How Social Media Skews Our View by Dr. Michelle Bengtson“Are you ok?” came the message from a friend.

I wasn’t sure what she meant. “How do you mean?”

“All your social media posts lately have seemed so sad.”

Really? That was surprising to me to hear.

I had gone through a time of high stress, loss and grief recently, but not one to typically use social media to moan or complain, I didn’t think my posts were atypical for my usual style.

Within a few hours, I received another message, but from a different friend. “Do you ever wonder about your faith? You never seem discouraged or ‘down.’”

Hmmm. Quite a different perception than the first message only hours before.

The interesting thing was that I was the same person but how others perceived me recently based on my social media posts was so vastly different.

During my time of grief, I prayed about what and how much to share in my blog and on social media. I felt like God impressed upon my heart to “grieve well” and to “be authentic in my grief.”

He walked me through the pain of loss, and in turn, I shared what I had learned.

Honestly? It wasn’t my first choice. It was painful and vulnerable, yet if there is anything I have learned in my 20+ years as a neuropsychologist, it’s that stigma is perpetuated when we don’t show the world that real people struggle.

God warned us in Scripture that we would have difficult times.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” (Isaiah 43:2).

But He also told us how to view those times.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2-3).

And so I shared my pain, loss, and grief, and the lessons God taught me, while knowing where my hope comes from.

About a month prior, I asked a friend for prayer. She asked what was going on, and I briefly shared my need. She responded telling me that she was surprised because my posts on social media are always so positive.

Hmmm. Another matter of perception.

I explained that I generally try to remain optimistic, positive, and encouraging in my interactions with others. It’s not phony or fake. I take my needs to my Heavenly Father rather than airing my dirty laundry on social media. But despite my joy in the Lord, I still have times when I need the prayer support of trusted friends.

I view social media as an opportunity to connect with others, share what God has put on my heart, share lessons I’ve learned, and encourage each other. I don’t see it as a platform to broadcast my complaints to the world at large. And with all the negativity out there, I don’t want to contribute to that.

But these interactions confirmed for me that we often don’t truly know what is going on with another person. Our perception is a fraction of the truth. We see and hear only a small percentage of what encompasses the totality of their life, and we form judgments based on that fraction of their experience that we are privy to. What they do and what they say is like the beautiful mallard duck on a pond, yet what we often don’t see is how hard they are paddling underneath the water’s surface, just trying to stay afloat.

The same is true when we compare ourselves to others. We generally compare ourselves to the image we perceive of others based on the fraction of their life we observe rather than the sum total of their experiences. It’s easy to assume that their success or accomplishments came easy, and we want what they have, yet we don’t see the years they spent paying their dues in terms of work, blood, sweat, and tears.

So the next time you notice someone’s posts, remember, you’re only getting the cliffs notes version. There is always more to the story.

Have you ever fallen prey to mistaken perception? Or been the recipient of it?

 

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