For decades, the American psyche was bombarded with the idea of a picture-perfect being a hard-working, successful father, a stay-at-home mother, and two or more happy, healthy, well-adjusted children. Our media spoon-fed us those images through television in particular. While the concept of who makes up a family has evolved, the idea of perfection is still deeply embedded.
Why? Why does this unattainable concept of perfection still affect the way we think, behave and relate to the world around us?
Social Media Is the New TV
While society’s idea of family may include myriad combinations of gender, age, race, background, and socio-economic status, we remain fixated on attaining perfection. And in large part, we do that to ourselves through social media. According to Global Web Index, an adult uses social media on average more than two hours a day, and studies have shown nearly 70% of social media users embellish or exaggerate on social media. Some even boldly lie.
There are many reasons we behave this way on social media, but most point back to the pressure of living up to a certain lifestyle, of appearing picture-perfect. For families with a child experiencing mental illness, the pressure to be perfect can be particularly difficult and downright painful. While some families try and portray their perfect lives by cropping and editing their pictures to hide a messy house or post only the "perfect" family vacation pictures, families with children who are struggling may avoid posting all together. "When people look like they are better looking and have it all together, people perceive them as favorable and as a smarter more moral person," said Dr. Jared Skillings, Chief of Psychology at Spectrum Health in Michigan.
Comparing ourselves to others in this way is called social comparison, and we do it for two reasons: to measure how we are doing in a particular area of our life and to determine our place within society. This is challenging territory for families with struggling children. Any social comparison will likely heighten anxiety and at the same time undermine the progress the family may have made toward stabilization. We use social comparison to evaluate and learn about ourselves, and psychologist Leon Festinger claimed this drive is as powerful as thirst and hunger. If social comparison is for all intents and purposes as unavoidable as thirst and hunger, how can we help control our need to be seen as perfect?
As Simple As 1-2-3
The Odessey Online shared these three tips to keep in mind to limit comparisons and embrace your authentic family – struggles and all – without reservation.
- The number of likes you get on a picture, favorites on your tweet, and comments on your status in no way defines who you and your family are as individuals or as a unit. You are just as beautiful inside and out with ten likes on a picture instead of 10,000.
- Quit comparing yourself to others on the Web, because it's only a false sense of self they're promoting to the world, too. Others are caught up in the picture-perfect game, too, and behind those facades their families may be struggling with some of the same difficulties. Eliminate the perfect ideals you believe can exist and focus on doing what is best for your child’s health and wellbeing, as well as that of your family.
- Instead of focusing on what everyone else is doing, remain focused on your family’s health, happiness and goals. Enjoy the present instead of worrying about what other “perfect” families might be doing “better”.
Embrace the things you love about your family, enjoy your time together and be patient with the things you would like to change. Most of all, trust that perfection doesn’t exist no matter what you may see in others’ pictures. And maybe dial back the social media and spend more time focusing on what's really important - spending more face time with the family.
For hope and healing,
As the director of communications for Clarity Child Guidance Center, Mike shares the insights of children’s mental health experts, both inside and outside of Clarity CGC, who work with families looking for answers about their children’s mental health.
If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 9-1-1. If you need help locating mental health resources in your area, visit the Bexar County Community Resource website, call your local health department or the National Alliance Mental Illness's helpline at 800-950-NAMI (6264).