Do you suffer from social media perfectionism?

Jason Brien. 

A very wise person once said “Practice makes perfect but there’s no such thing as perfect so why practice”? Why is this person wise? They are wise because they understand that perfection is a myth. They understand that we cannot become perfect no matter how hard we try. Perfection is an ideal NOT a reality. Chasing after an ideal (perfection) and never being able to achieve it will ultimately lead to a loss of motivation. In today’s society, we see ‘perfection’ everywhere. We are bombarded on a daily basis by images of ‘perfect’ people who are only ‘perfect’ because their photos and images have been photoshopped or carefully selected.

The daily bombardment of perfection with which we must ‘compete’, slowly wears us down. The more we try to be perfect, the more pressure we endure and so the more imperfect we become. The more that we cannot live up to the ideal (perfection), the more we resort to unhealthy ways to manage stress and anxiety and the more we begin to take out our frustrations on ourselves and others. Chasing an ideal or being forced to compete against others who are also chasing ideals, whether you want that ideal of not, forces everyone to become hypercompetitive. This is the current state of social media.

Social media encourages the pursuit of perfection. This pursuit may not be conscious but if, for example, you are not posting the very first picture you take of yourself, and are instead carefully selecting the ‘best’ picture, or photoshopping the picture, then like it or not, you have been entered into the perfection race. It is also the context and content of the images and videos that are being uploaded to social media sites which encourages the pursuit of perfection. How many people are uploading videos or images of themselves fighting or arguing with their partners? Or sitting on the toilet or any other mundane daily activity?  And why would they when that is not what is being reinforced and validated by others.

Posting pictures of hands on a foot fetish site is probably not going to be received too well right and so the same thing applies to social media. Only that which is perceived by the majority to be perfect will be reinforced via likes, views, comments, reach, etc. It is good to see social media users posting videos and images of themselves without makeup or without performing certain poses which make their body look ‘better’ (the ‘imperfects’ of social media) but when these videos and images are surrounded by many, many more pictures and videos of their opposites, what is the real intention behind posting the ‘imperfect’ content?

Shouldn’t the ‘imperfect’ images and videos be the majority and the ‘perfect’ images and videos the minority? Or at least equals? Rarely is this the case though. So how do we begin to recognise if we have been unwillingly entered into the perfection race and how do we pull out of the race when or if we no longer want to compete? A good way to determine if you are competitor in the perfection race is by observing what is occurring cognitively and emotionally prior to you posting on social media. What are or were the antecedents leading up to the post? Let us use the ‘selfie’ example as this is one of the most common and frequent content uploaded to social media.

You have an urge or a desire to upload a selfie to social media. Okay… So why? For some people, the selfie is uploaded in relation to a business or a brand. For others, the selfie is only for family and friends who they may not have seen in a long time. Or it could just simply be because you are bored and you want to and why not? Generally speaking, a business or a brand can be excused for posting selfies frequently because they are trying to gain and keep exposure to their business or brand. No big deal, right? Well yes and no depending on what the person is feeling and thinking about the selfie before they upload it (and this applies to regular, non-business, non-brand affiliated people).

When you take a selfie, why do you not post the selfie you just took? If the selfie was blurry then fair enough you probably want to take another picture. Again, taking another picture is fair enough if you were photobombed by your pet or an annoying partner or child. If, however, you are choosing to take another selfie because the first selfie just doesn’t ‘look’ or ‘feel’ good, then you may be a participant in the perfection race. If this sounds like you, then ask yourself “what is wrong with uploading a selfie which shows a pimple or some of my fat rolls”? After all, people in the real world can see these ‘imperfections’ so why not allow people on social media to see them too? There is a difference between wanting people to validate our ‘good’ aspects and demanding that they validate them.

So, if we notice that we are an unwilling participant in the perfection race, how do we pull out? Sometimes this is not quite so easy. If we have strongly attached our sense of self-worth and efficacy to our ‘perfection’ and to social media, it can take time to overcome the effects. In some ways, the perfection race and its associated validation can become quite addictive and so we need to focus on recovering from the addiction if we wish to heal and embrace our imperfect and ‘normal’ selves. Talk therapies like CBT can help us to challenge negative and irrational thoughts. Therapies like acceptance and commitment therapy can help us to overcome the pursuit of perfection and help us to acknowledge and accept all parts of ourselves equally and respectfully.

What is the moral of the story and how does it relate to personal development? Personal development is not about becoming perfect. Reaching your full potential is not the same as being perfect. Personal development is about becoming the person that YOU want to become. It is about helping you to become the most authentic YOU possible. The person that YOU are the happiest being. Personal development is not being overly attached to how others perceive you or how you want or desire them to perceive you. Personal development is not about becoming antisocial. It is about becoming comfortably social. Becoming comfortable and accepting of both your inner world and the external world around you.