer a personal question or to decline divulging something that is none of the asker’s business.  I firmly believe in placing boundaries, and that includes politely declining to answer a question that is too personal.  But politely declining is clearly not the same as lying.  It may feel uncomfortable to tell someone their question is too personal, so I think that is why 19% of those surveyed said they answer too-personal questions with lies. I think this is all tied to shame.  And why is it uncomfortable?  Because we are worried about what that person will think if we say that to them.  They might think we’re rude.  They might think we’re stuffy.  They might think we have something to hide.  They might think we’re bad.  Boom, the connection is lost.  I get it, I really do.  In fact, my husband and I discussed this very issue when I wrote my last post.  We considered that some readers might think the omissions I made at the beginning of our relationship were much worse than what they actually were.  By not divulging any details, I ran that risk.  And by stating that he had experienced something similar to what I had experienced and not told him, we ran the risk that people might think his experience was worse than what it was.  Despite this, I clearly decided to go ahead with what I wrote – absent the gritty (haha) details and all.  So I definitely understand worrying about what people will think and wanting to answer in a way that will prevent others from thinking whatever “worst” they come up with, but if what is said is a lie, most likely it will cause harm and create further disconnect.  If we’re all just honest with one another, there is such a better chance for connection.  Saying something like, “I don’t feel comfortable answering that question,” is sufficient.  Remember, boundaries.

  1. I’m Attempting to Stay Out of Trouble:

This is a good one.  I’m fairly certain we have ALL been there.  My husband and I have an ongoing battle with this with my step-kids, and a battle it is.  But it’s not limited to children, and it goes to vulnerability and again, revealing ourselves.  Who wants to get in trouble?  I think the desire to stay in good graces stays with us our entire lives.  But I know I don’t need to tell you that lying to stay out of trouble almost always backfires.  My husband and I tell my step-kids (and every time we do it serves as a reminder to me – because let’s be honest, it is an ongoing struggle) that lying to stay out of trouble will always result in, wait for it, getting in trouble!  If we admit our truth, we may still get “in trouble.”  If we hide from it, we will never experience the vulnerability that could lead to deeper connection.

  1. I’m Worried the Truth Will Change Someone’s Opinion of Me:

And this is the big one.  This has shame written ALLLLLLL over it.  Obviously, I do not have to tell you that I have been there.  If we’re being honest, haven’t we all been there?  Whether it’s a “little white lie” or a whopper of a tale, we edit our life stories and what we tell someone in order to be thought of in the best possible light.  The fear of disconnection is powerful, and it tricks us into believing that we will be much better off painting ourselves a certain way.  But here’s the problem:  if we’re all, (yes, I realize only 11% owned up to this, but I have a sneaking suspicion shame kept a lot more from admitting they lie for that reason) lying about who we are and what we’ve done, aren’t we doing the disconnecting ourselves?  And what if when we tell the truth, we receive a “me too” response?  What if we get, “I’ve been there”?  That’s a connection.  Making that connection is incredibly powerful, and a lie all but guarantees that chance for connection will be forever lost.

I had to laugh when I read that survey – not because it’s funny, but because when you start to look at things through the lens of shame, surveys like this and their results are not at all surprising.  Plus, it speaks to exactly what I have been writing about.  It was just so timely.

I think we can be honest and still set boundaries.  I think we can be honest and still be accepted.  I think we can be honest and still be secure in who we are.

And that brings me to the first survey option – When I’m trying to protect someone’s feelings.  So yeah, this is a tough one.  Unless you’re cold and heartless – or lashing out, most people don’t want to intentionally hurt someone’s feelings.  But isn’t that based in the fear of how our truth will be received?  Yes, it’s about protecting the other person, but I think the truth can be told and feelings can be protected in most situations.  I’m certainly no expert, but I just think when we shy away from the truth, for whatever reason, it all comes down to us.  It’s almost always about how we feel about ourselves and how we want others to view us.

Now, I did not see the actual survey, just the results, so this is only speculation, but the numbers add up to 100%, so it appears the survey participants were asked to select one answer out of the four options.  Given this, I am not at all surprised that 58% selected the first option.  After all, if you’re going to fess up to lying, why not choose the answer that is most acceptable?  I think a better survey would be to ask people to select all of the reasons for which they have lied in the past.  If that were the survey, I believe the results would show 100% across the board… if everyone taking it answered honestly, of course.  Ha.

