Let's think things through
Simone sat down, seeming relieved to finally have a chance to tell someone what had been weighing on her for months: "I'm not who I pretend to be."
Her cryptic remark made me wonder. Was this a compulsive liar? Someone with sociopathic tendencies? Was I dealing with my first dissociative identity disorder? Then she clarified:
"I have over 3000 followers on Instagram, and they all think I'm this outgoing, confident singer, yet, I dislike everything about myself. I'm sometimes scared to leave the house to avoid real conversations." Her eyes remained focused on me, scanning me for signs of approval. I paid attention to the fact that the more she revealed, the more space she allowed her body to take up in the room--she'd straighten her back and relax her shoulders with each revealing statement.
Here was a striking, young singer and songwriter who, by her own admission, was letting people believe that she is comfortable with who she is, when in reality, all she did wanted was to hide. At least, the real Simone did. The other Simone, the online Simone, craved and pursued visibility. After I pointed out this internal fragmentation of the two Simones, she asked: "Can you help me feel more like the online Simone?"
A few sessions into our work together, we had gained a deeper understanding of her experience. She told me all about the thousands of discarded videos on her phone--the ones she wasn't posting online-- and about the rush she gets when people comment or like her posts. She described early experiences with being bullied and how even though she was no longer being bullied, she still assumes others have negative thoughts about her. In her small social circles, she longed for attention, validation and approval, just like the one she received online. But she struggled to ask for it. Mostly because she didn't believe that she deserved it.
Somewhere in the third or fourth month of our sessions, Simone had grown less fearful and avoidant of the qualities she disliked about herself. She could talk about her mistakes without signs of anxiety, she forgave herself after unsuccessful attempts, and spoke more about what she hopes to achieve instead of what she wants to avoid. Around this time, the goal of our sessions was to highlight the obvious: that the "online Simone" was, in fact, a manifestation of traits that were already there. "Online Simone" was her fearlessness, her love of life, and her belief in herself.
When Simone saw herself as someone deriving comfort from self-expression, rather than a fraud tricking people, she recognized parts of the real Simone in the "online Simone." She was able to maintain a whole, an integrated sense of self.
Close to the six month mark, Simone came to the office announcing to me that she's ready to stop therapy. This decision made sense to both of us. She took out a piece of paper and wrote down her social media handles. I was taken aback as she had never invited me to see online Simone before.
"Here you go" she said. "I'm not shy about showing you anymore. Everything on here is all real."
by Olga Gonithellis
240 Madison Avenue
suite 10-H & 10-O
New York, NY
718 514 7157