It never fails: I log on to Facebook to make sure that my weekly blog posted, quickly scroll down the first page, and a subtle yet pervasive feeling of emptiness washes over me. It’s the feeling that punctuated my middle and high school days as I fell prey to the pernicious belief that others who had more money and more stylish clothes were cooler than I was. I’ve long since left those days and beliefs behind, but something about the Facebook culture is oddly reminiscent of that adolescent stage.
Perhaps it’s because the foundation of Facebook is collecting as many “friends”, likes, and comments as possible and these numbers are blatantly displayed on everyone’s page like trophies. Or perhaps it’s because it’s an environment where people generally only show their best selves and fail to expose their shadows. Whatever the reason, I’m left with a negative feeling when I spend too much time there, a feeling that underlines the “not enough” mentality that permeates our culture. It’s the same feeling I used to have when I watched “Friends” or read People Magazine: the feeling that I want someone else’s life when the reality is that I love my life. It’s the feeling I have when I’m around image, fantasy, and half-truths.
The bottom line is that very few people – if anyone – tell the whole truth on Facebook. Most people present a skewed slice of their life which is inevitably their “best”, most polished self. This creates a fantasy world where the message is: Nobody struggles. Nobody questions. Nobody has anxiety. Nobody has depression. Nobody doubts. This message obviously belies the reality that millions of Americans are on anti-anxiety medication and antidepressants, but this reality isn’t depicted on Facebook. Which only leads to more anxiety and depression, more medication, and more misery.
It probably won’t surprise you to hear how many of my clients and ecourse members share my experience after being on Facebook. Women feel particularly horrible after a trolling through that dreaded virtual world as they are conditioned to “compare and despair”. Raised in an image-based culture that prizes the external qualities of beauty and style above all else as measures of self-worth, girls grow into women striving to prove themselves and fit in by being “perfect” and achieving in all ways. Facebook culture reinforces these negative beliefs and amplifies the illusion that everyone else has it all together: they’re more attractive, have better looking partners, better clothes, have traveled more, have better jobs, make more money, etc, etc ad nauseum.
So why do they continue to look? It becomes a habit, and habits are hard to break. They tell themselves lies like, “What if so-and-so won’t be able to connect with me?” or “What if I don’t hear about the latest social gathering?” Facebook is easy to access and it offers the illusion of connection, a dangling carrot of a momentary high as you log on and search for… what? An escape from reality? A tidbit of gossip? Stop for a moment and ask yourself what you’re really receiving from it.
The easiest way to break a habit is to remove the object of allure. If you want to stop eating sugar, don’t have it around. If you want to stop checking your iPhone every five minutes, turn it off or leave it at home (gasp!). And if you want to stop hanging around the Facebook lounge, delete your account. If you can’t access it at the click of your fingers, you simply won’t go there anymore. It’s as simple as that.
Despite how blasphemous this may sound, it’s entirely possible to do it. This post was actually inspired by one of my clients, a highly sensitive and intelligent twenty-two year old graduate student, who recently deleted her Facebook account. She said she’s so much happier without Facebook in her life, and that many of her friends, also highly sensitive and devoted to their studies, have deleted their accounts as well.
“I see it happening more and more among my peers,” she said.
“Really? That’s surprising and inspiring.”
“Yes. We just realized how bad it made us feel and we decided to delete it. I have a friend overseas who asked how he’ll communicate with me now and I said, ‘Just send an email!’ I know that people plan social gatherings through Facebook, but I figure that if they really want me there, they’ll find another way to let me know.”
Yes, it’s true: the world existed before Facebook. People have communicated and planned social gatherings for thousands of years without Facebook. I know it might feel like you’re disconnecting from the human race by deleting your Facebook account, but if you’re not.
And imagine what you could do with all of that free time! Imagine what creative endeavors or interesting ideas have been sucked into the vortex of Facebook! I’m not suggesting throwing away your computer or mobile device, but I am encouraging you to consider how you use your digital gadget: Is it a way to escape and avoid or is it a tool for expression and learning? I know there is value in Facebook, especially when people use it as a resource for social action or spread the word about their work and creative endeavors, but if you sit down and ask yourself if the value outweighs the misery, what is your answer?