Happy September (Recovery Month)! School’s back in session and vacations are over for many. If you’re like most, you’ve been seeing everyone’s summer pics on facebook and Instagram. While you might expect this post, written by a Professional Counselor, to talk about the influence of social media on self-esteem or depression, I want to invite you into a more personal journey- one of compulsive behavior, learning, and communication.
The Back Story
My days started to become more efficient at work; I found creative ways to engage or disengage with people; I was less stressed over the high dose of negative news I was seeing; I let go of the pressure of having to keep up with posting or needing to respond; I focused on the core things that mattered as opposed to the (look, a SQUIRREL!) distractions.
I began to see how compulsive I had become, even a little dependent. I felt fear about missing out on something. I got a “hit” (or high) from that next new message or like or share in my notifications. I had worried if someone didn’t respond soon enough.
The Addiction Framework
Even though a year break taught me about my personal misuse of social media, don’t expect a crusade AGAINST social media from me today. As much as I benefited from my “vacation,” there were a few things I missed out on, too. I overlooked a few announcements (sorry for missing that birthday heads-up). I lost a bit of connection to the world around me. In essence, some communication was actually stunted for me. And I missed out on a little healthy distraction I find encouraging.
The Rest of the Story
The modality of communicating by tech IS effective and helpful for many. We can complain all day about children not learning to communicate well because they “can’t even” (and I do believe that is a concern to be aware of as a parent). However, social media can be helpful.
Social media is a communication platform. Whether we like it or not, things like social media are the new telegram or front porch conversation of years ago. And they don’t appear to be going away any time soon, only adapting and changing.
As with many things in this world, the actual vehicle of social media may be relatively neutral- what makes it egocentric, compulsive, and harmful OR helpful and relational, is likely thepurpose and motivation and heart behind its use. I want to be “linked in” to the latter so I can live free, not compulsively.
Let’s do a quick survey of what’s supposed to happen. Children start out with 100% dependency upon their mother. Ideally, a child needs to move to 100% self-responsibility. Of course, this excludes circumstances of intensive disability and so forth. Somewhere between that delicate balance of connection and individuality is where we spend much time struggling in our relationships. It takes work and intentionality to make individuation happen- on both sides (parents and children). In fact, if you don’t have a good paradigm for it, there will be problems.
In counseling, an important term is differentiation. Developmentally, it is one of the hardest tasks for parents and children alike- transitioning a dependent human being to independence. Differentiation means being connected in relationship and also maintaining a unique self and identity. The opposite extremes are enmeshment and disengagement. Enmeshment doesn’t allow or respect separation- you must do, say, and think what the other person does, or you are wrong. Disengagement draws such separate lines that intimacy can’t happen- closeness with someone who is distant is impossible. Differentiation, on the other hand, allows for closeness and understands what uniquely belongs to the individual (thoughts, feelings, etc.). A differentiated individual feels the pain and joy of another person making their own decisions relative to their development, all the while accepting responsibility for self.
Example: a child’s future goals. Parents that believe their child’s best is college and then a stable, conventional job in accounting don’t have bad goals. They may even know that this would be a great fit for their child. But if their child-blooming-into-an-adult doesn’t want this, and maybe adamantly opposes it, navigating these waters is arduous for both sides.
Every situation is unique, and different factors require varying levels of application, which is why counseling can be such a help. However, a necessary start is to identify what is healthy. You can ask yourself, “Where do my responsibilities begin/end, and how about for the other person?” One of the hardest rules to live by is: You cannot change other people. This is just as true for me as for anyone. I can only provide feedback, resources, tools, support, and boundaries. What the other person does is up to them. If we try to force or coddle, we allow and create emotional injuries.
What we can always do is be responsible for ourselves, learn how to be in relationships, find effective ways to interact and influence others, and grow up. I’m still working on that one….
Justin K. Hughes