By Mark Vander Vennen
Recently I was privileged to share a stage with Marsha Shandur. The occasion was a one-day conference called “Imaginate,” put together by the outstanding grass-roots community organization called the Green Wood Coalition in Port Hope, Ontario. We at Shalem support Green Wood with WrapAround training and coaching.
Marsha is a professional story-teller and coach. She is the Founder and Host of Toronto’s True Stories Told Live, and she coaches people to connect with others through story-telling. Her website is called Yes Yes Marsha.
All of this is outstanding. But here is what really caught my attention.
Marsha talks a lot about social media. Likely because of her immersion in storytelling, she operates from a deep understanding of some basic human dynamics. She talks about how we typically take the view that everyone else has their “iSht” together, but we don’t. Other people have happy families, successful careers, wonderful kids, but not us.
With this basic perspective in hand, we then go on Facebook. Facebook, however, has the effect of only compounding our feeling of inadequacy, because people tend to post about their successes, or their kid’s successes, which reinforces the image that everyone else has their “iSht” together, but not me.
It is at this point that her insight becomes truly compelling. She calls this feeling of inadequacy that we all have at some level “shame.” And she talks about how shame builds a metal fortress around us and has the effect of disconnecting us from others. But it’s when we tell stories or anecdotes that show our vulnerability that we connect, because we think, “oh, that person doesn’t have their ‘iSht’ together either!”
She points out that connection is the antithesis of shame; connection effectively “walks up to that metal fortress and disintegrates it.” And connection happens through sharing our vulnerabilities.
Marsha has a two and half minute YouTube video about this called How to Combat Facebook Envy. If you do nothing else this week, I encourage you to watch this video!
Marsha talks about shame, disconnection, vulnerability, connection and the neurobiology of relationship in just the same way we do at Shalem. Moving from shame and the disconnection and isolation it causes, towards vulnerability and connection lies at the core of all of our work at Shalem. It animates everything that we do.
But Marsha does more than talk about this. To counter the shame-inducing effects of social media, she hosts a wonderful Facebook page called I Don’t Have My iSht Together Either, where people post things they have done that they are not proud of. The comments on the posts sharing similar anecdotes are often hysterical.
Here then is what we might call it the “social media paradox.” The promise of social media is that it “connects” us. The reality is that all too often, because of its shame-inducing effects, social media does precisely the opposite: it disconnects us.
There is a lot of conversation these days about the possible negative mental health impacts of social media, especially among young people, whose mental health needs, especially around depression and anxiety, are mushrooming. For someone with a fragile sense of self, posting something and getting few “likes,” especially compared to others, can be truly devastating.
What Marsha tells us is that when we share our vulnerabilities, some of our imperfections, then we foster connection, and even survival, because we are neurobiologically hard-wired to connect. We need connection to survive. In our time, that requires finding new, different, even contrary ways of engaging with social media.
A huge shout-out to Marsha Shandur for leading the way.
Mark Vander Vennen, MA, M.Ed, R.S.W., is Executive Director of the Shalem Mental Health Network. He doesn’t have all of his iSht together either!