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How keeping it real on social media can improve mental wellbeing

It can become easy to get caught up in a world dominated by Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter but is it good for our mental health being?

By spending so much time on someone else’s profile admiring their ‘life’, are we moving away from our own individuality in order to mimic the life of another, which let’s face it, is not really reality?

Instead we begin to behave how we should be in order to gain popularity, likes and followers.

Karen Horney

Karen Horney, who was neo-Freudian psychologist, coined the term “tyranny of the shoulds” which I feel addresses this topic wonderfully.

Horney’s view was that we all have within ourselves inner resources in order to foster growth towards self-realisation. This is similar to Maslow’s theory of self-actualisation which I discusss in an previous blog.

It is important for a person to find their ‘real self’ which is the source of growth. The environment and others have an impact on one’s growth with their real self. Insecurity for instance may hinder this growth and lead to what Horney called neurotic needs.

Certain neurotic needs had a part to play in leading individuals to use an idealised image to identify themselves creating an ‘idealised self’ to appease the world.

Horney’s view was that the idealised self stunted the growth towards self-realisation and the real self. It was the idealised self that created an irrational imagination of how one should be.

Rather than focusing on who they actually are, an individual would focus on who they ‘should’ be and the idealised self would take centre stage thus adopting unrealistic expectations. Examples of these expectations comprised of an individual having to endure and understand everything, to like everyone, to always be productive and so forth. 

Tyranny of the shoulds

Horney called these rigid standards the ‘tyranny of the shoulds’ and gave certain judgemental characteristics imposed on individuals: 

  • Honest  
  • Generous  
  • Courageous  
  • Selfless  
  • Perfect lover and partner  
  • Unaffected by hurtful comments  
  • Always serene and joyous of life  
  • In control on emotions  
  • Always know, understand and foresee everything  
  • Efficient in problem solving  
  • Overcome every difficulty/obstacle. 

This obligatory hold, according to Horney, would inevitably lead to self-hate and into the downward spiral of the ‘real self’ degenerating into a ‘despised self’ leading to an individual believing that was their ‘true self.’

Horney believed this kind of behaviour was self-destructive and inevitably led to an ‘alienation from the self,’ which was where individuals developed remoteness from their own feelings that the real self became unrecognisable.

Social Media and the Tyranny of the Shoulds

Of course, Horney developed her theory well before the world of social media but her ideas do resonate with the era we live in today. By focusing on the profiles of others (some of whom will be strangers), it can become easy for a person to move further away from their real self leading to a complete alienation where the real self is no longer recognisable.

Social media can also lead to certain ‘neurotic needs’ leading to anxiety. For instance, a neurotic need for affection and approval in terms of the number of likes on an Instagram post and followers can lead to a person becoming needy or clingy with a constant need to seek affirmation and acceptance from others. This can lead to the development of anxiety.

Social Media is positive in so many ways but can be equally as effective with a person being who they are rather than who they should be in order to appease the social community. The beauty of the world is that no one thing or human being is the same so why not embrace your individuality.

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