Anxiety takes many forms, but one very common thread that works it’s way through anxiety’s various forms is perfectionism. Perfectionism itself also manifests in a myriad of way, ranging from the person who is always on the go, trying to accomplish as much as possible every day, to the person too paralyzed by the fear of not living up to their own expectations to do anything. Perfectionism may be on the rise in recent years given to the public nature of many people’s lives now as social media becomes more and more ubiquitous.
The Sanitized Life
You are scrolling through your social media outlet of choice and, right on cue, you see it. Your friend has posted a photo of her perfect kids in her perfect kitchen in her perfect house taken by her perfect camera. This is followed by more photographs and more status updates with the omnipresent #blessed tacked on the end like the sign off of some passive aggressive news anchor.
On social media we see each other’s lives as they wish it was. And we only post the pictures that put ourselves in the best light, and at the best angle too, contributing to the very thing that is robbing us of our joy. Through social media, we are constantly comparing our behind the scenes with our friends and celebrities highlight reel. It’s no wonder we are discontented and anxious!
Hypersensitivity to our Performance
Before social media became what it is today, what you ate for lunch was generally considered private information. But now, when we sit down to our bowl of microwaved leftover spaghetti we scroll through our feed to be met with perfectly staged photos of gorgeous, healthy, delicious gourmet foods that someone else is apparently eating. What once was a simple meal of leftovers has now become a beacon of inadequacy.
It’s not just food either. This hypersensitivity to even our most mundane tasks spills over into many aspects of our life. The clothes we wear, how we look when we are fresh from the gym, the kind of coffee we drink. We feel as if, if these little private moments of our lives aren’t as glamorous as what we see on social media, then we have somehow failed.
Paralyzed by Inadequacy
The common image of a person with perfectionism is that of someone rushing around, with a full and impeccable calendar, with immaculate fashion sense and an acute sense of punctuality. This mythical person is held up in our culture as an idol, the absolute ideal. The image is so attractive to so many. But what we pay less attention to is the reality of perfectionism for so many which is that, they feel so certain that they can never achieve the perfection that they are striving for, and so they don’t even try.
For many, the thought of attempting something and not being able to match the image that they carry in their minds is more anxiety inducing than just simply not beginning in the first place. People who experience perfectionism in this way are stuck in an untenable position of having impossibly high goals with no courage to attempt to meet them.
Chasing the Unattainable
On the other hand, the image that most people have of the perfectionist exists because it is a real life phenomenon. The desire to live up to what we see on social media can cause us to fly into a frenzy of activity. It is an impossible amount of work to attain and maintain a perfectly instagrammable life, and yet we try. We try to work harder to land the perfect job. We try to clean longer and decorate better to have the perfect house. We try to wear more makeup, and work out longer or harder, and prepare the most beautiful and delicious meals, and raise the best behaved and dressed children. Not only are we drawn to do all of this, but to do it all at once! And make it appear effortless! And catalog it all with perfect lighting and staging in a regular stream of cheerful and poignant social media posts. It’s too much. It leaves no space for true rest. And so we end up overworked and still falling short of what, we think, everyone else online is able to achieve effortlessly.
The Rise of Impostor Syndrome
Impostor Syndrome is something that you may have been hearing about more lately. Basically what it means is that people who are qualified for what they are doing don’t FEEL qualified. When people speak of imposter syndrome they are usually talking about it in relation to the professional world. For example, if someone gets a raise based on hard work and qualifications, but that person feels like they don’t deserve the raise and that they’ve been faking it all along, they may be said to have impostor syndrome.
This plays into the anxiety induced my social media because, even if you do manage to create the perfect online persona and are rewarded with thousands of followers and notoriety, you will know that your photos are staged, and that you embellish your status updates to make them funnier or more meaningful. This is nothing unique, obviously. All successful social media personalities do this to some extent. But when the persona you put forward online doesn’t match your personality in your private moments, that contrast may eat away at your confidence and peace of mind over time, causing you to worry excessively about always putting up a front and impressing people rather than just living your life.
Social media is, in itself, neutral. But it is important to notice how certain aspects of your experience online can play into and feed certain personality traits you already have that may become harmful. For people who are predisposed to perfectionism, this is definitely something to be on guard for. Even if perfectionism isn’t something you’ve been dealing with already, it is still something that can come up and cause you undue anxiety.
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