The Validation Trap of an Online Life

There’s a line between telling a story and exorcising demons, and it’s thin. It curves around the edges of the truth the way a tight dress hugs the hips. Suggesting, not revealing. Containing the words without saying too much.

This line has been on my mind lately, snaking a path through my day. I heard it hiss when I wrote about smoke signals. Warning signs. The house that was burning from the inside out. It raised its head to strike and I backed off, afraid.

There is value in the sharing of the painful details of our lives, but blogging isn’t a confessional. At least not to me. I’ve grown increasingly troubled by the lengths to which others will go to be noticed by the internet masses, and not just in terms of personal over sharing.

The toxic blogs that serve only to “call each other out.”

The negative and catty, the crass and unashamed.

The controversy-seekers and drive-by trolls.

I see the underbelly that’s really exposed.

We all have a need to be needed. It’s tempting to get sucked into the validation trap, particularly for those of us whose work appears online. We’re applauded for our honesty, our bravery, our willingness to face fears in the light of the the laptop screen. We’re fed by the feedback we’re given, the little inbox ego boosts and traffic spikes.

You write what I’m too afraid to touch.

You say what everyone else is thinking.

Before long that validation steps out in front. We write for response. Reaction. We stop being producers and assume the role of consumers. It. Consumes. Us.

As for me, I’d rather stay on the safe side of that invisible line.

I’d rather encounter the snake after he’s shed his skin, when the molted epidermis lies across my path like a ghost.

I’d rather keep those demons where they belong, behind the line of fire that consumes everything that’s in its way.

Photo Credit: Pink Sherbet/Flickr

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  1. January says:

    Exactly ML. Perfectly, wonderfully said.
    January recently posted..My Discomfort ExposedMy Profile

  2. Hear, hear! Excellent post!

  3. Amber says:

    Love this. Couldn’t agree more.
    Amber recently posted..Are YOU talking to ME?My Profile

  4. Jester Queen says:

    I can definitely respect that attitude. I post just about everything, but you’ll find that I’m no different in real life. I don’t think it’s getting me much attention, so I don’t worry too much about getting attached to it :) And I can totally see how you would want to keep a childhood tragedy private.
    Jester Queen recently posted..House guestsMy Profile

  5. I loved this post–(nothing new to love what you write, though!) and have often wondered if at times I have shared too much. I think it is important to let something sit a bit before the publish button is hit—-let it settle a bit, you know? I don’t read blogs that are inflammatory and definitely do not do that on my own blog but I am sure that there are plenty of them out there. Of course today in my post I am pleading to be “famous” so maybe what is inside me is different?????? Hmmmm….thanks for making me think!
    Beth Ann Chiles recently posted..I Want to Be Freshly PressedMy Profile

  6. I feel like this is exactly the problem with blogging these days. Some people have gone WAY too far in the name of “Honesty” and “Bravery” it’s gotten too serious and too dark. It’s one thing to get support or to say what’s on your mind, but you still have to edit yourself. Not every story is meant to be told. Great post ML. Love it.

  7. liz says:

    This is so well-written and truly needs to be said! Not only do I agree that some have fallen into the trap of “drama and despair = pageviews and comments”, but I feel like I need to talk to some people face to face and have a “The internet is forever. You can’t take it back. And do you want your kids/ friends/co-workers/boss/neighbors/parents of your kids’ friends reading and knowing all this?” talk.

    I also think that many kind of feel they are in a protected place. The blogosphere can seem small in some ways, and we forget how many people are actually reading and can always access to our confessions and deepest thoughts & fears.

    You need to submit this piece to BlogHer and any other place that accepts published pieces.
    liz recently posted..The Past 7 DaysMy Profile

  8. KLZ says:

    Thanks. Sincerely.

  9. Eve says:

    I cannot even say how very much I agree with you. I do know and read a few bloggers who fit into the category of over-sharing. It seems like every other post is very “woe-is-me” and I know they are just doing it to draw attention to themselves. Seriously. Enough is enough. Great post!!!
    Eve recently posted..I Have More Than One Mother FigureMy Profile

  10. Kristin says:

    This is something that has been on my mind. I’ve been writing about some pretty emotional things but I don’t want my blog to be a confessional or validation of my life’s decisions. It’s a very thin line.
    Just today I unsubscribed from getting comment notification by email. I was spending too much of the day checking to see if I had a new comment.
    I agree with Liz, submit this to BH.
    Kristin recently posted..There’s Never Enough TimeMy Profile

    • ML@My3LittleBirds says:

      Thank you Kristin. I am all for honesty in writing. There is a place for the sharing of personal details. I’ve seen some writers do it beautifully. But we have to ask ourselves if we’re doing it for the right reasons.

