A Curated Life – Reality Testing Social Media

For the past few days preceding the new year 2019, many people were blowing up their social media profiles with collages of a year in review. Actually, let me correct that and say MOST people. This was especially the case on Instagram, although Facebook and Snapchat were no slouches. Let’s not also forget the iPhone’s penchant for sending unsolicited “Moments” to many users as the year wound down to its close. Some of those moments weren’t very “smart” while others were too much so. What people tend to forget is that all of these images and snapshots of life only represent a fraction of a life being lived. All these carefully curated lives are flooding our ability to reality test as we scroll, check, and comment. They have the power to trigger a range of negative emotions and automatic thinking of oneself that I would compare to self-torture. How do we override this or do we even want to?

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One of the major complaints a client shared with me was how accomplishments cannot be faked. When this client sees posts of college graduations, new homes, or weddings the negative self-appraisal switch gets activated. It’s easier for her to dismiss the filtered faces and Photo-shopped bodies because they are “obvious” in their fakery. Here begins the exploration of what is meaningful about these accomplishments using a form of reality testing known as The Socratic Method. For this client, graduation meant attaining higher education that will get someone a better salary and financial stability. This belief has three parts to it, one of which is TRUE. Graduating college is attaining a higher education in the form of whatever degree is earned – TRUTH; however the type of degree earned can reality test the other two parts. The person she saw in the graduation photo may have earned a degree in History with a minor in Art. Does that automatically set them up for a particular job? Will that job have a salary that is “better” than hers? Will that person have financial stability as a result of the job and salary that their degree garnered them? The belief obviously falls apart. The one part that is true is parsed from the distorted beliefs attached to it. This helped get my client thinking about her tendency to make assumptions and self-torture based on what she saw on social media.

Another client’s depression was triggered when his iPhone sent him a selection of images titled “Holiday Moments.” The images reminded him of the awful break up he experienced the previous Thanksgiving, and how his family had picked apart his life over the recent Christmas break. What he expressed about the images gave the impression that they were painful to look at, so much so that they caused him to have a depressive episode. Reflecting these feelings back to him padded the landing for the following challenge – if these photos are so painful, why would you want to keep them in your phone? This led to an exploration of what it would feel like to delete the photos and how he was holding himself back from dating due to self-blame for his relationship ending. He decided he wasn’t ready to delete the photos, but it got him thinking about his own self-torture i.e. using images to justify the “story” he tells himself that perpetuates and maintains his depression.

I looked at the collages of various friends and acquaintances throughout the Holidays, some of which I knew had a particularly challenging year. I found myself becoming annoyed and even angry at the discrepancies between their curated lives and the ones they were living in real time. Part of my reaction was rooted in the many hours I gave audience to their hurt feelings, struggles, and inability to take action to change their negative circumstances. I knew the truth and it angered me that they couldn’t own it. That being said, I also know how incredibly difficult it is to acknowledge the above and resist the urge to get a self-esteem boost outside of the situations that are bringing you down by “false advertising.” We have ALL been there and our brain chemistry facilitates this behavior. There is a region of the brain that floods with dopamine every time we experience something novel or receive a reward. It gets activated when we receive positive reinforcement for the images and moments of our lives we share on social media. It can quickly escalate from an occasional mood fixer to an almost addictive need to post and check for likes and complimentary comments. These behaviors don’t give us the same reward of feel good chemicals. If anything, they give us less unless we escalate our activities.

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The reality in the unreality of social media is that we humans are social creatures. We make meaning of our existence in relationship to others. Our self-judgment is part of the driving force behind curating our lives for the eyes of others. What happens when the careful selections don’t get us many likes or comments or worse, when they become the target of trolls and bullies? We become trapped in a negative feedback loop that maintains the dysfunctional cycle of seeking gratification for a life not lived as we would like it, but as we want others to perceive it. Before you post, think about the expectations you have of sharing the content. Whatever these are, they can serve as your personal barometer to test whether or not you’ve fallen prey to this cycle. A little less self-torture in 2019 is a great intention to set and more importantly, to SHARE.

Some recommended reading:

The New York Times: This Is Your Brain Off Facebook (article pub. 2/01/2019)

Planning on quitting the social platform? A major new study offers a glimpse of what unplugging might do for your life. (Spoiler: It’s not so bad.)

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/30/health/facebook-psychology-health.html

 

 

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Petitioning for an “UnHappy Ending”

In my first few weeks working as a massage professional, I encountered what no development class could ever prepare me for. I was bombarded with one after another uncomfortable situation involved a client who expected a “happy ending” at some point during or after massage. Almost every massage therapist, male and female alike although women definitely get it more than men, have encountered at least one such situation in their careers, but even one is too many. I have had my share of male friends cracking jokes over the stereotypical “release” I should be giving my clients to which I always respond with a hammer fisted punch to the side of their heads. It’s incredibly frustrating to spend so much money and time on obtaining a legitimate degree for a legitimate health oriented profession and have to deal with such ignorance and nonsense. Of course, the truth is, so long as sensual massage parlors exist so will the stereotypical expectation. The attitude often is, “well, if they do it, why can’t you?”

Here to add to this ridiculous stereotype is a new program from the Women’s network that is Lifetime Television. It’s called “The Client List” and stars a buxom Jennifer Love Hewitt playing the role of a single mom who, as the synopsis states”…has taken a job at a seemingly traditional day spa, but soon realizes that the parlor offers a little more than just massage therapy. It’s not the happy ending she was expecting but it does open her eyes to a world she’s never seen before. The series follows Riley balancing these two worlds – one that revolves around her kids and family – and the other that revolves around the massage parlor and it’s special clientele. These two worlds couldn’t be farther apart, yet she’s totally comfortable in both. Keeping them separate … now that’s the tricky part as she discovers she’s not the only one with secrets.”

Um…no. This is not an example of what massage therapy is, nor a good example for single mothers in dire straits all over America looking for work to support their families. A Massage Therapist in NY requires 1000 contact hours of training done at a state accredited program ($20,000 plus for the 16 month Associates Degree I earned) on top of a licensing exam that costs a couple hundred dollars to take and once passed, a continuing education requirement that has to be completed every 3 years when your license is up for renewal that can cost thousands of dollars.  What is Lifetime thinking??? I suppose a series about Massage Therapy premised like “ER” (which was a pretty exciting medical drama if I recall) would not be nearly as thrilling as watching the illicit world of day spa sex and unlicensed massage. Right. Good job, oh women’s network for promoting this idea of the female massage therapist and for encouraging Mr. Pervy McPerv to come into the spa and boldly ask for his “happy ending.” I’ll know who to thank when his business comes my way.

What your typical massage therapist DOESN’T look like!

Thankfully, a petition was created and has been circulating via FACEBOOK to address this giant step backwards for my profession. Take a minute to read it and then sign in to your Facebook account to add your support for this.

http://www.change.org/petitions/lifetime-television-111-8th-avenue-new-york-ny-1001-do-not-air-the-client-list#