Suffering, Connection, and Realness

I have had a contentious relationship with social media for many years, but my initial experience was very positive. When I was young (around middle school), I liked to use social media (DeviantArt, Myspace, etc.) to connect and chat with others because I was shy, insecure, lonely, and lacked social skills. At that time I genuinely felt that social media allowed me to connect with people and get some form of emotional support when I was unable to find any in my real life, and the validation was addicting. In contrast, I now find that more often than not I feel negative after any period of time spent using social media for personal reasons (i.e. looking at what people I know are doing).

Based on my conversations with others regarding this, I can say that my experiences on social media are far from universal. Many people seem to feel genuine connection with others through their social media usage, while I more often than not end up feeling dissatisfied, disconnected, and empty. Part of this may be due to my lifelong struggles with depression and existential dread. I have difficulty connecting with people who have not also spent their lives struggling (whether that be self-inflicted mental suffering or from external circumstances).

When I have hard times, I find that many people are only able to provide shallow, optimistic platitudes as comfort, making me feel emotionally invalidated and distanced from them. Or better yet, they may tell me that I should ‘be a man’ or ‘toughen up,’ simultaneously invalidating my emotional experiences, making me uncomfortable to share them, and insulting me for not living up to unrealistic notions of what it means to be a man. This is something I had discussed at length with my brother prior to his passing, and is a major problem in the world as I see it (particularly in the US); maybe sometime in the future I will write a post about toxic masculinity. All experiences are relative; something minor may feel terrible to someone who has had a largely happy life, while something terrible may not even phase those who are used to suffering, but it can be hard to relate to people who have had such vastly different experiences.

For me, connection with others comes from the sharing of our pain, and the mutual understanding that comes from that; It’s hard to develop an emotional connection with someone who has not suffered with me, won’t share their pain with me, and/or who can’t relate to my pain. The thing about social media is that regardless of a person’s experiences, people generally only share positive things (or political, inflammatory things). Because of this, the entirety of what I see on social media feels shallow and meaningless – knowing mundane details of someone’s life that have been broadcast to hundreds or thousands of people is the opposite of connection for me. I am more interested in people’s difficulties than their joys, because that is my way of relating to others given my life experience. Not only that, I very much value intentionality. I feel that communicating with someone one-on-one (or in small groups) is meaningful communication, while broadcasting life details into the ether is not. Based on these experiences and opinions, I find that social media largely provide social disconnection disguised as connection.

Some people like to write very long captions on their social media posts talking about their blessings or struggles (almost always with an optimistic or religious spin on it). In my mind, this is inauthentic and attention-seeking, but some may consider me a hypocrite since I also type these long blog posts and probably also try to obscure the extent of my emotional damage. The whole thing feels like a performance and reminds me of some verses from the Bible that I read recently.

1. “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 

2. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 

3. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 

4. so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 

5. “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 

6. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 

7. “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.

Matthew 6: 1-7 (NRSV)

Basically my interpretation of this is that Jesus said we should do good things for the sake of doing them, if we do them and then tell everyone about them, it is basically like doing it to build our egos, and will not have any true spiritual benefit. This is also how I feel about sharing positive things on social media – are we sharing for connection, or are we showing off? Not only that, but it is common knowledge that using social media promotes a comparative mindset; have we considered what flaunting our joy and contentment makes others feel? It seems that if a person were truly content, they would feel no need to tell anyone about it.

I’m sure the fact that I have been reading the Bible is shocking to some of you who know me because I have historically been staunchly anti-religion (despite being raised Lutheran) largely due to my perception of many American Christians being ignorant, unkind (or only superficially kind), and judgmental (all basically the opposite of Jesus). Despite my distaste for religion, I consider myself a spiritual person and enjoy exploring religious wisdom from all around the world; I have just recently been revisiting my roots.

Contrary to how I may have made it seem in this post, I do not struggle as much anymore because I have gotten used to life having constant difficulties (many of them coming from myself and my own thinking) and have already experienced the worst thing I can imagine. Despite my life being considerably better now than it once was, and not feeling like I am constantly struggling, I still can’t relate to ‘positive people’ at all. I considered typing “optimists,” but that doesn’t really make sense because I think of myself as an optimist – despite all the bullshit in my life, I always find a way to grow from it and never think of myself as a victim, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t felt deep pain and been deeply influenced (and damaged) by it. I guess the best way I can think to describe those people is ‘fakely positive’ – people who act like everything in their life is always going well and only talk about how great everything is and how grateful they are for all their blessings. You’re allowed to have a bad day and to be exhausted, and you deserve to be comforted – but first you need to acknowledge your pain.

Anyway, I can’t possibly know the experiences of another person; maybe these people are genuinely so happy and lucky and I’m just a Negative Nancy (sorry if I have offended anyone named Nancy). I just know that drawing from my understanding, there will always be both good and bad in life, and the mind will always acclimate. No matter how much good or bad stuff happens to you – your mind will create a new baseline and have new ideas of good and bad. Winning the lottery won’t make you happy forever, and losing friends and family members won’t make you unhappy forever. To pretend otherwise is delusion. I’m not saying people should focus on the bad things, but to pretend bad things don’t exist is just a lie.

I guess this whole post comes down to realness. The world has grown fake to the point that sharing the reality of your life is considered taboo; we can only share the good stuff or else we risk ruining someone’s ‘good mood’. This lack of realness has made my thirst for it even stronger, and increased my distaste for social media. Sometimes I check social media because I want to feel some connection, but all I see is people showing off the fake, shallow, ‘good’ things in their lives, and end up feeling repulsed by it all.

If I’m being honest, I feel more connected to my friends when I am sitting alone in a room than when I’m using social media; no contact feels better than the type of feeling I get on social media. The unfortunate thing is that the existence of social media makes it more difficult to keep in touch with people without it. I guess I just need to resign myself to the fact that I have to let people disappear naturally and stop clinging to the memories of people who used to be in my life.

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