No matter how you feel about it, Facebook is at the center of the social media universe. According to Pew Research, 76% of American Internet users were on Facebook in 2015. Currently, approximately 40% of world Internet users have Facebook accounts. We use it, our friends use it, our parents, our kids, our coworkers, our religious leaders, our politicians. It’s used to socialize, promote businesses, promote ourselves, inform, make plans, send invitations.
It’s also used to bully, berate, defame, prey, rant, and shame. It’s a platform for racism, sexism, heterosexism, and every other -ism in the dictionary. It has widened our social horizons, but it has also diminished our ability to interact with other humans face to face. While it feeds the basic human need to connect with others, it also nurtures isolation, and I think this is a key reason bullying, racism, etc., are so easy to pursue on Facebook.
These days, I barely use Facebook, and most of the time my account is deactivated. It’s a personal choice I made last fall for my own peace of mind. In fact, just removing Facebook from my life reduced the amount of stimuli I had to deal with, which reduced some stress. But there was more to it. And it’s all rising to the surface again this week as I’ve been pressured by several friends to end my Facebook abstinence. And so I want to explain.
This isn’t the first time I’ve deactivated my Facebook account. I’ve taken several two- to three-month hiatuses over the years. I used the time to finish my thesis and work on big projects at the office and at home. Time is the key word here. Facebook eats time for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and midnight snacks. I would guess the main reason anyone might take a break from Facebook is time. But for me, this current hiatus goes deeper.
When I deactivated my account last fall, I was newly separated and divorced, working full-time, parenting two middle schoolers, working on severe anxiety with my counselor, and trying to make ends meet. I was sad, anxious, depressed, and harassed. I knew just walking away from Facebook would bring my stress levels down. But I resisted it for a while.
Facebook Messenger was how I communicated with friends and family, and how would I know of my ex-husband posted something about the kids, or worse, about me. What if something big happened or if my friends didn’t know how to reach me any other way? I feared isolating myself and losing touch.
Then I realized that some of these things I was using to justify staying were actually making my life more stressful. And in the end, it was three of these triggers that sent me flying for the “deactivate” option, the same three triggers that came immediately to mind this week.
- My sister was madly posting anti-divorce memes and quotes, and making judgmental statements on a regular basis and more often than usual since my separation.
- My ex-husband was posting shirtless selfies for no-shave November on at least a weekly basis, the sight of which made me uneasy.
- My Facebook feed was filled with pictures of amazing, happy couples, and looking at them made me feel beyond sad. Especially those of a particular friend whom I had developed feelings for in recent months.
Feeling angry and hurt, disgusted and sad weren’t worth it. I needed to take care of myself. I left Facebook to ease mind, and it helped. I knew I was missing out on some things. I’d hear, “Did you see that cool story on Facebook?” Or, “Did you get my message?” And I’d have to remind family members I didn’t see their announcements because I’m not on Facebook. But most of my friends easily made the adjustment. They found other ways to message with me, or they called me.
And the longer I was away, the more I realized I didn’t actually miss it. I didn’t need all the minute updates of friends’ and family members’ lives. I didn’t need the stress of happy couples. I didn’t need the stress of other people’s anger or judgment. I didn’t need to see my ex-husband—or anyone else—exposing himself to the world.
Since I’ve been asked to return to Facebook again this week, I’ve had to reconsider these things I don’t need or miss. Are the things I want, the things I do miss worth the anxiety or shame or sadness I could experience going back? Am I taking care of myself if I return to a situation I already know will cause a great deal of stress?
It’s possible my sister won’t post divorce things anymore. It’s not November, so my ex likely won’t be posting pictures of his beard (and chest). But my friends are still in love, and there will always be judgment and always be stressors.
People are isolated, anonymous, so it’s easier to share one’s opinion—to force one’s opinion on one’s friends, colleagues, acquaintances, etc. It’s easier to share pictures of our bodies or our private relationships because we don’t see who’s looking at them. We speak freely on Facebook because we don’t see who we’re hurting.
But at the same time, I know I can’t expect my family, friends, and acquaintances to protect me from their lives. I can’t judge what they post. I can’t assume it’s about me. I can’t ask them to be more careful for my sake. I can’t ask them not to share their happiness with me. Rather than it being about what they do or don’t do, it’s about me. It’s about knowing what I can cope with, what I can guard myself against, what I can accept. It’s about knowing my boundaries and when I need to walk away. It’s about knowing me.
So I’m back to my decision. Do I reactivate my Facebook account because a few friends want to socialize with me in that way? Am I ready to place myself within an environment I know will cause me stress?
No, I’m not. My anxiety is still too high and the sadness is too deep. I’m still traumatized by the past. I am still susceptible to being shamed.
I know I can’t avoid the social media world forever. But I can choose to give myself a little more time, to take care of myself until I’m stronger and steadier emotionally and until I’m ready to face courageously the challenges that await.