It’s difficult to avoid online and media messaging about how we should act, what we should wear and eat, the music we should like and what movies we should watch.
Typically, the goal of this messaging is to influence you to make a purchase or increase the profile of the person making the claim about what is and isn’t cool. It can also be about affirming someone else’s identity as they seek to attract followers and ‘likes’. Follow me, be like me, like what I like.
How much of this messaging do we engage with?
Does messaging influence us to modify the way we present ourselves to others to appear more socially acceptable?
Offline identity versus digital identity
Before the internet, we expressed our identity by how we behaved, what we wrote and talked about, and what others could see. A haircut or a t-shirt or a favourite pair of shoes. Spending time working in the local community. Studying hard at school. Kicking a match-winning goal. Playing guitar at a local café. Talking about plans for the future.
Approval or disapproval of our actions was shown to us directly. This still occurs, but we now also have a digital identity to manage.
Our digital identity is usually an extension of our offline identity. It’s natural that your offline interests and passions will also become online interests and passions. Digital technology enables you to deepen your knowledge and engage with others that share your passions.
Our digital or online identity is created through our messages, posts, photos, videos. We make a choice about what we share online. Most of the time we will choose to share information or content that aligns to how we see ourselves. We will post and share content that we hope will attract approval from others.
It’s rare for someone to develop an online identity that conflicts with their offline identity or is designed to attract disapproval. However, online trolls can deliberately create a socially unacceptable identity online with an aim of subverting sensible conversation and creating chaos in an online space.
The best way to deal with a troll is to deny the attention that they seek - ignore their interactions and delete, mute or report their posts where possible.
If you feel the behaviour of an online troll or bully crosses a line, then you can always report them to authorities such as the eSafety Commissioner or the police.
SELF identity versus SOCIAL identity
Self-identity is how we see ourselves. A positive self-identity is essential for healthy self-esteem.
Our deeply personal and unfiltered view of ourselves is one thing. The way we see ourselves through the eyes of our peers, friends, family, school, anyone external, might be quite different.
Our self-identities are intrinsically related our sense of acceptance and belonging.
Self-identity refers to how we define ourselves and our relationship to the world around us. Our self-identity is unique to each of us.
Your social identity is how others see you. People tend to put other people into social groups based on characteristics that they recognise.
Your social identity could be defined by whether you are a daughter, sister, brother, student, Christian, Muslim, Australian, doctor, chef, musician, writer or by your football team … the list goes on.
For example, your social identity might be that you are the daughter of the couple that runs the local newsagent, plays bass guitar in your brother’s metal band, volunteers at an animal shelter, and is learning to speak Italian.
Social identity is based on our membership of different groups.
All identities are not equally valued by society. Some people may adopt a social identity that is different to their self-identity, so they fit in and feel accepted and valued within their group or amongst their peers.
Do they need to be the same?
All identities are not equally valued by society. The reasons for this are varied and are often a response to other changing societal conditions.
For example some people of diverse or questioning sexuality may choose not to be ‘out’ at school because they worry about whether it will change the way they are treated by their peers.
It’s human to seek approval. It can be tempting to choose to adopt a different social identity in order to feel accepted and valued by groups that are important to us. Groups that might affirm aspects of our self-identity.
Even if you choose to accentuate some aspects of your self-identity to project a particular social identity and downplay others you can still be yourself.
In all of our actions, behaviours and decisions we have to ensure that we are not causing ourselves harm by limiting our potential or hiding who we really are in order to gain the approval of others. Our own self-esteem and self-acceptance is far more important to good mental health and wellbeing than the approval of others who won’t accept you for who you really are.