The Power and Perils of Being Liked

Being Liked

Being liked. Am I too motivated by approval?

This question has been percolating for at least a month. In fact, I considered making this subject the launch into the New Year. But, as with many topics, I needed a bit of reflection first. Now, I’m ready to share my musings.

Why, you might ask, is being liked relevant to this blog? As I enter year four of ItalyWise, I’ve been asking myself how influenced my writing is by a need to please other people and generate comments and subscriptions as validation. I ask myself if I’m willing to “damn the torpedoes” and be unflinchingly true to myself. Do I compare myself to others too much? Am I chasing a definition of success that is measured by likes?

Fortunately, after much reflection, I can safely say I am being true to myself––most of the time. Still, I often let my finger hover over the publish button, wondering if I’ve written something that might offend someone. When I published the article about dancing with both life and death, four people immediately unsubscribed. Did they feel like I did a bait and switch? Was I getting too heavy? I’m sure there are plenty of logical reasons for the unsubscriptions, but it caused me to pause and wince. Did people suddenly not like me?

But, then I received some of the most amazing comments and emails. People were supportive, and some even said it was my best work yet. So, what if a few apples fell off the tree? It’s about quality, not quantity. Right? It reinforced my resolve to write and feature topics that are important and meaningful to me, even if it rattles some cages.

Being liked is a powerful drug.

I’m not the only person who believes that social media thrives largely on the validation people get from people liking their posts. Studies have shown that likes stimulate the brain to release feel-good chemicals. Consider the following statement:

“Facebook stimulates the release of loads of dopamine as well as offering an effective cure to loneliness.”
– Psychology Today – Your Brain and Facebook (I urge you to read the online article).

It could be so easy to say this only applies to other people. I look at my own behavior and my history and I know I could have easily, at one time, stood up at a Like-Aholics meeting and say “Hi, my name is Jed and I’m addicted to being liked.” I know I was insufferable at times, constantly checking my phone for Facebook likes, and feeling elated or, conversely, deflated by how much attention I was getting and how many thumbs up and comments I was getting.

When being liked came to a head for me.

During the 2016 presidential election. I was on Facebook so much, checking the status of the posts linked to my blog posts AND jumping into the fray of political debate, that my head felt like it was going to blow clear off my shoulders. It would’ve been easy to blame the raging political debate on my increasingly sour mood, but I’d been feeling empty well before that. I realized I was putting too much of my validation in Facebook well before the election. One week after the election, I wrote a message on my Facebook page, explaining I was bowing out, and encouraging people to become direct subscribers to my blog if they still wanted to engage with me. Then I hit the “delete account” button.

I can’t tell you how much lighter I felt, immediately, and how much more time I had on my hands to devote to other things that fed my soul without just giving me a temporary high.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not chastising Facebook or other social media. I know the value they provide in networking and staying in touch. In fact, it was a primary way for me to stay in touch with people back in the States after I’d moved to Italy. But, I confess, I didn’t use social media with healthy restraint and balance. And, rather than going completely cold turkey, I turned to Instagram as my social outlet, since I could speak with my photography and dispense with too much chatter.

But, I still feel the pressure.

It’s self-imposed, and it’s a result of a lingering need to be liked. Will I lose engagement if I don’t post a photo on Instagram every day? Will people lose interest in my blog if I skip a week or two to give myself a break? These are questions that continue to influence me. But what I absolutely want to do more of is only posting when it feels right and when it is a subject (visual or written) that sits well in my gut and isn’t driven by a conditioned brain that wants me to engage in behavior that will deliver a temporary hit of dopamine.

Writing and maintaining a blog is hard work. I love doing it and sharing my story and the wisdom I’ve gained by living the journey––both logistically and emotionally. I love being the resource that I would have liked to have found when I was in my preparatory phase. I guess it’s my way giving back and being thankful for having navigated it all without throwing in the towel and running back “home” to the familiar.

My vision for the future of ItalyWise:

I will continue to share pearls of wisdom as my life in Italy moves out of the novice phase and into the long-term experience. But, I see a shift to telling more stories of my life here through my photography and art. In other words, I’m going to let those things take the lead more often. And, I won’t steer away from subjects that I feel are important, yet might not have mass appeal.

I love engaging with my subscribers, so please keep the comments and emails coming. And, suggestions for topics are always welcome.

In closing, I believe life is asking me to keep stripping away the stuff that prevents me from living fully and authentically. And, that means not being unduly influenced by being liked!