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Facebook-Self vs. True-Self: Presenting Contrived Happiness

Digital presentations often do not reflect true identities.

Source: Pixabay

During 4th of July weekend, my husband and I took our toddler daughter to a park. We often go to the same one overlooking the Hudson River because she likes to climb the curvy ladders as well as play hide and seek within the slides. It was a day similar to others in that we were laughing, and smiling and trying to keep her hydrated. Parents who frequent parks without a hint of a shady tree understand this challenge. It was like any other playground adventure except for one thing…

Across the field, I noticed a mom angry with her jumpy, unhappy kids. She yelled and tugged at them by the arms to come closer. I heard several times "Come here!" or "Move over here!" "Fix your face... Smile, now!" Apparently, she was not letting up until she got a “fantastic, happy” snapshot complete with river background, ear-to-ear smiles, and cuddling. After several digital captures, the mom and kids parted ways. Quickly. She next spent several minutes on a bench, rapidly swiping and clicking her hand-held "happy family" image producer unaware of her children's location. I noticed one traveled very far down to the river to throw rocks. Contrived bliss for the digital masses.

The “Facebook-self” and a true-self comparison study published recently focused on the adverse effects of incongruence between these two identities as well as some of the psychological predictors of this behavior (Gil-Or, Levi-Belz & Turel, 2015). Incongruity between the real-self and an ideal-self as Rogers (1959) coined, is not an uncommon act among those trying to escape their current existence or create a fictitious sense of pleasant family life. Often the Facebook-self appears to be more “socially acceptable” or “attractive” with families and individuals (Gil-Or, Levi-Belz & Turel, 2015). In other words, users want to put on a good show. Presentations such as these do not cause concern for seeing one enter an arena of psychological dysfunction. However, some of the tenants can potentially affect a family dynamic in negative ways. Clearly, rough, forced actions with children do not build lasting family bonds.

The need to have the false-self visible on a digital platform is an unusual trend that has taken shape over the last several years for a variety of reasons. Evidence shows that mothers may present a happy home with a newborn, without making note of the trying times (such as late-night feedings or endless diaper changing actions) (emarketer, 2014). Trying to put on a good face seems to be a drive within some parents to reach better self-esteem or to keep unhappiness hidden. However, is it healthy to present a false Facebook-self to keep up with the Joneses? Should we begin to review our profiles and decide if what we post expresses our true life? Perhaps what we don’t post could be a starting conversation with others in similar situations to assist in building coping mechanisms.

My morning in the sun observations remind us that more research ought to be done on the impulse for positive posting under false pretenses. Devising ways to encourage families to put down the mobile device and have a quality bonding interaction with their child based on authentic experiences (not orchestrated ones) is what is needed. Clearly, a forced smile from a child isn't as beneficial for their development as a genuine one.

emarketer. (2014). Do Mothers Need Some Time Away From Social Media? Available at: Media/1011350

Gil-Or, O., Levi-Belz, Y., & Turel, O. (2015). The “Facebook-self”: characteristics and psychological predictors of false self-presentation on Facebook. Frontiers in psychology, 6.

Rogers, C. R. (1959). “A theory of therapy, personality, and interpersonal relationships: as developed in the client-centered framework,” in Psychology: A Study of a Science, vol. 3, Formulations of the Person and the Social Context, ed. S. Koch (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill), 184–256.

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