By Maria Washburn
As you now know, one of the first reasons that so many young women and men share their selfies on social media is, of course, the likes. The likes feed our ego and our brain just the way ice-cream would feed our belly and just the way cocaine feeds an addict’s brain. Remember that this important information may not apply to you if you are not social media user. However, with 81% of the world using social media in 2017, this may apply to you after all. Why is this important? The reward systems that are carefully implemented by any social media platform designers are not a healthy way to develop self-realization. All too often these systems feed broken egos and individuals who are typically deeply insecure. Other individuals can actually go from being completely confident to becoming insecure due to the constant rewards or lack of (especially now that most social media platforms pick and choose your audience in limited numbers for you based on time of the day and the content of your posts).
We listed “One or both of my parents didn’t love me when I was a child,” as the first reason behind the continuous need for approval on social media. Why is this true? Ever since some of the world’s most famous child and adult behavior specialists came around, one thing that has remained constant is the idea that all that truly matters in our adulthood (who we become and how we reach our potential), begins in our childhood. A child who experiences love and care as a toddler and an infant tends to show what he or she has experienced in return. If a child was held gently against a mother’s chest when going through discomfort, this child will remember that feeling. He or she may not be able to tell you exactly how it felt, but the brain that was rewarded by that gentle hug will forever search for that reward when experiencing discomfort later in life. This is the more natural form of reward. Unnatural rewards are more of synthetic nature. These may include drugs (uppers and downers), spirits, and yes, social media likes. We are inclined to seek human interaction because it is important to our survival. Most of us do not have to be surrounded by tons of people at all times to feel connected to others, but for many, the need for approval literary becomes an addiction. The braves ones can admit this addiction. Individuals who were denied parental love, be it in a form of a hug or recognition for doing something good, really tend to hold on to other forms of rewards and often, these are the unhealthy ones.
So, what happens when a child in distress does not get that motherly touch before entering into adulthood? Can you imagine that child now? A large room, he is crying… the cry echoes, but nobody tends to it. Hours pass, the crying has now led to confusion and even curiosity. The child walks about the room. He plays with things he finds. Still, he is alone. The brain of this child does not receive what it was innately designed to receive in times of discomfort. The mother never hugs, the child’s brain never comprehends that he is safe and that the threat is over. Instead, the brain continues to function at lower levels of anxiety due to lack of reassurance as if attempting to cope on its’ own. This is the beginning of learning to cope with one’s own emotional distress. This can become a typical survival habit for a child who later will most definitely turn into an adult. A child, as he grows up will understand that when he is hurting, he can’t rely on someone else to make it go away. The brain will become familiar with this lonely, but a manageable way of feeling discomfort. The brain always finds a way to cope, but not always in a healthy way. Under the unhealthy way of coping, falls the idea of seeking approval and rewards that are synthetic. When this very child suddenly learns that he can get rewarded for the smallest of actions, he will hold on to that almost immediately and this is typically the beginning of reward-seeking behavior, ego boosting, and even impulsivity on social media.
This way of living was no issue for generations because people found reward in working to support the family, building a home, starting a business, creating something out of nothing. People found reward in simply being able to survive another day. Today looks different. People spend a lot of time in self-loathing, thus preventing themselves from actually doing great things. Although some people are mentally in tune and can respond to social media rewards neutrally, others, such as the children who were unloved, now adults, figured out that each time they put up an image of themselves, somebody “likes” it (after all, as we discussed in our previous article, the option to dislike doesn’t exist, not yet) and that makes them feel OK. To the brain, the likes are like hugs that a mother should have given. The brain does not distinguish in reward system because it has just ONE such system. Do you understand? Give yourself a serving of coffee instead of a “like” and your brain will respond in just the same way. Give yourself a spoonful of sugar and watch what happens! The same area that responds to a “like” also responds to sugar and to coffee. Now, that’s science! Children who were deprived of care as babies tend to fall for this trick more easily. For some of us, a “like” is just self-esteem boost when life gets tough or when we are feeling bad about our looks, family, relationships, and other significant aspects of life. For the more troubled mind, a “like” or lack of, can result in depression, poor self-view, and even suicide.
Would you like to know what it feels like to thrive without external rewards? The next time you put up the best version of you for others to see, don’t check your “likes” and comments. Do this at least a few times over some period of time (six months). Ask for no reward and you will learn that it isn’t easy, especially for those of us who are heavy seekers of approval. When you stop seeking the shallow rewards, you can achieve a state of confidence that can’t be taught with the reward systems that exist today. By becoming your own source of approval, you may save yourself a lot of time photoshopping those selfies. In addition to this, ask yourself, “What am I hoping to achieve by putting up this picture of myself?” Keep in mind, that we aren’t talking about all selfies, we are talking about “the” selfie. The one that we share to prove something to someone. Ask yourself if sharing your selfie has a good reason, perhaps the reason is nothing more than one of the reasons we explained in our previous article. If so, try to choose the real version of you. Be better. Do better.
M. C. Washburn (B.S., M.A. Ed). Visit http://www.bethic.org to learn more.
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