by Leonard Citron, M.A.
Social media broadcasts a broad and deep data stream that permeates all aspects of our lives; balancing our online avatars with our authentic selves is part of the modern age. Sometimes, however, our online interactions become a tool to seek validation – it is then important that we proactively make a distinction between our digital and analog selves, and unplug and recalibrate.
Often at dinner parties the conversation turns to online dating, as we outdo one another with horror (and occasionally success) stories that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Sex and the City episode. Regardless of your ethnicity, fetish, hobbies, sexual orientation, religion, or even pet type, there are sites dedicated to helping us find the “one”. Whether it’s the “one” for forever or the “one” for an hour, these sites are booming and we’re their loyal followers.
Much like the game of roulette, we never know if our next spin could bring us great fortune. It is this hope of a positive result that keeps us spinning that wheel: inconsistent positives, the same that drive the gambler to keep playing, make online dating so addictive.
Coupled with the hope of success, another factor that keeps our $19.99/month accounts active is the desire for external validation. To optimize the chance for such validation, we carefully craft our online personas, scrupulously vetting our pictures, and proofing our profiles to ensure that our positive features are enhanced, while we distract from what we believe to be our weaker ones. Who wouldn’t love the persona we have created….?
So what happens when the headless torso on Grindr or the Ivy Leaguer on Match.com is not receptive to our advances or, even worse, somewhat receptive but then disappears into the cyber abyss never to be heard from again? If we’ve taught ourselves to evaluate ourselves based on external sources, this is blow to our fragile sense of self.
Flattery is a drug. Seeking out this drug, in the guise of external validation, is an exhausting and never-ending process. Unfortunately, most people believe that self-esteem is earned through our accomplishments and these accomplishments are never permanent and need to be repeated. As soon as you’ve had the fix, gotten the compliment, it becomes old and holds no value so you seek another, and then another, to satisfy you. Our self-esteem becomes like a rollercoaster, the headless torso replies to my message, my self-esteem rises. The Ivy Leaguer blocks me, my self-esteem falls and so the cycle continues.
Early life events and the inferences we make about them, help craft the beliefs we hold. If we develop self-downing beliefs, such as, I am unlovable or we demand we must have love, we turn to external sources for validation.
When we think this way, we give others control over how we feel, we seek out validation from everyone we meet, people we don’t know and who know nothing about us- does that sound logical to you?
So let me offer another approach to external validation and self-esteem, which I hope should make the world of online dating easier to navigate. Firstly, we need identify the negative thoughts we tell ourselves, remember we have rehearsed these for many years so it may take time to change. In their place, we offer more rational alternatives; we would like to loved by others but don’t have to be, we can tolerate not being loved, it’s not awful and does not affect my value as a human being. These statements need to be reinforced until they are as strong as the other beliefs we hold. How is this done? Practice, over and over again. When we begin to learn the difference between a desire and a need, we realize many of the things we crave can be lived without. It would be nice to get validated by others but we don’t need it. When we truly believe we don’t need it, we take back the power we’ve given to others; we are in control over how we feel. I can be disappointed that the headless torso rejected me but gone are the days that he has the power to break my heart!