So read the survey questions again and think about it for a moment.  What would the results be if you took the survey?  If you could only select one answer, what would you choose?  And more importantly, why?

the fear of being known

When I first started dating my husband, there were things I did not tell him.  Big deal, you may be thinking.  Who tells it all at the beginning of a relationship?  After all, it takes a while to find out if that person is trustworthy and deserving of our stories, right?  Well, it wasn’t just that I did not tell him things, but I actually glossed over some details that really should have been revealed.  When the details eventually came out (because they always do), my now husband was understandably hurt and upset.  There was a period of time when I did not know whether we would stay together – that’s how much hurt was wrapped up in my omission.  And even though what I failed to tell him was not inherently harmful, my omission haunted us for a very long time.  If I had only told him the whole story from the very beginning, things would have been so much different, and so much easier.  AND, I would not have to live with the knowledge that I hurt the man with whom I was falling in love.

I think most of us have “if only” stories.  I have many more than just that one, and they all have different plots, reasons for the desire to have done things differently, and motivations for why the particular act was done that way in the first place.

I can admit now that my omission was motivated by shame, but it took a long time for me to come to that realization.  You see, when I left out the important detail, I was afraid.  Afraid of what this amazing guy would think of me.  Afraid that he would decide he did not want to go out on another date with me.  Afraid that I would feel worse about myself than I already did when I heard myself admit my truth to him.  And here’s the thing – when the truth did come out, several months later, all of those same fears were there, but they were greatly magnified.  By keeping my truth to myself out of fear, I had made the truth even more scary.

I didn’t know anything about shame when all of this took place, and because of that, I was not well-equipped to work through the difficulty of the situation.  When I read I Thought It Was Just Me, I started to have a series of “aha moments,” and so much started to make sense.  What I learned is that one of the biggest components of shame is the fear of disconnection.  Everyone wants to connect – it’s hard-wired into us.  But we also all have things about us that we do not necessarily want to share with others because we are ashamed of our behavior, disappointed in our past choices, or even embarrassed.  According to Brené Brown, what keeps us from sharing, as was the case with me, is the fear of disconnection.  If I reveal myself, I may be rejected.  If I am rejected, I have little chance of connection.  If there is no connection, I am alone.  And if I am alone, then I really don’t belong anywhere, right?  If I stay silent, I can still belong.  No one will reject me.

Recall the definition of shame:  it is, according to Brené, “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”  If I believe I am unworthy of acceptance and belonging because of my past mistakes, then won’t others think that, too?  So why would I ever reveal that part of myself and open up to others?

Well, this is exactly what was going on inside of me – and I didn’t even know it.  I just knew I didn’t want to tell my story.  I already felt crappy about something, and I knew in my heart that I could have made much better decisions.  There was NO WAY I was going to show this amazing new man in my life the skeletons in my closet.  That, my friends, was my shame coming out in a huge way.  And believe me, the thing you don’t want to reveal about yourself doesn’t have to be criminal, morally repugnant, or deviant in order for shame to kick in – mine sure wasn’t any of those.  Trust me, it can be anything you beat yourself up about.

But an amazing thing happened when my skeletons came out.  I was met with grace and forgiveness.  I was blown away.  Another amazing thing that happened was my now husband opened up to me and shared a very similar story.  We were not that different.  Here I was, thinking IT WAS ONLY ME, but as it turned out, it wasn’t.  And you know what happened inside of me?  My body, which had been completely tense, relaxed.  My stomach, which had felt so incredibly sick, suddenly felt ok.  My hands, which had been shaking, calmed down.  My fear, which had been overwhelming, turned to intense relief.  But more than the physical changes that occurred, were the emotional changes.  I was vulnerable with my now husband, and he in turn was vulnerable with me, and we grew closer.  And every time we are vulnerable with one another and reveal ourselves, we grow closer.  That does not mean the shame evaporates.  I still have trouble revealing parts of myself of which I am ashamed.  But it is getting easier for me to trust that when I do, the connection will not vanish.

It takes courage to reveal  ourselves.  We risk rejection, disconnection, and more shame.   Brené cautions that for these reasons, we ought to be careful to share our stories with those who have earned the right to hear them.  Even then, the story may not have a happy ending.  We may, in fact, be rejected.  But I think we gain courage by sharing.  And the rewards of being understood, accepted, shown grace and empathy, and receiving vulnerability in return, have proven to me, time and time again, to be well worth the risk.

What I have written about above is just one example of the fear of being known.  Fortunately, when I have been vulnerable with my husband, I have been met with grace, acceptance, and love.  But that has not always been the case with others.  I have, in fact, been rejected, and it has been painful, for sure.  And that pain has threatened to eradicate my desire to be vulnerable in the future.  I plan to explore this in future posts, but for now, I will say that despite the rejection I have experienced, I have gained courage in revealing myself and speaking my truth.  I do not want to hide in shame, and I do not want to shy away from vulnerability.  As I stated before, we risk so much when we show ourselves, but I encourage you to do so, because the rewards of being truly known, accepted, connected, and understood, are so much greater.