Whether it be family, friends, acquaintances, workmates or potential suitors... all interactions teach us things about our self, and what others value in us.
What people make of us, and how they express this, is mostly out of our control. What we take on board, and what we do with it, is however, up to us.
In a current study on attributions, and social context, it has become apparent that people are strongly influenced by their own sense of self, their morals, values and upbringing. So if people are bias to begin with, and already have preconceived ideas coming into the game, should their opinions of us carry any importance?
I like to think I am a good friend, and when I feel doubt in this area, I turn to my amazing friends, who are always quick to remind me, that even if I have my weaknesses - we all do - I have many strengths, and not to forget that.
With social media being such a prominent feature in today’s society, it is hard not to make comparisons with the depictions of people and their lives, that we see.
In an article titled ‘How Self-Aware are People Really? According to Science’ we are actually less efficient at judging our self worth, than others around us, and tend to assume that the thugs we know about ourselves that our peers don’t, are relevant to our worth in various situations, such as, for example, job performance.
So who do we believe?
We as individuals could try and remain objective about who we are. Humility is after all, seen as a favourable trait by many. But we shouldn’t be afraid to believe the best of ourselves.
My advice to myself and those who choose to consider it, is to surround yourself with people who love and value you, as you are, not just DESPITE your flaws, but because you have flaws, and being flawed and human is what connects us.
The same goes for my friends. I am lucky to have a small tight knit circle of extremely good friends, I have three very best friends who are all so different in personality and what they bring to the table, as am I, and I think that’s important in life. When a friend of mine recently questioned THEIR self worth, by measuring themselves against those around them, I was quick to point out the errors in this method of calculating ones value. Yet I am guilty of doing this myself, every day.
Being bombarded with photos daily, of people losing weight, making amazing meals, on enviable holidays, achieving promotions or qualifications, awards and accolations. People sharing pictures of renovations and refurbishments, engagements, weddings and births, people enjoying time with their loved ones and children, their pets and family. It is hard to ignore these celebrations of life, as we all want to celebrate with our friends and family, and show our support for their successes in life.
But it is a dangerous game to play, buying into the assumption, that we are seeing the whole picture, when in reality we just see the moments worth celebrating. That's not to say everyone is secretly miserable, just that not everybody is always happy, all of the time, and we all have things we wish we could change or do better at.. at the very least, everyone I have ever met!
Now there are many exceptions to every rule, but the majority of people engaging in social media communication, are sharing the positives in life. The things they are proud of, or the things they want to define them. We post photos that we look good in, we don’t post photos of the bad days, where the housework has got on top of us, where we are feeling unlovable and unattractive.
Most of us won’t share our feelings of inadequacy, we will share when we’ve gone for a walk or a run, or visited the beach or gym. But we might not share images of the day we stay st home and don’t get out of our pyjamas before noon.
We might share pictures of the flowers we got for Valentines, or take cute selfies during ‘Friday night Dinner Date’ ... but most of us won’t announce to the world when he doesn’t call back, or when he tells you things are getting ‘too complicated'.
A quick survey of the last 50 or so posts from myself and friends of mine on Facebook, show a staggering difference of comments and 'reactions' to positive posts - such as the one I posted celebrating recent test results, which received a larger number of responses than posts that are negative in tone, talking about things such as: low mood, unfortunate events, upsets or frustrations, which seem to hardly receive any input at all. Is this because people want to focus on the good things in life and not dwell on the bad? Does this send a message to us that our concerns and feelings are unsavoury, unless they are positive and upbeat all the time?
What do we make of all this?
I tend to think that people are quick to celebrate with us as it is an easy thing to do. A kind comment, a happy emoji, a pat on the back, all that we are really seeking by sharing these things, is acknowledgement and praise. However when we share things that are less positive in nature, the input we require, the things we are seeking, can be harder to pin point or even just harder to provide. Most people will see these posts and may even feel sympathy or empathy, but to put that into words, to publicly extend offers of help or condolence, can make us feel vulnerable or even just seem like too much effort (as sad as that might be).
My advice? if you are looking for an outlet, reach out to people in person. People usually feel much more comfortable giving advice or commiseration in private, one on one, and when you 'speak' on social media... you require some kind of response, to know that people are paying attention. Many people have great skills in listening, but don't always feel comfortable offering advice. This doesn't translate to social media well, so if you want feel heard, don't shout it out into cyber space, approach someone in person, even if its just a phone call.
Feeling like you are being ignored can really hurt when you are feeling down and out, Social media is rife with opportunity to feel that way, don't get 'SEEN', get seen. Talk to someone face to face.
While studies have proven we are pretty accurate at measuring our own mental stability (see Simine Virizes’s study ‘Who knows what about a person? The self–other knowledge asymmetry (SOKA) model.’ here) and that we sold our selves short in some areas of measurement, we were actually commonly guilty of over estimating many measurable qualities.
We all tended to err on the favourable side when estimating our IQ - and seemed to be more generous when attributing ourselves with favourable qualities such as 'generosity' and 'kindness' than our peers were, when reviewing us within the same parameters.
Simply put, the majority of people like to measure themselves in terms of the traits and things they desire to be.
An article in ‘The Scientific American’ claims ‘Most people believe that they are above average, a statistical impossibility.’
A, Grant (2018) states ‘Any time a trait is easy to observe or hard to admit, you need other people to hold up a mirror for you. Romantic partners and close friends might be more informed, because they’ve observed you more—but they can also have blurrier vision, because they chose you and often share that pesky desire to see you positively.’
Does this mean we cannot trust our own analysis, NOR that of our close friends and significant others? Should we be leaving it up to un-biased strangers, or a battery of tests and measurements, to tell us what we are worth?
Perhaps for the sake of remaining grounded, we need to keep in mind, that everyone has areas of strength and excellence, and we may be superior in some areas to others, but our worth is not comparable. Different circumstances and situations call for different attributes. Your measurable worth when applying for a new job, will differ when making potential new friends or romantic partners.
Never be afraid to show that vulnerability to those you are connected to, it may just help them to realise they too have great worth, despite their own short-comings.
If we all only present our best face to the world, then we are alone when we are not feeling like we fit those shoes.
If someone makes you doubt your value and desirability as someone to know and love, don’t forget to look at the role you play in the lives of OTHER people and don’t allow one opinion to define you as a person.
If you look around and feel like everyone else seems to have more purpose and value than you do... TALK to those you feel comfortable approaching. I am confident they will be quick to assure you it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for them either, and much like the above studies show, we all DESIRE to be attractive, successful, and valued members of society, so that is the image we all try to portray to the world.
However, we are all beautifully imperfect. And I can take comfort in that.
For where there is room for error and mistake, there is room for growth, and no matter who we are, or how successful and happy we might be, we should all endeavour to be the best versions of ourselves within our power, and not some version of ourselves that we think we are expected to be.
You can chase the end of a rainbow all you like, but at the end of the day, it is an illusion, a beauty projected by the rain and the sun.
Instead we can stand back and admire it and value it for what is, but also remember that a rock too has beauty (and I dare say builds a better house).
And just remember... everything, and everyone has value. If you doubt that, ask your loved ones to hold up your mirror, until you can hold it up and see that value, beauty and worth for yourself.
I leave you with my sons favourite quote.