It’s been said that you are a sum total of the five closest people you hang around. The first time I heard this I was floored. My circle of friends was hardly a dream team. Never mind who those people were—truth is, I always felt so lucky when anyone wanted to be my friend, I had no idea it could rub off! It being, you know… their defects of character. Which when one translates this predicament literally, as I first did, it’s easy to miss the actual point; who I am becoming in your presence? Hence, why we would be well-advised to surround ourselves with supportive people. Online and off.
Let’s start with online support: Today more than ever we are exposed to every type of person, each with a myriad of personality traits, especially online. That’s because, according to studies, most of us portray ourselves as the person we would like people to see us as rather than who we believe ourselves to be. A Pew Internet & American Life Project survey (2000) showed online women in particular believe that their use of email has strengthened their relationships and increased their contact with relatives and friends. Most of us would imagine that having 4,000 online friends and more frequent contact actually increases our self-esteem, yet a decade later we aren’t convinced that the quality of our relationships or our ability to be truly intimate has increased.
Basically, more is more and you’re still you. Who we really are, beneath the personality (persona) that we develop and present to the outside world, is only penetrable under circumstances in which real intimacy can occur. Trust, respect, feeling safe and having real-life experiences open us up to intimacy cognitively, emotionally and spiritually.
More is more. Recent studies show that the type of person you portray yourself as and attract online is more likely to be a projection of the type of person you would like people to think you are (and believe they are), which is in conflict with the truth about who you believe you are. This cognitive dissonance is the new kind of friction or excitement many of us are getting hooked on. It has little to do with real people enjoying and supporting each other. Up close and in-person support/warm body support.
Having people actually stand for who you are, really be there for you, know your heart, your dreams and desires, takes more than this level of connection. While one can certainly feel supported in these arenas, transparency and self-disclosure along with time, respect and trust equals intimacy, which is what we need to feel supported.
A decade later we might be asking a slightly different question: “Has the overall quality of my life changed for the better as a result of my online support system?” When I was growing up, I was given the sage advice: “If you can count your real friends on one hand you are lucky.” So right now, start counting all the people who support you becoming the best version of yourself, and take a moment to tell each of them how much you appreciate and adore them!