I have a Facebook friend. My Facebook friend had a really difficult childhood. To protect her privacy I won’t go into the details but suffice to say it was uniquely challenging from a developmental and emotional perspective. There was one component that wasn’t all that unique about her situation, the end result. Like many who grow up in a challenged household, she has an unrelenting and life long desire to have a perfect family. If you look at my friend’s Facebook posts, you would think that she has achieved her goal. A great husband, 2.5 kids, a nice house and a stable job. What more could you ask? There is always a photo of a wonderful meal that’s being prepared for the family or some beautiful moments from a family trip and always lots of smiling faces.
That pattern isn’t unique. there are certain archetypes on Facebook and one of them is the Pollyanna archetype. everything posted is always great, look how great my family is! look how great my job is! The problem is that it’s not real. For those that are engaged in sharing this nirvana-esque information stream, they may believe what they are posting. Those that are reading it and are experiencing their own life challenges, they may start to think that the grass is greener. Here is the deal, the grass is never greener! We can take my friend as an example. She has a couple of kids and that means there have been several nights of throwing up, of crying, of teething, of intense attitude, and all sorts of other struggles related to raising children. Those types of difficulties including others like learning disabilities and medical needs make any parent’s life stressful to the point of venting. It’s par for the course of having a family. Interestingly enough,you never see a post about how the child back talked her today or how she had a migraine from all the fighting when the kids were in a mood from not feeling well. Nope, it’s only photos of the piles of homemade cookies for family movie night with the tag line that says “Yummy!”
Yes, there is always a droopy dog on facebook, the opposite of the facebook placebo. The ones who only post negative and are continually fishing for attention. They have a completely different set of issues that are outside of the realm of this commentary. This is about pretending something is great and wonderful when in fact it’s not.
Facebook isn’t the only Placebo. Because it’s a public forum, by its very nature it’s something many are familiar with. There is another one that I can think of that I find quite often here in the deep south. I’m talking about God. I have to tread very lightly here because religion is such a sensitive subject for so many people. I can’t post this dialog and ignore that there are some who use their religious beliefs as a life placebo in the same way that others use Facebook. What do I mean by this? These are the people when their bald tire goes flat, they thank Jesus for giving them the opportunity to walk down the street and appreciate the grass. They are also the ones who look at a wayward or ill child And proclaim loudly to anyone who will listen that Jesus will fix this problem! A classic is the one where someone will thank god for all the fun they had with the latest Fellowship, which for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term as it’s used in the south, means hanging out with your friends from the church, usually for a meal after the ceremony.
I want to be perfectly clear, I have no problem with, and truly appreciate, when somebody is focused more on the positive than the negative. That, unfortunately, is a skill I do not have. The problem with life placebo’s, at least the ones that become the only way of life, is that they ignore the reality that life has both good and bad. Our walk on this earth includes strong opportunities and big setbacks. If you go whole hog into portraying and believing that everything is wonderful, that will keep you from being able to focus on fixing the core issues and improving your situation. Let’s not forget what a placebo is. The entire goal of the placebo is to incite the placebo effect. This effect fools people into getting better or at least feeling better when they are ill. Generally speaking a placebo is given to a patient by a trained medical professional. This professional is judging whether or not the placebo has the desired effect and if it does the prescription continues. If it doesn’t, then a different course of treatment is prescribed. There is no medical professional for the life placebo and that is where the danger lies. People can use it forever and pretend that everything is great (even when it’s not).
Like childrearing, life is tremendously challenging. We live in a world where organizations have made an advanced science of paying as little as they possibly can yet charging as much as they can for their products and services. This means for most people it’s a struggle to get the things in life they want or need. Families and culture are also hugely challenging. No matter how much time and focus you put into that adorable little baby with the big sad eyes, she eventually gets to make her own decisions. One day she may just decide that jumping from bed to bed is an easier way to get what she wants in life rather than hard work and discipline.
Only posting photos that show the child in a positive light ignores the value of the social media braintrust. Maybe a post about the struggle will incite people to offer some good advice on how to get “Sally sleeps-around” to start thinking about better choices she can make to empower herself. Thanking God for the nice walk allows the appreciative congregation member to avoid the difficult subject of preventative maintenance. Maybe, instead they could have thanked God for the reminder they need to start budgeting for new tires. There is value to the balance of letting people know that there is good and bad in your life. They will understand because there is good and bad in their life too. I wish I could say that if you share some of your struggles they will feel a bit better about sharing some of theirs but some people find it tremendously difficult to open up and they will always defer to using a life placebo to pretend their world is perfect.
Regardless if your balance has a positive impact on others, it will definitely have a positive impact on you.Life is messy. It’s messy at home, it’s messy at work, and it’s messy everywhere in between. Sometimes we can and should ignore the mess to keep our sanity, but that should only be sometimes. If we don’t eventually accept that there is a mess to be cleaned up, it will never get cleaned up, not even a little bit.