Yuan: The Missing Dislike Button

by Ziqin Yuan | 4/20/15 6:03pm

Most people like to display their happiness and hide their sorrow. We often try to display a pristine exterior, one that looks effortlessly put-together and always cheerful. We are, however, human. No one is a one-dimensional individual in a permanently happy state. If we all know we’re not perfect, then why do consistently feel the need to pretend as if we are?

I believe the most obvious answer is because we find our shortcomings embarrassing. Nobody wants to be seen as “that girl who cried in public because she did poorly on an exam” or “that guy who made a fool of himself last night.” Nobody wants to be talked about on Yik Yak or risk developing a reputation as someone who’s never any fun to be around. So we put on a smile and a pleasant façade, and in doing so we all deceive one another into believing everyone around us looks fine.

This impulse seems odd if you consider that many people have similar anxieties. In theory, if we can relate to one another’s difficulties, we have no reason to hide them from our peers — in fact, we can help ourselves by sharing. Vulnerability, no matter how difficult, ultimately proves more sustainable. By being vulnerable, we allow people to empathize with us, and that emotional connection is mutually beneficial to all parties. We gain the advice and respect of others, and we let other people know they’re not alone — that’s how strong communities are formed.

Hiding our flaws has severe consequences. On social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, many carefully curate their lives and showcase only the most flattering snippets. This crafted appearance makes it difficult for friends and loved ones to be aware of our true feelings — and even more difficult to help us deal with them. Many suicides on college campuses follow a similar, and sadly preventable pattern — students who seem happy on the outside often share only positive parts of their lives to create an image of wellness, hiding their troubles inside. A University of Pennsylvania runner’s suicide last year shocked her friends because they weren’t aware of her struggles with striving for perfection — she only shared her most positive moments. A 2015 University of Missouri study found that when use of Facebook elicits envy — such as browsing posts that highlight friends’ achievements — users are more likely to experience symptoms of depression. By showing such carefully edited versions of our lives, we all accept perfection as the norm and create a society where any weakness feels like failure.

Illusions of perfection can never last. If everyone admits that they’re not perfect, however, we have the chance to help each other through our imperfections. In her TED talk “The Power of Vulnerability,” Brené Brown noted that the people with the strongest feelings of self worth and the people who were the most loved in their communities were also those who felt vulnerable. Vulnerability allowed them to trust others and learned that their problems are not the exception but the rule. In showing weakness, they actually gained power and strength.

Vulnerability isn’t easy. Revealing the more negative or sensitive aspects of ourselves is a challenging exercise in trust and courage. If we chose to be slightly more vulnerable, however, we may come to the inspiring conclusion that we’re not alone. Many of us feel anxious or nervous when talking to someone new — we don’t know if they’ll like us or if they even want to talk to us. Yet, as many will likely attest, most people are just waiting for you to talk to them first — just taking the initial step and making yourself vulnerable will encourage others to reciprocate.

Of course, we shouldn’t necessarily expose everything our deepest secrets to the public. Even baby steps — letting your bare face show without makeup, for example, or admitting that you don’t always know the answer — are enough to allow others to reach out and empathize. If nothing else, these small changes in our behavior can remind others that we aren’t perfect, and that we shouldn’t expect ourselves to be perfect.

We need to be less afraid of being vulnerable. When we show a side of ourselves that — though potentially less flattering — is more sincere and genuine, we abandon the fake standard of perfection that we pretend to have. It’s worth making an effort to let ourselves be known for who we truly are.