  11. I think most people write in their comfort zones, but some seek attention with their words. I guess it might be validation for some, but I also see the grown up version of the class clown out there. The one who will say or do anything just to be noticed and part of the group. I write to provide support. When I share details, it’s to hopefully encourage or help another.
    Clomid and Cabernet recently posted..Ask Dr. Marc: Cycle ConversionsMy Profile

    • ML@My3LittleBirds says:

      Exactly Katie. That’s why I love your blog. I share personal and sometimes painful details and experiences as well, but it comes from a place of wanting others to benefit or understand that they’re not alone– not from wanting attention, praise, or traffic.

  12. This is a wonderful post. And so very true. I try to stay on the safe side of that line… especially where my husband and family are concerned. Some things should remain private and sacred.
    Jana (@jana0926) recently posted..Being Alone. What is that?My Profile

  13. This is interesting and something I’m sure I will think about for a while. I definitely fall on the more personal side of the line, though hopefully I’m not over it. I try to have a positive slant to my personal posts, or at least a purpose for them. There’s lots of stuff I don’t write about but please tell me if I’m becoming a train wreck! ;)
    Robin | Farewell Stranger recently posted..No JoyMy Profile

  14. A very interesting post. I have to wonder what subjects people write about out there to warrant this. I don’t read most blogs, they tend to not appeal to me, they don’t come from the same place as I do and nor do many seem to care to draw in people similar to me. I know I’ve written some very difficult pieces but I’m interested in connecting with and helping support others who are or have gone through the same situations as I have. Because when I was growing up, there really weren’t many other immigrant kids for me to relate to. I hope that it doesn’t mean I come across as doing the negative which you write about here. Now you have me wondering. Thanks for inspiring!
    Polish Mama on the Prairie recently posted..Movies On TV For Polish AmericansMy Profile

  15. Tina Swithin says:

    I blog about extremely personal topics (Divorcing a Narcissist) however, I feel that the world would be a better place if we shared honestly. Ironically, I just addressed this issue today (Airing my Dirty Laundry) in my own blog:

  16. Ado says:

    I think this is a wonderful post. But reading it made me feel a little “seen” not because I write for validation (although of course, that is surely true – as we all do, otherwise why do we publish it for public consumption, we could just write it in our diaries). It made me feel seen because I do push the envelope of what’s comfortable for me to share – and because of it I’ve grown. I use my blog partly as a way of therapy and release – I get to talk about things (like my mother’s anorexia, my parent’s alcoholism) that I kept hidden my whole life … and yet now, suddenly, I am able to reveal this stuff. And because of it I feel the growth and yes, definitely, the validation. And that is really – for this bloggy-mama – a very, very good thing!
    Ado recently posted..Welcome ScrumpletMy Profile

    • ML@My3LittleBirds says:

      I do the same thing, Ado, in terms of pushing the envelope. Those of us who follow your blog get a sense of where you’re coming from and why you do what you do, and that’s what keeps us coming back.

  17. Shannon Lell says:

    The byline of my blog is, “when you are your authentic self you give others the unspoken permission to be their authentic self.” I believe this whole-heartedly. I believe that by seeing that another person has struggled with similar things and has found a way to overcome, get stronger or learn forgiveness, then that is the purpose. That is the healing power of story. Behind every personal detail I share, there is a reason, a lesson to be learned. To watch someone put words to their pain is not necessarily a bad thing if there’s good to be done because of it. However, I do see the point6 behind Jeff Goins post referring to the irrelevance of sharing too much w/o having a purpose. As you said, its a thin line to walk.

