Does it even matter what we write on social media?
After all, it’s just Facebook, it’s just Twitter, it’s just Instagram. Some people would say that what we write on social media is transitory, inconsequential, silly. It’s there, and it’s gone. It’s a snapshot of what’s going on that does’t mean much more than the passing remarks we make to a friend.
I can’t argue that much of social media is undeniably silly. It has a tendency to bring out the immature and impulsive in many of us.
But I think, and I tell my patients, that what they write on social media matters.
It’s not just a snapshot of where we are at an instant in time. It’s more than that.
Social media, like all of our communications, is about more than us communicating with others out there in the world. It’s also us communicating with us.
What we write on social media doesn’t just reflect where we are at the moment. It reflects who we are— and who we’re trying to be.
Your brain and your self-esteem is always listening.
They notice when you post, time and time again, how upset you are.
They notice when you post, time and time again, how you’re struggling.
They notice when you post, time and time again, how other people are the cause of your problems.
They notice, and they take those messages to heart. When you post something on social media, you’re not just reporting on your present condition; you’re at least partially creating who you are.
We all know that person who consistently posts on social media about their struggles, their disappointments, their problems. Social media, by its very nature, kind of invites and encourages those “venting” posts. Because it’s an easy way to access many of our friends, venting on social media can be a quick way to rack up some validation when we need it.
I don’t think there’s anything problematic about venting on social media. Venting is healthy. It’s part of the human condition. Supportive friendships and relationships have space for venting.
But we all know that person who seems to do nothing BUT vent on social media.
They’re “vague booking” (Internet slang for posting dramatic, but nonspecific, status updates about their frustrations or struggles).
They’re complaining about everyone else who is clearly the problem in their lives.
They’re reposting various memes and posts that describe hopelessness and pain.
Again, what I’m talking about here isn’t the normal venting that most everybody does periodically. I’m talking about a pattern of posting to social media, again and again and again, posts that cluster around themes of hopelessness and frustration…but without any kind of balance.
I don’t think that pattern is helpful.
Yes, it’s human to want to express ourselves; and yes, a lot of the time, when we’re in pain, we want to express that pain. I’m not saying that we should just shut our pain away and only express positive things on social media.
What I’m saying is that if we do nothing but express our struggles and pain on social media, it does more than impact the people reading it. It impacts our core identity.
We become not only what we regularly think about, but what we regularly express.
It alarms me when I see people— often unintentionally— seeming to build an identity around their pain and struggles. It alarms me because if pain and struggle have worked their way into your core identity, then it becomes difficult to give up pain and struggle…even when it’s possible to do so.
I don’t think people should have to police their social media content and carefully balance out the good with the bad. I’m a fan of authentic expression at all times, and I know that there are absolutely dark periods we go through where there’s just more pain to report than pleasure.
That said: we need to be cognizant of the patterns we create with our communication.
We need to be aware of focusing on problems to the exclusion of solutions.
We need to be aware of what we’re communicating not just to the outside world, but to ourselves, about who we are and what’s possible for our lives.
All of which is to say: be mindful of what you post.
Be mindful of what you post, and pay attention to where your focus is.
It’s really, really hard to focus on solutions if you’re obsessed with problems.
And it’s really, really hard to not become obsessed with problems when problems become a distinguishing characteristic of your social media presence.
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