To Follow or to Unfollow

By Jessica Glynn, LMSW

Social media can be joyous when we connect with an old friend or loved ones in different geographical locations by way of photographs and updates. However, certain of those we “follow” may not be people we actually enjoy seeing pop up on our news feed. Nor do we particularly want to be reminded of them. We stay “friends” merely for our number of followers and the possible “likes” they may come with. I have been told many times that to get likes, you have to give likes. This type of thinking is when social media can actually start to become a nervous obsession of scrolling, checking and the constant urge to stay connected for fear of missing out (#FOMO). 

So what are we actually looking for during all of this checking and searching? Perhaps it's to see where people went out, who they were with and how great of a time they were having? But, why? It isn’t like we would necessarily be going out with these people, or even have a desire to, but for some reason we feel like we are missing out. The reason is comparison. We are comparing and contrasting what we have done to what others are doing. The problem with this is that most people only publish pictures that depict a happy, successful and wonderful life. This comparing often leads to insecurities and negativity about oneself and ones’ accomplishments. Feeling that we are “behind” in some way because we haven’t gotten engaged, married, had children, bought our first property, etc. The list of "have nots" can go on and on.

Other hazardous search patterns are those of former romantic partners, ex- friends and perhaps even “frenemies.” Maybe a past romantic interest left you hanging a while back and is now all of a sudden liking your pictures. What could that possibly mean? The level of skepticism could become increasingly distracting and stressful. What about the distress caused by an ex’s first picture with the new person they are dating? Devastating! Now you are not only obsessing about what they are doing together, but also checking and rechecking their new love interest’s page because maybe there will be signs that it is not as serious as you think, or some indication that they broke up. And, of course, throughout all of this searching there is also basking in the joy of the pictures where you definitely look prettier or more handsome than the new person in their life. Again, these are all unhealthy comparisons and narratives that take up time that could be better spent.

There is good news though! You have the right to decide if you want to continue following them. If following a particular person is making you feel sad, stressed, anxious, angry or any emotion that just doesn’t feel so good, unfollowing might be your best decision. It is hard to do this because looking at these people becomes a habit and once you unfollow them you won’t know what they are “doing” anymore. Giving up the access to that knowledge can be very difficult, but could inevitably be very freeing and uplifting when you no longer have to be dragged down by the negative emotions that they induce. Your time and energy can then be focused on the positivity that exist in your present life and away from the virtual world we call Social Media.

Jessica Glynn, LMSW is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you find yourself seeking support with navigating social media and relationships visit cobbpsychotherapy.com to learn more about how therapy can help.