A little girl playing dress-up in her mother’s heels is an iconic image we have all seen in a movie or commercial. Women think about their future selves from a very early age. Each little girl’s vision of the future might be different, but generally people’s desires are the same: to be happy, to be loved, and to feel secure and confident.
The transition from adolescence to adulthood is an exciting and dynamic time for a young woman. This is her time and opportunity to figure out and assess who she is and what she wants from the world. Yet it does not take long for such a woman to realize that this time also can be overwhelming and confusing. For the last decade, the “ultimate goal” for a twenty-something female was to start building a solid foundation in both her professional and personal lives so that she can “have it all” by the time she reaches 30. While women are becoming more realistic about what a balanced life really means, there is still enormous pressure for them to carve out an adult identity, to always make the best choices and to look fabulous while doing it.
Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development is one of the most well-known theories about personality development. Erikson believed that there are eight stages or transitions that we go through during our lifetimes. At each stage, we need to become competent at a particular task. If we are able to master the task, then this strengthens what Erikson called our “ego identity.” Ego identity is defined as “the conscious sense of self that we develop through social interaction.” Erikson believed that our ego identity is constantly changing and transforming based on each new experience we encounter. He also believed that achieving mastery of each of these tasks is critical to our ego identity because this is what motivates our future behaviors and actions.
Therefore, at each major transition in life we need to master a new task. In young adulthood, the task to master is what Erikson called intimacy vs. isolation. Young adults must learn how to develop close, committed, and trustworthy relationships with other people.
While this concept may seem daunting to some individuals, most young women have been working on this task since grade school. Women have a biological need to develop relationships and connections with both men and women, Dr. Louann Brizendine states in her book The Female Brain. Brizendine found through her research that “the verbal areas are much larger in the female’s brain.” Through talking and sharing information, women create connection and intimacy.
If young women are biologically driven to develop connections and according to Erikson “tasked” to master relationships, what does all this mean for young women today in their early twenties? With all of the technological advances that have been made in the past decade, how we interact and socialize with each other has significantly changed. While a young woman’s “task” is to develop intimacy with others, the way she interacts with others today is anything but intimate. By using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or LinkedIn, we no longer create intimate relationships with each other but show self-censored clips and musings of our lives.
Studies show that Facebook is making us sad because it depicts situations that may create false assumptions about other people’s lives. Facebook photos and captions generally show your friends smiling, laughing, and having an incredible time at the latest restaurant or concert, thus making each of us feel like everyone else is having a much better time and life than we are. Studies also have found that when we read the posts of “friends” we don’t know very well, we tend to believe their lives are much better than our own even though we have no real evidence other than what is posted on Facebook.
Knowing how vital the intimacy vs. isolation stage is for young women, how does a young woman today build a strong sense of self and create intimate relationships with others? Young women need to figure out who they are and what they want while learning how to push out the “social media” noise in the background. Erikson’s task has gotten harder in today’s world.
Here are ideas to help to strengthen a young woman’s sense of self, and tips to become more discerning about the role social media plays in our lives:
- Limit the amount of time you spend on Facebook and other social media. You do not have to go “cold turkey,” but nothing new has happened on Facebook in the last few minutes. Set a time (or two) each day to check to see what people are up to and then let go. Pick up the phone to say “happy birthday!” to old college friend rather than posting something on their Facebook wall.
- Recognize that what people are Instagraming, tweeting, and Facebooking about are the highlights of their lives. Social media are like a movie montage of the lead character’s dramatic weight loss or home renovation. You are only seeing the high points, not the low points.
- Stop comparing yourself to others. Prior to the massive use of social media, the only people you could compare yourself to were your roommates or fellow entry-level coworkers who were also lost, cash-strapped, and confused about their lives.
- Set your own goals. Devise different ways to achieve these goals. This is your life path—no one else’s.
- Take pride in other people’s achievements. Also realize that your goals might be different. Your achievements will come.
- You do not have to figure out every aspect of your life by the age of 30. Life is not a race. There is no finish line or medal if you accomplish all your goals by the age of 30. Ask anyone over the age of 30.
- Recognize that everyone is struggling with something. While your best friend may have her “dream” job, it does not mean that every aspect of her life is going perfectly. As there are so many parts of our lives, it is unrealistic to think that there will not always be struggle in some area.
Every generation feels that it has it “tougher” than the one before, and in some ways this generation of young women (and men) is experiencing challenges that are completely new. No one knows how to deal with the pressures of having constant exposure to other people’s lives and events. This is why it is so important that young women develop strong egos and confidence in their choices. They need to recognize that sometimes the best thing they can do when feeling lost is to log off of Facebook, put the smartphone away, and just sit still with their thoughts.
- Brizendine, Louann M.D. The Female Brain. Morgan Road Books, New York, NY, 2006
- Copeland, Libby. The Anti-Social Network. Slate.com. Posted on Wednesday, January 26, 2011
- Erikson, Erik. Identity and the Life Cycle. 1959, International Universities Press, Reissued: 1980, W.W. Norton and Company, New York City, NY
- Rosenbaum, Matthew, Facebook: Friends’ Happy Pictures Make You Sad? Posted on Yahoo News on January 20, 2012.
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