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Control and a Man’s Self Image in the Social Media Age

A young man's ideas about how social media affects our real-life relationships

Control over one’s surroundings and the people in our surroundings is something we oftentimes connotate with negative thoughts, while control over one’s self is something many value as a positive character trait. This is especially prevalent in Western culture, in part due to the recent rise in social media platforms, but also due to our inherent lust for dominance over others, has altered our perception of control.

Those who are able to have influence over their environment or others quickly rise to the ranks of stardom on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, even Tinder. By allowing one’s community to view aspects of one’s life, albeit only a very small percentage, in an accessible, intuitive and easy to navigate platform, one crafts a self-image that is, in fact, a reflection of who they really are. Perhaps that person who can’t seem to stop posting pictures of food, in fact, has trouble accepting that they have an eating disorder, or are hoping to fill a void by receiving satisfaction not from the meal, but from the number of likes and views they get posting photos of it. That man or woman who is incessantly posting pictures of themselves likely has issues with their self-image, but with a caption like “Never felt better!” we are led to believe that that moment in time was, in fact, a snapshot of their confidence in themselves, not vice versa. Because every photo, video, or status update has been taken out of context, we forget that we do not actually see the whole picture, merely a facade that has been painted to entertain and distract-a split second in time, cut away for eternal viewing pleasure.

This process works both ways. These blurbs of information we send and receive alter our perception of ourselves and our friends and family, usually not for the better. Humankind is obsessed with validation. We crave social interaction like the worst heroin addicts. Before the 21st century, validation was a way to know you were doing a good job, that you were successful, and that people liked you. Today, with the rise of the aforementioned social media platforms, validation comes in forms that are alien to us, and while we are slowly learning and evolving to adjust to these new forms, I don’t necessarily think they are for the best. We now receive compliments and criticism from people who are no longer in our lives- high school friends or exes we haven’t seen since, well, high school; family members we have never met, people you used to consider friends before they started sleeping with someone you cared more about than you thought. We have not developed a social filter to dictate the level of caring. No matter who the person is, a “like” or hateful comment is received in the same way. There is no way to sort through notifications before they are received, no way to remove someone from your social media page unless you block them- an act considered by many these days as being aggressive or even hostile. However, in many cases, I think blocking people you don’t have a strong emotional or physical connection to is crucial to developing a healthy self-image. That high school friend’s opinion about your shredded abdominals really doesn’t matter a whit, that comment from your ex on a photo of you doing something foolish and fun is completely inconsequential, whatever it might be.

Or, at least, that’s how we should think. Instead, because we as humans value social interactions, we place value in anyone’s interest in our lives, not just those that matter. I do not think this is healthy behavior, in fact, I think it’s quite harmful. Apps designed for young men and women to get together, either sexually or socially, take advantage of the fact that youth are particularly susceptible to outside influence. They are fully aware of the fact that users experience no increase in happiness or social satisfaction, in fact, the opposite is usually the case. Apps like Tinder, Grindr, OkCupid, or Bumble, do not want you to meet the man or woman of your dreams on their software, they look for return users. A company that makes money off advertisements and taps does not want it’s users feeling socially satisfied and quitting the use of the app, they want you to come back for more. And more. And more. Facebook and Instagram work in much the same manner. They make money because of ads, sure, but because a user is guaranteed to develop a social web of some sort on the website, they will by consequence increase the sphere of influence others have upon them. A user will spend more time, and more emotionally energy, sorting through posts of friends ranting, photos of dogs eating ice cream or videos of engagements. The content doesn’t really matter, the quantity does. Try crack once, and you may never be tempted to do it again, try crack a second time and, well, we know where this is going…

These social media moguls that advertise themselves as being the new way to keep in touch with others, do not actually care how you FEEL about keeping touch, they don’t care that you log on and are broken-hearted by a photo of a happy ex in the arms of another, they do not care that you jealously covet your friend’s BMW. They care that you visit their platform at least once a day, hopefully once an hour. However, because humans have not developed enough to realize that not all social interaction is good, we think that these giants are performing a service for us. We are all too happy and willing to pay for unlimited swipes on Tinder if it means we’ll meet “the one”, which is absolutely foolish to me. Due to the impersonal aspects of computers, ie there is no ability to touch, smell, and hear nuances in one’s voice, the images we build of others we meet and see online are often times out of touch with reality. We craft the image we wish to see, we do not accept the image that is being directed at us, despite however hard someone tries to be themselves in their bio.

