catfishcrpdUrban Dictionary defines “catfish” as “someone who pretends to be someone they are not online; to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.”  I just watched the “Catfish” documentary (I know, I’m a little behind), which first brought widespread attention to the phenomenon, and it got me thinking:

Why do some people grow up to behave this way?  How do we protect our children from catfish, but also from becoming catfish themselves?

On one level, the answer is, We don’t.  Parents don’t control every variable, and we can’t ensure what kind of people our children become.  It’s better to accept that right from the start.

But obviously, we influence our children.  We can help build up their self-esteem so that they’re less likely to become predators, or prey.

In reading about the Catfish phenomenon–the perpetrators and the victims–what jumps out at me is that the people involved often have some sort of interlocking pathology.  The catfish wants very much to be seen in a particular light, and will try to see the victim in a positive light, too (with lots of flattery, for example), and the victim wants to believe in that other person so much that he/she is willing to overlook what are often fairly unsophisticated techniques and thereby abandon common sense.

In other words: They’re both getting something they need.  What that seems to be, most commonly, is a big dose of self-regard.

I’m not excusing the Catfish’s dishonesty, or willingness to meet his or her needs at the expense of others.  But often, there seems to be a lot of self-deception.  The Catfish starts to believe in his or her own story, almost like a mild case of what used to be called multiple personality disorder (and is now known as dissociative identity disorder.)

The Catfish might be so uncomfortable, and so disappointed, by who he or she has turned out to be, that they have to believe in some other aspect of themselves that’s gone unrealized.  And there’s a lot of feel compassionate about, when you think about it that way.

That’s where I go back to parenting.  Now, I don’t know for sure what all the Catfish of the world experienced as children, or what kind of hurts they’ve gone through since.  But as a parent, I can think about the ways to build self-esteem.  Some of those are different than was commonly thought.

For example, the self-esteem movement of late–where we praise children indiscriminately, where everyone gets a ribbon or a trophy–is turning out to be inadequate for the task.  In my next post, I’ll talk about what are some proven ways to build healthy self-esteem.

But in the meantime, if you haven’t seen it, rent “Catfish.”  It’ll probably get you thinking, too.

Catfish photo available from Shutterstock