  18. Anna says:

    Wow, this is a great piece and something that I’ve thought about and struggled with as well. I’ve shared some of my own personal struggles or stories (and only my own) and at times, have been terrified to hit “publish”. Is this too much? Is it too personal? Will it make people reading it uncomfortable? My honest intention is always to express myself, share an experience so others know they are not alone or to help and uplift. Blogging has been cathartic and helped me work some things out but hopefully, has helped others as well. I do know what you mean though, you can tell when someone’s intentions are really cries for attention or kind of phony to try and “fit in”. I just read and move on. We can only honor ourselves and keep our own intentions pure. There will be good and not so great people or things everywhere. I will say, I’ve discovered some amazing, talented people and writers in blog world :)
    Anna recently posted..A Pretty Sweet GigMy Profile

  19. memomuse says:

    Thanks for this post. This was very well written. I liked your metaphors. Great example of creative nonfiction. It is a strange line. I fall into that trap and often get stuck by the giant bear trap claws. Writing is an art, but can art be truly seen without people gazing at the art gallery walls. There is so much excess and so many voices, and often a lot without voice. Your piece was elegantly written and quite graceful. I validate the part of you that knew this was that good.

    I read a good piece, and I will have to find it (hold on let me google it) about being a boutique blog rather than a Walmart and Target size blog. Really good piece. I am going to put your post on her comment list. Is that trackbacking. I am still learning.

    I look forward to reading your blog. I really enjoyed your writing style.
    “Follow me and I’ll follow you back” – Just kidding – just be cheeky, like my buddy Thomas!
    Hope. Wish. Dream. Be. ~ memomuse

  20. I have pretty strong lines drawn between my blog and my real life even if people who read my blog find that hard to believe.
    Alex@LateEnough recently posted..I Refuse To Be Special Because I Chose To Be A MotherMy Profile

  21. I struggle with what to post on a weekly basis, because I’m still not sure what I am willing to share, still after 3 years, still defining myself. I do think that every blogger has the right to “It’s my blog, and I can post what I want to”. And it if drives traffic, or comments, or validation I guess that is what that particular blogger needs or wants. What I do not like is the horrible comments I see, bullying, or general put downs. It’s not necessary, but I guess if it’s put out there, well, we’re putting ourselves out there for that. Interesting post!

  22. memomuse says:

    I am not sure what just happened, but one of my blog posts is attaching itself. How did you get your blog designed with the Blog Her thing at the top? Is it a wordpress blog or a Blogger blog?
    That is a cute design. Who is Wacky Jacqui? I will check it out.
    memomuse recently posted..I’m Not AloneMy Profile

  23. Lisa says:

    This is such an important topic! Thank you, Mary Lauren, for your thoughts on this! I’m relatively new to blogging and although I have shared a few (carefully edited) personal posts here and there, I generally keep it “light” and art/design related. I see a lot of praise for articles that deal with very personal topics. While I appreciate this kind of vulnerability and openness, I worry about the consequences such sharing can have – especially in terms of family/friends and current/future employers. So, while my boundaries are well defined, I would like to believe that I too can have an authentic voice.

  24. Leslie says:

    Sometimes I long to get a little more personal. Reading some blogs I’ve wondered if in a way it’s “fake” not to overshare, like if by leaving out some details I’m giving a false impression. Yet not all the stories are mine to share–how can they be, in a family? And I admit to wanting some validation, not for my life or my choices, but for the way I write and the ideas I present. Anyway, my thoughts are jumbled but you’ve definitely given me things to ponder. Thanks.
    Leslie recently posted..The Future Is in Her HandsMy Profile

  25. Patty says:

    At the time I started blogging, I had reached an impasse in writing my book of memoirs about my late mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease and with me, her sole caregiver. My blog’s title is the name of that book. In the past two years, much of what I’ve shared has been chapters of my work. Whatever feedback that I have received has helped me with necessary revisions but, more importantly, it’s given me wonderful inspiration to keep writing and reach my goal of getting published.

    There is nothing I share on my blog that my family and friends don’t know about me but what they are learning is how I coped as a child and how I’ve grown as an adult. From this comes feedback that no one sees, the comments that no one else sees, private messages that bring understanding and requests for advice, on caregiving and being a survivor of child abuse. Apart from this, I have little interest in driving traffic to my blog. I write for me and for those I leave behind.

    Because of blogging, I’ve managed to discover a different side of myself which allows me to explore different topics and dabble in sarcasm and humor, a more light-hearted sharing of stories which defines the real me who has learned to enjoy life from a healthier perspective.

    Jeff Goins makes some valid points and I really don’t disagree but, any writer who shares, either on a blog, or published work, especially memoirs, has some element of personal information out there. Shannon Lell summed it up perfectly….”I believe that by seeing that another person has struggled with similar things and has found a way to overcome, get stronger or learn forgiveness, then that is the purpose.”

    Excellent post, ML. Thank you!
    Patty recently posted..What I do best is…My Profile

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