When we craft this false image of others, we set ourselves up for disappointment, it’s human nature. We are almost never given the whole picture when it comes to social media, so the truth is often times shocking, hard to swallow, or so different from what we expect (either positively or negatively so), that we are turned off and are distressed. To fix this, we hop back online in search of someone or something “more real.” It’s incredibly simple, incredibly clever, and incredibly manipulative of social media moguls to do this to us, to barrage us with misinformation all day long and be seen as pioneers, to develop more intimate platforms people are happy to pay for. Each time we experience this disillusionment in others, we alter our perception of ourselves as well. Compared to only 10 years ago (the release of the first iPhone), humans are less comfortable with physical intimacy; ranging from a simple hug to sex, but are somehow more open about our sexuality. As if we are our sexuality and our aesthetic preferences and nothing more. The actual human side of it is becoming something that matters less and less.

This brings me to my second point, that while western culture often times forget about control over the self, it is perhaps more important than the influence one may have on their environment and the people in it, and infinitely less detrimental to the greater functioning of societies. Control over the self is not a bad thing, although it can quickly become bad if not learned in the proper manner. True control over the self only becomes powerful and good once one has relinquished the idea of the self-it sounds counterintuitive, but be patient dear reader and I will do my best to explain. Unguided control over the self can be incredibly toxic. By unguided, I mean taking into consideration what others think of us and forcing ourselves to adapt to those standards. This happens all the time through social media, we see someone doing something we like or dislike, and it triggers us to try and be more or less similar to the experience we are having viewing whatever that something may be. However, many people, young and old included, fail to remember that opinions do not make for a strong sense of self, they simply help to cement our ego.

The difference between your sense of self, and your ego is that your ego was what you hope your self to be, whilst the self is the true and pure form of you. The self dictates the ego, but the ego does not dictate the self. Unfortunately, when the ego becomes too strong and your sense of self and ego are cast out of balance, it is easy to forget we are more than who we wish to be. Often times, coming to the realization that we are not who we want to be is terrifying if we do not know ourselves then do we know anything at all? Instead of being introspective and discover what it means to be us, we actually continue further on the path of the ego. We say, “Well, I know I don’t like the way I look, so I will try looking more like Jack, or Jill, or Biff, or what have you. We put all our energy and time into going to the gym, eating right, and listening to motivational YouTube videos. But then we stop. We get depressed for a bit, and then move on to the next thing. Why does one stop?

I think it is because, while one has identified a chink in the ego, one has yet to actually come to terms with why one FEELS they do not look good. The self is screaming out for help, pleading to have its suffering be acknowledged, but we fail to hear it. Our ego turns a deaf ear because, while it is obvious one has issues with self-image and acceptance, nobody wants to hear it. To gain control over the self, one must understand the greater workings of what it means to be oneself, and then learn to listen to the quiet voice and not the shouting ego.

I suffer this internal conflict every day, and I can only hope the realization that I am suffering will eventually lead to the relinquishing of my ego, for I certainly haven’t succeeded yet. The greatest threat to my self-control and my ego has been my anger and resentment towards my father. His ability to act so cool and calm when he says insensitive, hurtful things rubs me the wrong way. As someone who tries to do the right thing and be a kind person, hearing my own father bad mouth my mother, brothers, or causes me to lose my own sense of calm. I cannot help but be baited by his passive-aggressive, narcissistic language, and I respond to it. Almost every single time. Every time I respond, every time I lash out at him for the words he’s said or the things he’s done, I do not feel “good.” I don’t feel “bad,” but I do feel like him. For someone who works so hard to be more kind, more just, and more considerate than my father, acting like him feels like one giant step back. Like a child stomping angrily back to his room so that he can go scream into a pillow and punch walls, I leave. However leaving rarely makes me feel good, instead, my anger boils into resentment, and the resentment builds, and builds, and builds. Not being able to explain my anger to him, having no outlet for this anger, has lead to incredibly toxic situations. Resentment is a terrible thing, because not only was I angry, but I was blaming him for my own emotions, telling myself that he was at fault for making me feel this way. Unfortunately, that is not the case. We dictate how we respond to external stimuli, we determine how we respond to emotions that are conjured up in us. As much as I would like to blame my father for my feelings of resentment, I blame myself. While it is true that he provokes me, intentionally sometimes, it is I that rises to the bait. I snap at him like a starving dog that is being teased with a piece of meat, thinking to myself that if I jump a little higher, try a little harder, I will hold that piece of bloody meat in my jaws. Victorious. However, even if I did win, even if I did exert all my energy and anger towards beating him, it would only be the once. It would not change who he is, he would still taunt starving dogs, and more than likely I would still respond, snapping and growling. The only semi-successful response that has helped me with this has been silence. When I see him, I do not speak. I do not say hello, I do not harp on him for the drama that has unfolded throughout the week that my mother has complained about, I do not say anything. Many times, he doesn’t say anything either. I say this strategy is “semi-successful” because it does not solve the problem. Not only does an awkward tension hang in the air between us, but understanding that my father will not ask me what’s wrong, or ask how he can change, fills me with sorrow. Not fleeting sorrow, but a bone-deep feeling of inferiority. It’s as if, because neither of us can communicate with the other, neither of us can love one another. Feeling that I am not worth my father’s energy, even if it were to be negative energy, breaks my heart. And I can see it does the same thing to him when he sees me. When we make silent eye contact, I see the pain and trepidation in his grey eyes, and I’m sure he feels it reflected in mine, for I cannot hide this emotion. To fix this, we only look at each other from the corners of our eyes, we do not make eye contact. I think my mother thinks I do not look at him because of my resentment, that he shames me so much I cannot bear his image. However, the simple truth is I cannot look at him because I feel as if I may lose my calm and break down in tears if I did. As you can see, not speaking to the one who has hurt you is not a viable, long term cure, it is a bandaid over a wound a surgeon should be administering to. And, what does this say about me? What does it say about someone who knows the pain he causes, both in his father and himself and yet does little to nothing about it? Sometimes, when I am sitting alone or laying in my bed in the dark, I cry thinking of it fall, feeling incredibly guilty. When I am having a hard day, I tell myself that I am at fault for all my pain, and that is a painful thing to tell oneself. Painful still is that I know this is not true.

