Multiple personalities and even cross gender profiles are growing ever more popular among youth on social networks like Myspace and Facebook. I call this “Virtual Suicide” when it is taken to an extreme. It is the removal of oneself from reality, but often it is a cry for help.
“Tweaking” your profile to make you look better or feel better about yourself is socially acceptable online, although this author highly discourages too much of it because it can really get you into trouble. Some use different or “hidden” profiles to stay in a safe zone outside the reach of online bullying or to keep an unwanted “online-stalker” from finding them. Mostly, they are used to keep one’s activity from being monitored from the ever present “Helicopter Parent” who hovers over their children’s activities as if they have an interest in the child’s life somehow (humor!).
Most of us go through external personality changes like a different hair color or a change of culture identity (goth, burnout, prep, sports) and it shouldn’t scare us when we see teenager go through certain changes. Most teens are just searching for their identity as they grow more and more independent from parental decision making. However, when someone is using these things to completely escape their current reality, we can assume that something is wrong in their life. It may be that they just need to escape a horrible family situation or they have lost a part of themselves and are trying to fill that void, but when they are desperately trying to change all perception of themselves whether online (the easiest way to do this) or in public settings (concerts, parties school, family gatherings) it is a sign that something is not right. I certainly am not saying it is always a serious psychological problem but it most likely is an outward sign that there is a huge stress on the psychological health of this person. The stress can be from an internal or external source. Internal sources can be chemical imbalances, psychological issues, self perception issues and spiritual emptiness. External sources can be family related (parental overload or neglect, favoritism, abuse, divorce etc.), Peer pressures, social pressures (can include a specific pressure to fit in or to rebel to a social norm) and religious pressure (closely related to social pressure).
I should say that I believe all areas that can be pressures have their place and are generally good. Some teens need a little more encouragement and some need the proverbial kick in the attitude. Balance is always the key. If you are a parent, look for the imbalance(s) that might be causing the outward signs of stress in your teen and be honest about it. The fact is there is no perfect parent or teen and they need time and lots of love to grow up healthy and balanced. Look for a solution to the problem not the symptom.
How to tell if you or someone you know is commiting virtual suicide:
- Online identity is highly “tweaked” to make it appear as if the real identity doesn’t exist. (Some “tweaking” is normal. Look for extreme lying about who they are not how they feel.)
- Multiple online identities with misleading names or user names.
- Using opposite gender identity and assuming that role in conversations.
- Denial of personal health (mental, spiritual, sleep, etc.) in order to maintain the “New” identity by constant monitoring. (like feeding and changing a new baby)
- Obsessive behaviors, or self destructive tendencies. (cutting, drug or alcohol abuse, obsessions with any group that is not striving to build up the good character in them: can be musical, religious extremists, peer groups.)