I fully admit, I'm a Facebook addict. I check it as soon as I wake up, even though I know that the odds of anything life-changing showing up on my status feed are slim. Usually all I end up finding out is what most of my friends have had for breakfast, and how much they hate traffic (yawn). Yet still, I am obsessed with the desire to peruse it regularly. When I was a kid, I would never, ever sleep if company was over, because I was convinced that I would miss something exciting. I blame my Facebook fetish on that aspect of my personality. I'm always afraid I'll miss something good.
The reason I'm bringing this up today is because I've been thinking a lot lately about perception. I've grown very interested in the way that people process pain, both physical and emotional. I have had patients that can't move on with their lives due to chronic pain. I've had others who block this ongoing pain off into a corner of their mind, and refuse to let it interfere with their daily activities. Does this mean that one patient's pain is more severe than another's? No...it simply demonstrates the way that perception can affect pain levels.
Or, take this as another example: a few years ago, I was mugged at knifepoint. I was walking down a dark street near my home when two masked men accosted me. One held a knife to my throat, while the other searched through my purse, threatening me as he did. Maybe it was because I only had $2 in my purse (ha, muggers!), or maybe it was because they didn't actually hurt me; for whatever reason, I simply walked home, called the police, and then headed back out to meet my friends as soon as the officer was done taking my statement. I was annoyed, of course, but it didn't seem like that much of a big deal to me. On the other hand, I have known mugging victims who were absolutely traumatized over it. They couldn't leave the house alone at night; they slept with lights on for years. Why was my perception of this event so different from theirs? Certainly not because I am brave (I am not); we simply processed it in different ways.
So, what does all this have to do with Facebook? Well, getting back to the concept of perception: as a society, we are an impressionable lot. We also tend to base our perceptions of ourselves on the perceptions of others. Now that all this social media is around, our concepts of other people tend to be based on their online presence, rather than face-to-face contact. When you see someone in person, you get ALL of them: their good side, their bad side, their insecurities: all of our various sides factor into who we really are. What do we get on Facebook? Pictures of people smiling, toasting with friends, looking their best. We start to compare our own lives to the pictures we see online, and wonder, "why am I not as happy as her/him?" If you are already unhappy with the way your life is headed, seeing pictures of your friend beaming with her (seemingly) perfect husband, and (seemingly) angelic kids on their vacation in Europe is certainly not going to make you feel any better.
So the next time you feel the urge to compare your life to those friends you are seeing online, remember this: you aren't seeing the whole picture. Do you post pics of yourself in your messy house, in sweatpants, watching "Murder She Wrote" at midnight? Probably not. Like everyone else, you provide the world with a highly edited version of your life on Facebook. It's important to realize that comparing yourself to those with "perfect" lives is not only a waste of energy-you're also comparing yourself to someone else's fantasy, not their reality.