Due to my father refusing to communicate the silent secrets of his heart or the tempestuous thoughts in his mind, I am left to connect the dots. Playing connect the dots is quite challenging when you're only given a few points and no pencil to connect them with. I’ve had to learn this process myself and create my own dots to make sense of the nonsensical. I do believe that if my father were to go to a therapist, to trust someone enough to express himself, and then to invite me in and have an open dialogue with me, our situation, while tense, would not be painful and self-destructive. But as a narcissist he cannot accept that he is wrong, and if he isn’t wrong then someone else is. This transference of blame has eaten our relationship down to the core, revealing rotten seeds. He doesn’t even blame me, at least not usually. He blames my mother for “not telling [the boys] the whole picture,” and this is what has eaten away at our father/son relationship. I have heard, sometimes every day, how my mother feels, I know how she views the drama unfolding around her. As challenging as it is to hear the things she says, but watch her act in an entirely contradictory way, I can tell why she’s unhappy. I do not know how my father feels, only that he blames others for his lack of success as a father and lack of happiness on the home front. I do not know “the whole picture” as my father puts it, but I’m not sure he knows either. He has always told me to ask my mother, he never explains what he means when he says this, or even why he thinks I’m missing the point. The only real point I can see in all of it is that they are both supremely unhappy, and they are both entirely incapable of leaving one another to find happiness.

My father’s complete control of the family and of the household is mirrored by his lack of control of his ego. I think that, because I am able to see this and feel my own lack of control at home, I try my hardest to have control over myself so that he cannot fully. This has made us into two polar opposites, but at the same time, we are very much the same. He is selfish, egotistical and driven, so he pushes others. I am selfish most days, egotistical though I try not to be, and incredibly driven—so I push myself. I also have an incredibly stubborn streak, although I am not obstinate like my father, I have a hard time accepting when I am wrong or have misspoken. Luckily for myself, I have grown up with strong female role models, such as my mother, neighbors, and a plethora of various teachers throughout the years. Due to this strong female presence in my life, as well as my willingness to accept the fact that women are often times better communicators than men, I have listened hard to the lessons they have worked to impart on me. I think that most young men when lacking in a strong male role model, shy away from strong women because they feel they will be in some way overpowered or overshadowed, and thus can easily become monsters. This is rarely the case, however, and I think it profoundly important than young men do their best to learn from women. A woman’s ability to speak from the heart and to connect with those around her are two traits that are also incredibly important to men in today’s society. There is no room for one-upmanship, or fighting to determine who is better or stronger, because in truth the infighting makes all of us weaker, not just those who quarrel.

My father demonstrates the kind of control that western men romanticize, that being the kind of control that uses will against others to get what one wants. He has built himself as a rather successful businessman, even though he’s never had a business degree. He is the vice president of sales in a solar company, despite the fact that he didn’t study renewable energy. He tackled this task with single-mindedness, always on calls with clients or in meetings with his co-workers. Always bringing his finger to his lips when I or more brothers entered the room—commanding silence and patience. Telling us that his business came first and that we came second. That everything we had was, at least in part, thanks to him and if we wanted to keep our lifestyle and not downgrade to an apartment, we had better keep our mouths shut and find ways to entertain ourselves when he was working. When he started acting this way, we were too young to interpret it as anything other than dislike or annoyance towards us. It was as if a switch had been turned off and he became our boss and not our father.

