Learning To Be Ourselves Threatened

Real life is getting less real every day.

Somehow the so-called reality shows or social media personalities have successfully skewed a generation of people’s view of what is, well, real. And for that, I am concerned.

Today’s world is an odd mix of media obsession – one where it seems better to be a part of the noise than on the outside looking in. With Facebook, Instagram, and other on-demand tools, we can share without meaningful context, any moment in our life. Contributors control the message, the volume, and the anticipated response by the receiver. Essentially narcissism runs wild.

I often find myself wondering what American psychologist Abraham Maslow would say.

For those who may be rusty on his career-defining work, appropriately titled Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the pathway he described traces from the basic levels of needs (physiological) to one of fully formed independence (self-actualization). While the former includes basics such as air, water, and shelter, the road builds upon others such as safety and social belongingness. But it is hereafter only three steps through the five tiers – I am progressively worried. The next step, titled self-esteem, is not only under great threat, but if undeveloped, will keep one from reaching the top tier of self-actualization – the place where we become confident, balanced, and resilient to anything the world can throw our way.

Today’s narcissism is a needle to the arm of an addict delivering an instant yet hollow high on demand. Imagine the benefit you get from eating cotton candy you get the idea. Swinging emotions and rotting teeth.

Previous generations needed to work through each of these levels based on real-life experiences. Two steps forward, one step back. Repeat. Over time we built our life based on comparing ourselves to not those on a social media feed but the man or woman in the mirror. The journey of building confidence and acceptance runs right through a road filled with jarring potholes and occasionally dark detours.

But with each chapter, another solid paver was added to our pathway towards self-actualization. And when we arrived, we recognized it from the inside, not someone on the outside passing judgment. We were, self-actualized, comfortable in our skin, and resistant to the influences of others or the outside world.

What we are seeing today is a life dangerously careening down a road where our self-assessments are replaced by those of others – where we become more trusting and dependent on the opinions of others than ourselves. And by doing so we become highly susceptible to untrue influences, actions unmoored by principles, and making decisions more consistent with receiving the acceptance of others than from within.

What I worry is about a generation of people who, stunted by the overwhelming peer pressure of social media or reality-based lives, will find reaching the top of Maslow’s important hierarchy nearly impossible. And it is there, at the top of the figurative mountain where we find self-actualization, we are able to see more clearly the possibilities of life.

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