We generate a flawless image of ourselves that completely disowns our imperfections

Deepa came home after a long hard day of tuitions and tests and threw herself across the bed, thoroughly exhausted. As sleep crept over her, she wondered, in the last moment of heavy-lidded consciousness, if her latest profile picture had received a new comment. Her sleep drew back a little. Had she edited her picture just right so that the lighting and colouring flattered her features perfectly? Sleep struggled to take over but Deepa’s anxiety managed to keep it at bay. What if Sneha, Arjun, Karthik and Chitra had posted “funny” comments really designed to just annoy her and make her feel silly about herself? Sleep gave up trying to bring her under its calming oblivion as she forced herself out of bed to take a “quick look” at her profile.

Do you check and recheck your response to others’ online posts so that you appear at your humorous best? Have you convinced yourself that the number of “likes” you get below a post is a direct estimate of your value as a person?

Our primal need to belong to a certain social group in which we feel loved, appreciated and approved of, is beginning to manifest in quite an interesting way through our contemporary obsession with social networking. To be connected with friends and family on an informal platform where all our quirks are celebrated and accepted whereas at the dining table they would be frowned upon, can be very liberating. One is also encouraged to take a moment to understand what they are feeling at a particular time and what opinions they hold on a particular issue so that they may be updated as statuses or tweets.

This ability of these platforms to stimulate reflection and thought is a wonderful thing. They promote dialogues between people from different disciplines and backgrounds, thereby providing everyone with an opportunity to expand their sphere of experience and knowledge. Right? Not if our understanding of social networking is limited to its potential to generate a flawless image of ourselves that completely disowns our imperfections and shortcomings.

Such a “construction” of ourselves and our lives takes an inordinate amount of time to craft and maintain! Sources estimate school-going students spend 7 hours a day on average on these sites. That is just a criminal waste, considering there are actual people to meet and make eye contact with, real footballs to be kicked, real saplings to be planted, real rooms to be tidied up instead of virtual villas, not to mention an actual person to improve and nurture (the honourable self), rather than a virtual avatar!

Everyone has self-doubts, including the circle of friends whose approval we seek so much. The identity you have for yourself is such an intimate part of your growth. To invite others’ opinions and judgments in shaping your self-concept is unfair and harmful. To contribute to a trend of “watching” what others do with their lives and to exploit the anonymity that internet affords us to sling harmful comments at others robs the growing generation of integrity and personal accountability.

Try to look beyond the superficial and you may be able to experience the joy of genuine human connectedness that goes beyond fickle attributes such as popularity.

The Beanbag Psychologist is a column by clinical psychologists Sangeetha and Jyothi. Ask them questions on psychology at chennaichild@gmail.com and they will answer them in these columns.