In the age of social media and online sharing, it is more important than ever to think about how these avenues of communication affect our mental wellbeing. While Facebook allows us to connect with hundreds or even thousands of people across the world, does it really connect us? Or does it distance us from our communities?
In an article examining the negative effects associated with Facebook, The New Yorker cites psychologist Beth Anderson and her colleagues as saying: “Using the network can quickly become addictive, which comes with a nagging sense of negativity that can lead to resentment of the network for some of the same reasons we joined it to begin with. We want to learn about other people and have others learn about us -- but through that very learning process we may start to resent both others’ lives and the image of ourselves that we feel we need to continuously maintain.”
Although Facebook can be a positive tool for connection, it can also be a source of great dissatisfaction. The very nature of Facebook (i.e., profile pictures, photo albums and tagging, public statuses and wall posts) is competitive. We are free to communicate via private messaging, but because public sharing is highly encouraged, the website can turn into one big bragging fest. When we don’t get enough “likes” or comments on something we’ve shared (or we get none -- quelle horreur!), it can create feelings of peer disapproval, social isolation and social rejection. When we see that our friends’ posts have garnered more attention than our own, we feel unpopular and socially inept -- because the number of likes we receive equals our worth to society, right?! Clearly not, but that is how we (consciously or subconsciously) perceive things to be.
The New Yorker author Maria Konnikiva also points out that Facebook can be harmful to relationships because it can easily create unwarranted feelings of envy and jealousy. The fact of the matter is that Facebook can easily tap into our deepest insecurities and vulnerabilities, making us feel like outsiders and weirdos. It’s almost impossible not to compare ourselves to other Facebook users, especially because our hundreds of “friends” are usually our peers, so we can’t help but feel bad about ourselves when we go on Facebook and see our “friends” have new jobs, new boyfriends, etc.
We can probably all agree that abandoning the Internet as a means of communication is unrealistic. So how can we connect with others online, yet still preserve our sense of self-worth and overall happiness? One great way to connect with others in a convenient and safe environment is to join an online support group. Online support groups offer a totally different social media experience: Instead of logging on to a busy feed filled with bachelorette party pics, college admission or new job statuses, and sappy wall posts by overly-affectionate couples, online support groups offer us a place free of judgment or competition, where we can say exactly what’s on our mind, no matter how dark or “weird” we may sound.
While Facebook makes us want to keep our personal issues as hidden as possible, online support groups encourage us to talk about our sources of unhappiness, and in this way we can examine, confront and possibly even overcome our problems with the help of others. Why not try to connect with others who share the same questions, stories or concerns that you have? Most likely, you will find a community of like-minded people who need your support just as much as you need theirs. Most online support group communities are free and easy to find, so why not try one out? In just a few minutes, you may discover a whole new form of online interaction -- one that makes you feel good about yourself and good about the world.