In the world of appearances the essence is lost. The more we worry about appearing, the more we move away from our true “ego”. The more we build outside, the more we crumble inside, to such an extent that that seemingly ideal image can end up swallowing our identity, turning us into jailers of ourselves.
Social networks are the best example of this since they have become the showcase where we project a seemingly perfect life. Although few, there are already voices of dissent, such as that of the Australian influencer Essena O’Neill who, with more than half a million followers, hundreds of perfect photos and thousands of euros in profits, left Instagram saying: “This is not a sincere life, neither great nor inspiring. It is the artificial perfection made to attract attention.”
However, many do not realize that the validation they receive from social networks is based solely on built metrics to confuse attention with affection and inflated vanity with true value.
Although the truth is that the tendency to live to appear has not emerged with social networks – these have only helped to spred it – but have much deeper roots, based on the need for social approval to reaffirm a status, even if it is illusory and built on a house of cards. People with the Herostratus complex – those who seek fame or notoriety regardless of the media – have always existed and will continue to exist. But if we want to emulate them, we will condemn ourselves to living an empty and meaningless life.
Tell me what you presume and I will tell you what you lack
The eagerness to highlight certain characteristics or socially attractive or positive possessions hides a deep personal insecurity. It is likely that, deep down, we think we are not interesting, intelligent, attractive or successful enough to get attention for ourselves and need to exaggerate or even invent certain things to get social approval.
That need to constantly demonstrate our value, happiness or intelligence actually hides a compensation mechanism: we try to balance our insecurity by playing the role of a safe person.
Compensation, a psychological mechanism proposed by Alfred Adler related to feelings of inferiority, is a strategy through which we cover up – in a conscious or unconscious way – those weaknesses, frustrations, desires or incompetencies seeking successes, whether real or imaginary, that may balance the scale or tip it in our favor.
However, compensation does not usually solve the underlying problem. Posting smiling photos on social networks will not make us feel better and showing how big our house is will not make the feeling of loneliness disappear. Infact, compensation usually reinforces the inferiority complex by triggering a highly toxic mechanism for our mental balance.
Living for appearances: The trap of modern society
Society does not make it easy for us to develop a safe, self-determined and authentic “ego”. By creating a false correlation between who we are and our possessions “The fullness of the consumer’s pleasure becomes synonymous with the fullness of life. I buy, then I am. To buy or not to buy, that’s the problem”, as Zygmunt Bauman wrote. The problem is that “For deficient consumers, those dispossessed of our days, not buying is the discordant and purulent stigma of an unrealized life (and its own insignificance and worthlessness)”, he added.
The change of focus, from inside to outside, from what you are to what you have, generates great pressure to consume, be happy and successful that ends up “breaking” the most vulnerable personalities, so that these people feel practically obliged to build a life that looks good on the outside, to project the expected image of themselves.
That pressure does not talk about their real problems, which continue to grow behind a perfect facade. And by not seeking help, they fall even lower into the frustration hole. Thus they are locked in a vicious circle in which, the more they try to appear, the less they work to solve the problems that are causing this discomfort. They live by avoiding the real problem, focusing on inconsequential things that provide nothing more than an ephemeral adrenaline rush that is confused with happiness.
Curiously, the society in which we live that gives rise to these dysfunctional behaviors cannot even be called materialistic. “It is not correct, much less, to say that modern civilization is materialistic, if we understand as materialist the person who loves matter. The modern brain does not love matters but measures, not solids but surfaces. Drinks by the percentage of alcohol and not by the ‘body’ and the taste of the liquid. Builds to offer a facade, rather than to provide a space to live”, wrote Alan Watts.
In reality, we are living in the era of perfectionism at all costs, of the cult of the container, forgetting about the content, which generates expectations that are too high and often unreal, about us and the rest of the people, creating a toxic environment for our emotional well-being.
We must not forget that when creating a social hierarchy, it is very simple to reinforce cultural models of perfection and success. And as a cultural model of perfection or success is reinforced, our anxiety increases because we feel deficient or inferior. Someone is always ahead of us, which inevitably leads to comparisons. And that leads us to continue feeding the “beast”, with the secret hope that we will finally be able to live up to a false sense of happiness and success, however illusory and ephemeral.
It is a terrible mechanism that condemns us to live an empty life, in which we do not build what we really want but what we believe will look good and that others will applaud or look with disguised envy. That is why we urgently need to change the focus and build a life that makes us feel good inside, not one that seems perfect from the outside. Because life doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be wonderful for you. And that’s enough.