06/25/2013 12:25 EDT | Updated 08/25/2013 05:12 EDT

The Lives We Present Online Aren't Always What They Seem

Do you ever get down because you feel like your life doesn't compare to everyone else's? It's human nature to make social comparisons, and this isn't necessarily a bad thing. We use others' performances and accomplishments as a barometer of our own. But with the explosion of social media, social comparisons can be taken to a whole new level. After all, now it's easy to track every detail peoples' lives from their career path to their social activities to what they ate at their last meal.

But if you are using social media to gauge how your life measures up to your friends', than you may be seriously misleading yourself. This is an issue that arises with clients in my counselling practice on a regular basis: the unhappily single folks feel like all their friends are blissfully married, as evidenced by their Facebook updates; Those facing infertility assume that everyone else easily conceive due to the frequent posting of ultrasound photos; Individuals dealing with professional struggles or disappointments believe everyone else they know is more successful because of their LinkedIn profiles and connections.

But the reality is, most people engage in serious impression management when they decide what to share through social media. We have all heard the warnings about posting things that might come back to bite us in the behind later (like if a prospective employer seeks out our profiles), but even without the potential professional risks, few of us would chose to consciously share information that would paint us in a negative light or put ourselves in a position that we feel might increase our vulnerability.

Those friends of yours who appear to have the perfect marriage may post gorgeous photos of their weekend in Montreal, but they are not going to post updates about their massive debts or the fight they had last night about how to manage them. That colleague who just posted the ultrasound photo of her first child may not have tweeted about the three miscarriages she had prior to its conception. And that friend of yours who seems to have the most rockin' social life possible? She probably isn't updating Foursquare with her location when she checks into rehab. Oh, and your perfect cousin with the perfect wardrobe and the perfect hair? While she posts all the photos of meals she eats at the latest hipster café, I'm guessing she's not posting to Instagram the litre of ice cream and dozen donuts she consumed later on in private and then purged because of the resulting guilt and self-loathing she experienced.

Believe me, if there is something that I have learned as a counsellor, it's that nobody's life is perfect. Are some people more fortunate than others? Of course, without a doubt. Just remember that, as the saying goes, "You never know what's going on behind closed doors." In today's world, the other thing to remember is that social media is not a good representation of reality. We are all editing the details of our lives to present our very best selves to others. Use these forums to connect, use them to entertain, but do not use them as a measure of your worth.

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