Yesterday I posted my first ever "presentational video" on a Facebook coaching mentoring group (as opposed to, say, a video of my son doing impromptu Scottish country dancing in the street). In an effort to put awareness to practice in an everyday activity (posting on social media), I paid close attention to: a) my feelings, b) my intentions, and c) how much freaking time I wasted throughout the day checking to see the progression of likes, comments, and composing replies.
Many of us have pondered on how we take part in social media and we have some sort of position (whether implicit or explicit). What I'm interested to explore here is the why... (WHY? used to be my favourite questions as a child. Although my long-suffering mother will not say it, I was a really annoying want-to-know-it-all).
So when I posted the video yesterday I felt relieved (what was all the fuss about?), empowered (I can have my own show! - not really), and a sense of achievement (my number one reason for doing most of what I do - yes, fodder for another post) and, above all, expectant. My intentions were to have the experience, to express myself, and to get validation.
Ok, so here is where it gets interesting and very complex. In social media we are broadcasting. We know we are broadcasting. We do it to cast our net of validation as wide as possible and therefore maximise the returns (attention). This is so whether we are aware of it or not. Hence my expectation, and feeling unable to extricate myself from its aftermath once it was posted. I'm being very candid here because the crux of it is that many people don't fully own up to the whole emotional and relational side of it.
It's no provocation to say that social media is the most-perfected outlet (thus far) for everyone's narcissism. A deep-rooted need to be loved, to belong, to be complimented, celebrated is mixed in with navel-gazing and a huge dose of self-deceit or, in its milder version, a tendency to want to prove to ourselves how great our lives are by proving it to others. This wonderfully fragrant dough barely needs a moment in a digital oven (take your pick: FB, instagram, twitter, pinterest, snapchat...) to grow into a bloated, fluffy, crisp on the outside (yet tender on the inside) loaf of self-validation.
I'm not criticising from a pedestal. I do it too. We all do. Even the people who are not on social media seek validation from others and from the process of showing off to others - just on a much smaller scale and without the digital veil.
So my working premise is that we share online and offline to feel better. We do it for an emotional reason. Sharing makes us feel good, whatever it is that we're communicating - even if we're abusing or being nasty to someone. We share our views, our doubts, our achievements, our anger, our frustration, our sense of humour, our image - and we share other people's views, etc... We tend to share less our failure and our struggles not because we don't have an emotional reason to (we do), but because in today's world achievement and success are the new Gods and they mustn't be displeased.
We post, like, share and comment because we want attention and validation from others. And there is nothing wrong with this. Even when we say we are sharing information, passing on stuff that can be useful to others, being of service to others, or supporting the endeavours or difficulties of others, the fact remains we cannot take ourselves out of the equation. And this is where we get an emotional high (even if it's very subtle).
When we become aware of this digital dance, the why becomes clearer. And that's good because that clarity gives us choice in terms of how we engage and with what intention. There will always be a myriad of intentions and widely different reasons for posting. Often times they get conflated and we end up feeling a mixture of nice and not so nice feelings. And getting puzzled by it.
What I'm trying to say is that seeking validation is fine. Wanting a pat on the shoulder is part of being human (and having a shoulder!). Being aware of this EMOTIONAL NEED is liberating. I found it easier to let go of checking for comments and reactions to my video post when I clearly saw the emotional need underlying the craving. And the funny thing is, I was able to fulfil that need for myself a bit better. The power of it came back to me.
You see, you cannot make people like you or your posts. Why do we like others' posts? Well, we may genuinely find them funny, or entertaining or they may satisfy the natural curiosity in us. We do wish others well, too, especially close friends and loved ones. But deep down we know they want attention just like we want attention. So we scratch their back (and hopefully they scratch ours?). Once we become clearer on this, we can take things (especially lack of attention) a lot less personally. People are busy liking posts and posting themselves, sometimes they just never see your stuff. Serendipity has a lot more to do with who gets to see your posts (and therefore has a chance to comment or like them) than actual intent.
When we become aware of this validation dance (more like a rave party on social media!), we can gift our validation to others with lightness and ease. A true gift rather than an obligation or a condition. We can let go of our own need to receive it in return, because we are in a better place to give it to ourselves.