[Two Pronged] How to get over my online alter ego
Rappler's Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master's degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives.
Dear Dr Holmes and Mr Baer,
I hope this letter finds both of you in perfect health.
I am an avid fan of yours, Dr Holmes, from back in my UP days. Unfortunately, I was not able to take any of your GE classes because of its extremely high demand. Now, almost a decade has passed, and it feels good to be writing this letter like a student writing a journal, and sharing my story with you.
Let me begin with a short introduction of myself and the "alter" world. I am Master A in the "alter" world of the social app Twitter. "Alter" is a virtual world where people with an alter ego – a side of their personality that they cannot show in the "real" world because of shame or fear of being unaccepted by society – gather. Though the "alter" world is not real, being famous in it still gives a feeling of fame and self-worth. With fame, there is a wider audience and there are higher chances of meeting people of your preference.
While most people use the "alter" world as a venue for hookups like other social apps such as WeChat, Grindr, PR, Scruff, etc, some use their account as a platform for promotion of HIV awareness or promotion of events and social gatherings.
My followers on Twitter refer to me as "Master." I created my alter account last year and to be honest, I find gaining popularity in this virtual world very enjoyable. To date, my Twitter account has around 35,000 followers. When my posts hit a high number of likes and retweets, my ego gets boosted. Somehow, it makes me think I have good talent in "video-making."
Aside from that, getting many likes makes me think that I have a good figure – and not to mention, an above average dick size – to be proud of. This "alter" world soon became a show-off venue of what I have and of what I enjoy doing – posting clips of my wild sexual adventures – a side of me that I cannot really be proud of in the "real" world, of what I must not show in the "real" world.
Like, who cares if you like doing blowjobs on a fire exit or quickies on a rooftop? Who cares if you have good-looking guys around who love to get fucked by you? Who damn cares? On "alter," it matters a whole lot.
"Alter" guys look up to me, idolize me, and I get a lot of requests – invites for a casual hook-up. Some even try to be romantic with me.
My problem is actually manageable but I do think there are a lot of people addicted to "alter" these days. The population of the "alter" world is mostly composed of "closeted," young, and professional guys who hide their identity because they need to. Some I know are married.
I hypothesize that the frequency of the use of "alter" is proportional to his addiction to it, and I must admit, I am one of them. But I learned not to use "alter" as much or as frequently as I used to.
The only problem is, I am not sure how soon I will be able to get over my "alter" account, or if I will ever be able to. Like all experts believe, there is a thing called "fame addiction" and celebrities aren't the only people suffering from it. My addiction has caused personal problems and it almost cost me my relationship with my long-term partner. Being in the limelight also puts me at a higher risk of exposure. Not only from being exposed to STDs due to the increased sexual activity promoted by "alter;" but also being exposed, which can cost me my reputation, and thus, my career. I am not ready to lose everything yet, including "alter," but I know I have to get out of it.
In the end, I plan to use this fame to spread HIV awareness as more people are engaging in unsafe and high-risk activities.
Thank you and more power,
Thank you for your email.
It seems from your account that you have a very clear understanding of the alter world, its attractions, its dangers, your role within it, and the (good and bad) options available to you. What is also clear is that while you know all this, you have not yet reached the point at which you are ready to make a decision about your future.
Your own analysis suggests that you have to evaluate, and keep evaluating, the extent to which your alter life puts at risk two important facets of your non-alter life: your relationship with your long-term partner and your reputation/career. You obviously are ambivalent at present because it seems that the allure of being a celebrity outweighs these risks.
Online celebrityhood is somewhat different from other forms of celebrityhood in that it can be achieved from home with only virtual interaction with other people and without revealing any facet of one's persona except what one posts. Its ingredients are however the same – words, images, music - as is its potential to be addictive.
The question therefore arises: are you attracted or addicted to celebrityhood? Freud is famous inter alia for defining the difference by reference to one's ability to work and love. You do not report any difficulty but the fact that you recognize the possibility of problems in the future should give you reason to reevaluate matters now.
Addiction to celebrityhood has received relatively little academic attention to date. Several small studies have been completed, some of which are already quite dated. You would however be wise to research the subject and become better informed, if only to be better placed to analyze your situation and know how to deal with it should its dangers start to outweigh its attractions. Please write again if there are any other aspects you wish to air.
All the best,
Thank you very much for your letter and for introducing us to the alter world. Because you have explained this world so well, I feel I do not have to expound on this more, except where it intersects with your fears about being addicted to fame and/or being hurt (either in love and work) by your ongoing activities there.
First, let us refer to the definition of addiction used by an organization that has truly studied it – the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). Their definition is founded on evidence-based studies and thoughtful consideration and discussion among peers.
In other words, its definition is not a simplified-yet-able-to-come-across-as- scientific because a PhD or MD with a TV show or column happens to define it a certain way. Of course, it is possible that such doctors have a strong sense of responsibility to share accurately, but in my clinical experience, in order to increase viewership and/or readership, the tendency is to "dumb down" what addiction truly is and to ratchet up all its supposed (and supposedly irreversible) effects.
According to ASAM's website, addiction is "a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry, reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors."
Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one's behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.
Frankly, nothing you write makes me think you are addicted to fame. And I see no reason (aside from your wanting to) to give up your alter doings, at least at the level you are engaged in now.
You can obviously control the amount of time and energy you spend on the alter world. You are aware of the possible repercussions of being as involved as you are now.
In other words, you are fully aware that living in this alter world might cause you problems if you do not continue to be careful.
Many of the things you enjoy in your alter world are experiences others would also enjoy, alter world or not: having 35,000 followers, having high numbers of likes and retweets, knowing you have a good body, etc.
In addition there are other things that are different from what many in the non-alter world experience. You ask, "Who cares if you like having blowjobs in a fire exit or quickies on a rooftop and have good-looking guys around who love to get fucked by you?" You might even have continued with, "Who cares if others know I have an above average dick size?"
Answer: Many people do, and many more would were they in the enviable positions you have created for yourself.
Being an alter makes you think you are talented in "video-making," because you probably are. You add, "The alter world has become a venue of what I have and of what I enjoy doing;" that's great and more power to you.
It seems the alter world serves a function for you and others who cannot show their true selves to others. I hope it helps other "alters" realize that they need not be accepted by everyone and anybody who judges them based on superficially meaningless criteria has more of a problem than they do.
I do not mean to trivialize your concerns, but I would like to put them in what I feel is a broader perspective: It is not the alter world per se that led to your relationship problems, but (possibly) the infidelity, betrayal, lack of honesty (or downright lying) that happened and would rupture any relationship, be it in the alter world or not.
In other words, by all means, master, diminish or even stop your engagement in the alter world but do it because this alter world no longer serves you any useful purpose/benefit.
Your other very real concern – repercussions on your health, reputation, career – I will write about in my column Clinical Notes.
All the best,
Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.