One of the saddest parts of social media today is how teenagers and young adults think about it. For most, it’s no longer a fun way to connect with friends. Now it’s all about presenting themselves as brands. They want their social media “persona” to be marketable, consumable, able to hook a crowd of followers. In other words, when they post something, it’s more about the image they’re trying to portray instead of an authentic expression of their identity. But there’s a difference between self image and identity. Image is how we think others view us, and identity is who we really are.
While social media has given us a clear view of this problem, confusing users about the differences between self image and identity, creating an image is not new nor is it unique to the next generation. We’ve all spent time focusing on our image at times. It may be buying clothes we don’t like or cars and houses we can’t afford because we want to be seen a certain way. But when we start valuing image over identity, there are dramatic consequences. Here are 5 of those consequences.
1. Desperation for Approval
The approval of others becomes a currency we can’t live without. The way we view ourselves is defined by the last judgment we received from others. The critical reviews sting and tend to hang around our minds and hearts. Meanwhile, positive reviews don’t have the same staying power. They leave our memories quickly, so we need to get more. It’s a never-ending, exhausting cycle. Your value is not based on how you’re received by others.
At your core, there will be nagging questions: What would happen if people knew the real me? Would they accept me or reject me? Many people who value image or identity feel like once people find out who they really are, they’ll be rejected, isolated, or made to feel weird or inferior. Honestly, when we allow ourselves to be seen, there’s the possibility of rejection. And that hurts. But it’s far better than living in the chains of fear. It’s better to embrace your true self than to hide fearfully behind a mask.
If you choose self image and identity gets ignored, it’s easy to try to be who you think people want you to be. But when you are always presenting a false face, then few people get to know the real you. It’s confusing and frustrating to people who would desire to be close to you. Your relationships end up being superficial, disconnected, and distant. But a key to a good life is relationships. We desire to know and be known by others. They can’t know you if you’re presenting your image. If people consistently don’t feel like they know you, then you’re valuing the wrong thing.
4. Stunted Growth
Our identity is our core being that forms and matures over time. Focusing on image is merely shaping and packaging the outer shell. The inside, our character, goes untouched and unnurtured. So we end up stunting our growth. Our ability to process our emotions, form healthy relationships, and act responsibly is limited. When we focus on our identity, we form a solid character from the inside that brings better decisions. And that brings me to the last point.
5. Weakened Moral Framework
As I mentioned, focusing on our image is fueled by the attention and approval of others. Someone who needs the approval of others will have selfish intentions. They’ll need to consistently feed their own vanity. Without the character to hold their selfishness in check, they end up with a weakened moral framework. When temptations arise, it’s much easier to choose the option that feels the best. This not only causes themselves pain but most likely also causes pain to those around them.
If you had to explain the difference between self image and identity, what would you say? Share in a comment below.