I don’t believe in the slightest that this is the right way to go about raising sons—I think the political climate we are all witnessing in the United States is in part due to generations of fathers acting this way towards their sons. We learn from our parents, and sons especially look to their fathers for whom they are supposed to be. They tend to, for better or worse, emulate the attitudes and lifestyles of their fathers, even if they recognize that their fathers may not be “good” people. We do this because we fear the unknown and because sons are ridiculed in western society for looking up to and following their mothers. It is easier to become a father one dislikes than to launch oneself into the unknown in hopes that they hit the mark. We are told that being loving and emotional is something women do and that those men who demonstrate these traits are often homosexuals-a term that has come to be associated with a second rate man. By telling a son he’s acting “like a fag” for spending time with girls, for being gentle, for being kind and passionate and giving, the son learns not to do these things. I think this is also why there has been so much homosexual repression in society, both in men and women alike. We are taught through aggressive language and “jokes” that a man that acts like a woman, or a woman who acts like a man has something wrong with them—is “second rate.” As if gender is what defines the individual. So we learn to play and conform to our predetermined gender roles. I can’t imagine why this started. It seems to me that, if everyone were to act more similar, and less dissimilar to one another, we would live in a society in which everyone understands their sense of self-each person would understand that being uncomfortable means we should change what we are doing, not grow comfortable with the discomfort. If we were all loving towards one another, we would recognize each individual's strengths and weaknesses, and we would appreciate them all the more for that knowledge. I believe that our government and our political leaders will never attempt to express these ideas to the public, for if they did they would lose their power over us-their control over others would diminish greatly and they would be left feeling as if they controlled nothing at all, not even themselves. Having a polarized community is the first step towards dominance of both polarities, the conscious and subconscious fears of each group can be played against one another and against the group. Men would rather go to war than engage in polite discord to solve problems, women would rather put their heads down and pretend there isn’t a problem. If men decided they were sick of fighting, and if women decided they were sick of putting their heads down (we are lucky enough to be able to witness the beginnings of this in today’s society), then what need would we have for a government that condones violence as a problem solving solution and represses women’s rights as political and spiritual leaders, as well as persons?

Women have been systematically repressed and abused for thousands of years, long before the creation of the United States. It was an incredibly simple and genius strategy to allow men to act like boys, to continue to carry out their childish fantasies of dominance and control, by choosing to suppress the opposite sex. Of late, they have been pushing back harder than ever for social justice and equality. I think many women have no choice to pick their heads up, they live in a culture that is controlled by men who are still boys, and they don’t like it. They want to break this cycle, and feminism is the first step towards this goal. I think that, while empowering women is crucial to this, it is not the final step. Perhaps it is now the empowered woman’s social responsibility to teach their men to act like men, not boys. To teach a man to give and receive love with pride, to relinquish their need for control over others and to be introspective. The introspective man learns control of the ego and acceptance of the self, he is a reasonable creature who is capable of beautiful things.

I have learned this from my mother, although I think much of her teaching was not conscious. I learned how to be manipulative and commandeering, willfully stubborn in my beliefs from my father, but my mother was the one who taught me that these traits get a man nowhere he really wants to be. Watching my mother tiptoe around various subjects, as well as occasionally tiptoeing fearfully across the house was what helped me to learn the most. I could not be comfortable having a wife who, in some ways, fears me. I have always fantasized about my future wife being the type of individual who takes no bullshit, who is willing to kick my ass-verbally and perhaps physically if I choose to be a moron. I hope that, if my future wife isn’t going to be better than me, she is at least my equal. Those with a strength of character and sense of self are powerful people, both men, and women. We are all drawn to them, either consciously or not, and I think this is a sign that we all know we are repressing our desire to all be equal, to find the balance that we have lost.

To find this balance, our society needs to begin to start appreciating the understanding and acceptance of the self, and control of the ego. This pertains especially to boys and men. While this may seem like a daunting task, it really isn’t. It can be practiced at home, as I have learned. It is important to express how you feel with those close to you and to do it in such a manner that doesn’t come across as hostile or accusatory. Explain why you feel that way, better yet, explain to those you care about why it matters that they know how you feel. Understanding why a young man feels the way he does, and what one can do about it is huge. Not only does it empower the young man, for he feels heard and believes his emotions matter, but it empowers the listener. The role of the listener is to be patient and open, and when the young man feels comfortable enough to express himself to the listener, that person feels that they are appreciated for the role they are performing, which in turn empowers the listener to be better at listening. By providing this clear communication in a comfortable space like the home, boys become confident in expressing how they feel and in loving those who listen are present for them. This redirection of control inwards would result in a massive improvement in communication between fathers and sons, as well as the sexes. Furthermore, the comfort would quickly extend beyond the home front and the young man evolves to learn that he carries his safe space with him wherever he may go. This would eventually result in a society where everyone is heard and listened to, everyone loves themselves, and eventually, everyone loves everyone else for being the open and loving communicators that they would conceivably become.     

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