Digital Self Vs. Real Self

(Photo by Selma Komisky)

Digital Self Vs. Real Self

By Jehn Kubiak

Never have I ever…not had an Instagram until August 2020. Since I was in high school, I always loved posting pictures of things I was interested or involved in: color guard, band and wind ensemble, art, lifeguarding––you name it. While there was a time I took a brief break, for the most part, it was a huge part of my life for a good six years until a huge wakeup call, where I realized that the app quite literally controlled my life.

It’s amazing how much you don’t realize how much power something has over your life until you get rid of it. In nature, that’s the essence of addiction––compulsively depending on something to feed your soul. For me, Instagram was a place where I could create who I wanted to be and not who I actually was, especially when it came to inspiring other people, because I was such a people-pleaser. What people thought really mattered, and what I thought about myself really didn’t until much later.

Case in point: I’ve always been a determined, strong-willed workaholic, which is something that most people would know about me. But little do they know that I actually used to have a major weakness of being overly self-critical. Although I do have days here-and-there where the criticism bug comes back to bite, I can now readily shrug it off. However, back then, my Instagram was a place where I could show people how, despite the struggles I’m going through, I am this tough, “no-nonsense” woman. I could be burned-out, mad at myself to no end, and yet still get through the day with a smile.

However, I couldn’t carry that on for long without people noticing one thing or another. Those who know me well knew I really wasn’t doing that well, and those who didn’t thought I was essentially looking for attention. So, the intended effect was lost, and I not only lost respect from others, but I lost respect for myself.

After this realization, I also understood how a conflict between our “digital selves” and “real selves” can result in an identity crisis. I had crafted this pinnacle of perfection on this platform, and once that crumbled, I crumbled because I actually had no idea who I was. It got to the point where if not enough people watched my story, or if one of my good friends didn’t like one of my pictures, I wondered what was wrong with me.

The truth is that nothing was wrong with me as an individual; the real issue was that I couldn’t see the good in myself, even when others could. I so desperately wanted validation from those I didn’t need to get validation from in the first place, and I cared so much about pleasing people who couldn’t give a care in the first place.

On that note, I used to think I was self-confident in the way I’d boast in my weaknesses, like Paul, but the truth is, that was a very fake self-confidence. I was confident in what I could do for other people and not who I could be for other people. That was when I knew something would have to give, and when I questioned what was at the root of all of this, I knew it was my Instagram because I’d check that thing various times throughout the day and hardly ever went a day without posting at least three things on my story; I consumed social media probably more than I consumed solid food.

Due to that, I initially started an experiment to get on my Instagram once a week and see what the result was––but after the first five days, I realized how much I loved the freedom of not being “something” for other people and being free to be who I was: flaws and all. That self-criticism crutch became easier to deal with, and I started feeling much happier all the time because I could just focus on doing what I love without giving people an entryway to criticize or judge. Eventually, I got to this place where I loved my forgetfulness and failures because they were a part of me as much as my accomplishments and affability.

Most of all, getting off Instagram gave me greater insight into my identity in Christ. I’ve always known that God loves me, but I took that for granted because I’d heard it so many times. Therefore, I didn’t really understand what it meant to walk in my identity as a woman of Christ until I got to this breaking point where I needed to learn what it really meant to walk in God’s love. Without all the noise of others’ thoughts crowding my mind––all the stories, pictures, etc.––I could more clearly hear his voice and make room for it in my quiet time. Through scripture I read, he reminded me that love isn’t something I have to earn from the people who matter most and that I am loved just as I am.

Lately, a couple people who know me well have mentioned the changes they’ve seen a couple of times––”growth” is the particular word they use. They’ve seen how I’m more joyful and approach situations with maturity instead of picking apart each thing I did wrong or questioning my ability to do things right. And I have to agree; I like this “real me;” the digital one was way overrated, and I haven’t thought twice about re-creating an Instagram account, or even about what other people think about me.

That change forced me to recall Jesus’ words to his disciples:

“What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

– Matthew 16:26

Completely cutting ties with something that seems to build us up, digitally or otherwise, can be scary, especially if a big part of your identity has come from that one thing. Though it’s hard, the alternate reality reaps great rewards. Let’s get back to the basics of being ourselves.