Outpouring on social media can be cathartic – but there are also downsides
We all like a good vent – but outpouring on social media is no replacement for in-person or professional support
It is very common today to see outpouring on social media. This can include posts and status updates on feelings, reactions and statements about personal issues on Facebook and other popular platforms. For any regular Facebook users their online persona becomes an extension of who they are as they live their lives in what is essentially the open public domain, even if they think their privacy settings are secure. The ability and facility to pour out their hearts on topics that are important to them is significant. Some are short. Others are lengthy. Not all are emotional or abusive. Think about the 3000+ word Google memo that was posted on an internal online platform by the now fired James Damore. Some people ask for advice on even the most mundane topics. It suggests that the online network is more important than a physical one.
In my network alone in the past week I have seen issues that might suggest depression and anxiety, serious medical concerns, plus professional and relationship issues. There are also comments filled with abuse, profanity and hate, with very little thought about what that content implies about a psychological state. But there is a big difference between posting online and getting in person support or professional and medical help, and even treatment. The dangers of outpouring on social media are also very real. Women are twice as active on social media as men and are more likely to fall into this trap than their male counterparts.
It’s important to understand the appeal of this type of interaction. Individuals rely on clicks and interaction of their network to their posts. One psychologist suggests:
Many people feel more comfortable sharing issues and concerns with their online network than their physical friendship group. Although this isn’t totally anonymous, the process is more indirect and therefore less intimate and interactive. The “poster” gains the perception of control and balance. In a face to face conversation emotions are more likely to surface. The person feels “less together “ and more likely to be judged and found wanting. Sometimes any advice proffered isn’t neutral and even misguided.
Each little “emoji” click is a dopamine hit to the brain says research from RadiumOne, a marketing company based in San Francisco. “Every time we post, share, ‘like,’ comment or send an invitation online, we are creating an expectation,” according to the study. “We feel a sense of belonging and advance our concept of self through sharing.” This chain reaction can become addictive.
Some find the process of outpouring on social media cathartic. Jenny struggled after her divorce and found comfort in the support of her online friends.
“I found that ordering my thoughts and posting helped me with the grieving process and sense of loss. Mixing with others who had been in a similar situation made me feel less isolated. It also took less time than going to an actual support meeting and was cheaper than seeing a therapist.”
But online outpouring or sharing should not be a replacement for therapy or professional support. Very often these emotional posts or even status updates which seem calm and collected on the surface, can be a cry for help. We are not even getting into the dark side of social media activity of cyber bullying. This is one of the reasons why more and more mental health professionals are embracing social media as a way of reaching clients. But these professionals have strict codes of conduct related to confidentiality. The concern from professionals is that much of this outpouring on social media is an indication of someone’s psychological state which can be shared and used to their disadvantage at some later date.
The golden rule of “would you do the same in 10 years” should apply. For young people brain development doesn’t finish until the mid-20s. In by gone eras the fallout from our misspent youth would be consigned to the past. Now all our mistakes great and small can be retrieved from an archive in the cloud. Posts sharing personal angst may seem authentic and show another side to a personality but can create a damaging impression especially for professionals. Above all posting is no substitute for personal contact.
There is a lot to think about. And when in doubt the perceived wisdom is.. don’t. Pick up the phone, see a friend or family member, go to a workshop, look for a doctor, counsellor, mentor or a coach. But make it personal contact!
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