When someone has a skewed sense of their body, experts say she suffers from a dysmorphic disorder.
A skinny person might be convinced she’s fat, pushing her to starve herself, or purge after eating.
As a body builder in my 20s, I understood a little of this –for I was consumed not by growing muscle, but by defining it — my percent of body fat was never low enough – the abs were not as cut as I’d like. In reality I was perfectly fine, but my head saw something else. It turned out that a lot of guys had the same problem. A friend of mine would jog the streets in multiple layers of clothing in the baking heat of summer, just to maintain his leanness. He was not a wrestler. He was a writer with a problem.
Over time, something shook me loose from this warped view of self. I found a job that thoroughly fulfilled me, and I realized that no one but me really cared about the intricacies of my physical appearance.
The girls I dated liked or disliked me, whether I weighed 140 or 150; and six pack abs had no relevance on their love or repulsion. It became clear to me that it was “Who I was around other people,” not how I looked that mattered. And I stopped going to the gym every morning for two and a half hours. I stopped running 6 miles after work. I still went to the gym, but without the manic intensity.
I started to write more, and developed that skill instead.
I bring this up now because I sense a growing trend in a new dysmorphia – one that isn’t physical in nature, but psychological.
If you can have a skewed sense of your body, it stands to reason you could develop the same kind of thing about your relationships with others, in a social network.
The same way a body builder is convinced his body is being assessed by all those around him, I am now watching people I know do the same, as social animals on the web. Thanks to an immersive lifestyle, that involves Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, we’ve created a psychological three-sided mirror for our social impact on others.
We believe when we do well, everyone knows and cares. And when we are shamed or embarrassed – that same “everyone” knows or cares. We think our blog footprint – the things written in that cloud all around us – follows us everywhere. We are wrong on this. It only follows you if you continue to observe it.
This sense of attention from others is out of whack with your own perception and attention for others. This is a contrast worth noting:
When Joe Shmoe gets arrested for being drunk and disorderly at a movie theater, you read it, find it titillating, but inevitably you move on. However, if YOU are arrested for being drunk and disorderly, you imagine thousands, perhaps millions, of Joe Schmoes all around thinking about your embarrassment. You think that is all they think about.
It’s a dysmorphia of social impact that is not only unreal, or false – but also harmful. No one cares as much as you think. That’s good.
So, if you know that you only find a mild fleeting interest in the unfortunate occurrences of someone else, why do you assume it might be different for you?
Divorce, arrests, affairs, rehab – we ingest this steady diet of life’s badness as it occurs to others – and find ourselves usually more forgiving and detached than we might expect from others. This reaction is unseen for that person undergoing the trauma of embarrassment, because he is suffering. But it is worth nothing, and should be remembered in times of such pain.
Nothing is ever as bad as it seems. Nor does it ever last as long as you think.
The problem, is this giant bathroom wall we call the internet – where millions of people with only slight interest in our lives can register a comment that creates the illusion of hordes of eyeballs scrutinizing your being. It feels like it can last forever.
I wrote about this four years ago or so in The Joy of Hate – the easy explosion of the mental mob; that in this new world, it’s simply easier to attack, leave a bruise, then move on. The harm is somewhat mediated by the burnout speed. After 48 hours or so, the horde moves on. It doesn’t last forever.
But sometimes it can last awhile. It can hover – this mocking cloud of derision – watching your movements. Brian Williams, most recently, must have felt this. Anyone caught on camera losing their temper, then their job, knows this feeling.
The only solution to fight social network dysmorphia is to sign off.
Not from life – but from THAT life.
Because sooner or later, it’s going to turn on you, and you’ll do yourself a favor if you’ve already turned it off first.