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Authenticity: authenticity is a concept in psychology and philosophy. It is the degree to which an individual’s actions are congruent with their beliefs and desires, despite external pressures. … The call of authenticity resonates with the famous instruction of the Oracle of Delphi, “Know thyself.” But authenticity extends this message – “Don’t merely know thyself, be thyself.” – Wikipedia

As a long-time mother (I suppose I’m telling you I’m old, or at least that my kids are), I know a thing or two about triggers. These are the issues that fly through the “Mommy network” as swiftly as the dreaded roto-virus that can wipe out an entire elementary school grade in two days flat.

Triggers come in all shapes and sizes:

  • Is the new show on PBS detrimental to your toddler’s intellectual development?! Barney, that lovable purple dinosaur, created quite an uproar there for a minute. Luckily, he was cleared of the allegations.
  • Is the most recent video game craze actually designed to be addictive?! I have it on good authority (my 21 year-old son, a self-professed video game know-it-all) that almost all of them actually are.
  • Will the latest shoe trend ruin the anatomy of our daughters’ feet?! My girls seem to have survived Uggs. How about you or yours?

You get the idea.

In my experience, the more of these “upsets” that you’ve watched fly around your local Mommy network, the easier it is to pick and choose which ones you’re going to allow to trigger you. Some are pretty easy to tune out. Others? Less so.

One that has currently (and ferociously) captured my attention is the “epidemic” of anxiety and depression among young people. Experts point in all directions as they attempt to explain what is going on.

  • Our incredibly small world which brings every global crisis to each of our doorsteps
  • Our current American political “moment”
  • Disassociation from the “real world” because of absorption in the “virtual world”
  • Not enough fresh air
  • Helicopter parents

On and on the list goes

That said, one possible cause that stands out to me is the all-consuming nature of social media. First of all, I’d like to make a confession. I enjoy a little scroll through social media two or three times a day. It’s a nice way to fill pauses in my day that are too short to get much accomplished. It’s also a nice thing to do when my brain feels like mush and I need to veg for a moment. I will say, though, that I do not honestly think that what I see and read on social media has much impact on me beyond a smile or a laugh. I’m simply not that invested.

Yet I know this is not always the case, especially for people younger than I am. There is a risk involved in spending time on social media. One of my friends says it causes “Miss-a-phobia” for her child – the fear of missing out. Another told me of the bizarrely high expectations her daughter had for her 16th birthday party. After she got over her shock over what her daughter wanted, she was able to deduce that her daughter’s ideas came not from real friends or real parties she had attended, but from girls she “followed” on social media.

Even more insidious, I believe, is the swath of smiles and snapshots of lives that look perfect. I’ve read (literally) dozens of articles about the impact this has on our young people – a low sense of self-worth, a feeling of not measuring up, increased anxiety and even depression. More troubling is that I know probably a dozen young people who have expressed feelings like this to me.

Young people these days (there, do I sound enough like a grandma?) are super-saturated by the notion that “everyone” but them is living a perfect, shiny, glamorous life. It turns out that it does take some wisdom, experience and even practice to see through the veneer of social media. They assume a level of authenticity that is simply not there.

Take the picture at the top of this essay as an example. It is a selfie I took before my husband and I left our daughter for her sophomore year of college. I posted it on Facebook that same night. Is it fake? Does it lack authenticity?

At first glance, no. We were doing what I said we were doing. I took the picture moments before we drove away, leaving our girl in the city for her second year of college. Clearly, we’ve been working all afternoon. None of us look our polished-up best. And I didn’t use a filter or doctor the photo in any way before I posted it. The caption I wrote, though, was a little misleading. “Sophomore year has begun at last!” That exclamation point validates our smiles. It reinforces the idea that this was a super happy moment for the three of us.

When I looked at the photo again the next morning I realized that it lacked in authenticity. There was a whole story that it didn’t capture and I think it’s this story that gets to the heart of the risk involved with social media. In an effort to capture the full story of the moment, here is what I wrote as a caption for the photo that morning when I used it in posts for Yoga Thoughts and my studio, Yoga With Spirit:

Three smiles. All look real. But only one is genuine – after all, she’s headed back to school to learn and grow and live among her wonderful friends. Two are bittersweet – beyond happy for her, yet aching over saying “see you later” to our sweet girl. This is a nice reminder to take the time to try to see beneath the surface of all the “smiles” you run into today.

This second caption made my post almost painfully authentic. In fact, writing it brought back my good-bye tears from the night before that didn’t show in the selfie. I feel like it was fully honest – good-byes are hard and messy and not pretty for me.

This gets to the intention of the post, which is often the missing link for users of social media who end up feeling anxious, depressed or otherwise jaded when they turn it off. I did not have a malicious intention at all in my first post. If you’d asked me as I posted it, I think I would have told you I intended to share a milestone. But, looking back, I think I chose my words so I wouldn’t come across as “a bummer.” And (Heads up! This is the most important and elusive point I have to make this morning!) I also think:

I chose my words to make myself feel better about the sad moment that I’d just experienced.

Rather than authentically representing the way I was feeling about saying good-bye to my daughter, I chose to put a positive spin on things as well as to include a perky exclamation point.  All in an effort to make myself feel a little happier.

My morning-after post, on the other hand, came from a truer and more authentic place. While I’ll never know, my hope and intention in sharing it was that maybe it could assure another mother somewhere “out there” that she is not alone in having extremely mixed feelings as she watches her kids grow up and move on. Even though, by spreading their wings, her children are fulfilling her greatest hopes and dreams for them, it still hurts.

When you’re scrolling through social media, it’s a good idea to always, always, always take a second to ask yourself what you think the writer’s intention is. Do a little mental and emotional authenticity test of each post you read. It’s safe to say you can tell in your gut when something’s real and honest and true, and when it’s not. Again, my first post was not fake. It was real. Everything it said happened. But it did not accurately represent my feelings and experience of the moment I shared.

In addition to searching for authenticity while you’re on social media, strive for it while you post. Spend a moment or two to dig into your own intentions as you write the captions for your images. When you do, not only will you know yourself better, but you’ll be more true to who you are. I’ll do the same. We can dream big and hope that your authenticity and mine could inspire others to follow suit.