How are you being influenced?

Besides being an energy system, you are also an information system. How you interpret and give meaning to information you encounter is determined by your unique cognitive structure – your experiences, knowledge, beliefs, perceptions and assumptions. As an information system, you are constantly integrating and splitting up pieces of information in unique ways to create new meaning. This is the fundamental nature of consciousness.

Information cannot exist in a vacuum. It needs an interpersonal context that offers meaning and value. There is no absolute truth when it comes to ideas and perceptions. Instead, there is a movement towards truth which is dependent on a process of unspoken consensus.

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A contrast between rock and water

In the scientific community, there are strict protocols to follow for ideas or hypotheses to be accepted and considered worthy. In such a community, no piece of information is immune to being scrutinised and re-evaluated over time. This is because technical and scientific information is evolutionary by nature, moving towards more complexity over time.  

When it comes to social contexts, information and influence are intricately interwoven. Who is saying what to whom, how is it being said and received, when and why is it being conveyed, are all aspects of the dynamics of influence. In social contexts, ‘truth’ is determined by the dominant opinions that exist in the community in which the information is exchanged.

In today’s information age, one needs to understand the influential power of how peer groups participate on social media. Over coffee when discussing his difficulty dealing with his teenage daughter, a friend reacted with surprise when I mentioned that his daughter’s peer group probably had more influence over her thinking and behaviour than what his opinions, values and family norms had. 

Social platforms can become all-consuming and addictive. This is largely due to the need to be accepted and validated by the social group that one is part of. On all of the social media platforms there are influencers, shaping the thinking of those who follow. There is an illusion of having an individual perspective on these platforms. However the need to fit in and conform are actually the deeper processes at play.

Due to the nature of the information flow on these social platforms, opinions and judgements are usually offered immediately without censure. In addition, these opinions unfold in the public domain, which in turn, activates further comments from those who need to add their voice to the story (see Discernment, drama and deception).

Social platforms offer a 24/7 service to those who want to offer their opinions and judgements on any issue. They cater for the immediate desire to ‘have your say’. These platforms spew out information at an alarming rate. For those involved, there is no escape from the drama of the process, especially if there are personal, contentious or sensitive issues at play.

Due to the malleable nature of informational feedback loops, ‘like attracts like’ when it comes to what you say. Given this principle, aggression will be matched with aggression. If what you say, is driven by a feeling of entitlement and arrogance, you will probably get caught in a cycle of constantly trying to prove your importance.

One of the major concerns regarding these platforms is how information can get distorted and vindictively used to emotionally bully others. Despite his age and standing, Donald Trump, is an example, of how a person uses social media to feed an insatiable desire to be worshipped and validated. This, coupled with his propensity to bully and divide, if his opinions and desires are opposed, are at the heart of of how destructive these platforms can become (see Trump trumps politiciansDealing with an aggressive, self-opinionated energyLeading a Divided States of AmericaStruggling to gain credibility).

Discernment, drama and deception

According to Keyes, we are living in the post-truth era where the border between ‘truth’ and ‘lie’ is conveniently blurred. Society has been conditioned to tolerate this and in the process some of us may have lost our ability to discern right from wrong, fact from fiction. As a consequence, honesty in relationships has been seriously undermined.

Recently, a client told me that she usually felt emotionally worse after going onto Facebook. She felt that there were a number of friends who were in competition with her and had been posting experiences and events that conveyed the fundamental message of ‘look at me, my life is more important, interesting and stimulating than yours is’. In our conversation, my client made it known that a lot of what had been posted by her friends was not true since she had actually been to many of the events that were being referred to in the postings. There seemed to be a major discrepancy in what some of her friends had written about and her own perception of those same experiences. This was proving to be emotionally unsettling for her and was creating doubts regarding her own perceptions. In turn, this was having an impact on her self worth and confidence.

Alone and homeless in San Diego
Alone and homeless in San Diego

We need to guard against losing our ability to discern what is useful, meaningful and relevant when swimming in the vast sea of information that is being spewed out by all of the social media vehicles.

Unlike in the pre-information age, everyone now has a platform to voice their perspective on anything they choose. One can easily create and construct stories around who you are and what you do. For those who are emotionally insecure or need social recognition there may be a strong desire to impress and show importance. In such cases, drama, deception and embellishment may lie at the foundation of what is revealed. This usually occurs on the unconscious level, with little or no insight or concern regarding how others may interpret what has been said.

The creation of self is determined by an ongoing stream of events or experiences that come to make up a personal story. However, this creation cannot unfold in a vacuum. It needs an audience that listens, sees and witnesses what is being actioned and/or proposed.

Before the advent of social media, the construction of self took time and required hard work through actions whilst interacting in a family and/or community. Actions spoke far louder than words. Honesty and integrity were at the foundation of how one tried to live one’s life.

In therapy, I am witness to many life stories. I am aware that there is no single fixed reality and truth in what is being perceived and revealed in conversation. However, I have noticed that my clients begin to feel empowered and want to make the necessary changes in their lives when they:

  1. realise and understand that everyone is busy creating and constructing a story of self,
  2. become curious and aware of how they are constructing their own story,
  3. have the courage to reveal and explore some of the destructive assumptions, lies and beliefs that made up their own construction,
  4. begin to re-author their personal story in a more meaningful and relevant way by consciously working on changing behaviours that have been destructive and self-defeating,
  5. align themselves to their own inner truth to guide their actions.