Ending things with your significant other can be complicated, confusing, messy, or all of the above. Although difficult, leaving a relationship can be an eye-opening time of self discovery, personal growth, and a chance to give ourselves a little much-needed TLC. For this reason, most people may agree that the best way for exes to move on and focus on their own happiness is to make a clean break. Out of sight, out of mind.
Add social media to the mix and we’re hit with constant reminders of relationships we intended to leave in the past. The good news: there are ways to approach social media post-breakup without going totally rogue and ditching it all together. However, choosing the latter and giving it up for a while could ultimately be the most beneficial step in the healing process.
The less time we spend immersed in social networking, which creates distorted perceptions that everyone is happier than we are, the more we can focus on being genuinely content in our newly-single lives.
Just When You Thought it Was Over
Breakups seem to drag on through social media because we’re connected on multiple platforms. Relationships may end permanently in real life, yet we can remain close to people by following the details of their lives in the virtual world. Isn’t that SO fucking weird?
I can go years without talking to people and know about their latest career moves, world travels, the salad they ate for lunch, etc. We’re living in a world in which, unless your significant other has no social media, two people can go their separate ways but keep tabs on what the other is up to constantly. This has the potential to lead to bad habits like checking in on exes, or if you want to call it what it is… cyber stalking.
One study examined cyber stalking, classified as an “unwanted pursuit behavior,” among former partners and their perceptions of that behavior with pretty intriguing results. Of 1,167 undergraduates surveyed, 80% reported engaging in these behaviors, with cyber pursuit frequently accompanying in-person advances. Interestingly enough, the majority of pursuers did not perceive their behavior as annoying or threatening in any way and underestimated the impact of their actions on targets, even if they were severe or threatening. It’s possible that one of the reasons we’ve become jaded to the idea of a “healthy dissolution” of a relationship is the easy access to these online platforms that make the unwanted pursuit behaviors seem less harmless.
It’s important to keep in mind that for the most part, social media is everyone’s highlight reels. It’s a place where (in most cases) we show the best moments of our lives. Exes could look like they have never been happier after it’s over which might make you feel worse about the breakup, but take that with a grain of salt; perspective is crucial in remembering that we can make people see what we want them to see on social media.
Social psychology research suggests that there are actually three different ways we represent ourselves through social media: visual (selfies and photos shared with friends), written (blogs, captions on Instagram, tweets) and quantitative (tracking things like the temperature or moving speed on Snapchat). Ironically, these self-representations are typically meant to communicate something to someone else, not ourselves.
Think of it like this: if we’re writing a diary entry, we usually begin it with “Dear diary,” suggesting that we’re writing to an imaginary person even though it’s meant to be private and for our eyes only. We choose to appear as we want to, “negotiate” with ourselves and craft content to mirror the way we’d want to have an audience see us. So in reality, our profiles don’t always tell the full story.
To Unfollow or Not to Unfollow
There are a number of fine lines when it comes to removing exes on social media. Maybe it wasn’t a tumultuous ending and you agreed to be civil, but you don’t want to see their face creeping up on your timeline every day when you’re trying to move on… so are you being rude if you delete? There’s also the waiting game of who will do it first and be deciding whether or not to remove your ex’s family and friends. If you decide to remove said ex on Instagram, for example, that probably means you’ll want to delete that person on Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat too – did I cover all my social media bases?
It seems pretty ridiculous that we stress over as many as four different online platforms to fully disconnect from another human being.
They’re “powerful sources of intrinsic need satisfaction” that keep our social environments right at our fingertips. We weave the use of these platforms into our everyday activities as distractions or pass-times. It would almost feel strange not to have them readily available as we go throughout our day, and stopping the use of them all together to avoid one person would disconnect us from our entire social niche altogether. That’s probably what keeps us coming back for more.
Each platform has different characteristics that cause them to make the aftermath of breakups hard. For instance, there’s a level of control that you don’t have with Instagram; you can choose to follow someone but you cannot choose the content that you see or the way in which that content is served to you. Without warning, you could see a photo of your ex with someone new while casually scrolling. This kind of uncontrollable outside factor is just not needed during a breakup as it can only increase existing anxiety or create paranoia.
Social Media and Depression
“These are virtual spaces, but they still create real emotions,” said one researcher of social media. The use of multiple social media platforms can affect our moods and lead to a higher risk of depression and anxiety. Even further, a national survey of 1,787 young adults concluded that people who reported using the most platforms (7 to 11) had more than three times the risk of depression and anxiety than people who used a lesser amount (0 to 2 platforms). The explanation for this boils down to frequently switching between a bunch of different platforms; multitasking, which is related to poor attention, cognition, and mood.
Additionally, social media causes us to consistently compare ourselves to others – their looks, successes, even their happy relationships – which is a surefire way to feel bad about ourselves. It has weakened our capacities for self-control because we’ve habituated the use of it so much that we fail and give into using it over and over again. It’s instant gratification that satisfies our social needs as well as psychological needs, such as feeling like we can relate to other people. This research helps build the case for a social media detox after a breakup to avoid aggravating the depression and anxiety that a person may already be battling.
Do’s and Don’ts: Post Breakup Social Media Guidelines
Some of these do’s and don’ts might seem obvious, but in the heat of an emotional breakup, they can be easy to forget. If you opt out of taking a break from social media entirely after it’s over, here are some friendly reminders:
Do be rational.
Think twice before impulsively deleting every memory of you and your ex on your profile. Not only were those moments important to you once upon a time, but removing all traces of a relationship on social media creates more buzz and/or gossip around a breakup than necessary.
Do make your profile private if you don’t want your ex to keep tabs on you.
You can’t control whether your ex chooses to make his or her profile private, but you can exercise self-control and stop yourself from checking in if it’s public by doing things such as unfollowing on Facebook without cutting ties by unfriending. You can also adjust your custom privacy settings to prevent one particular person from seeing your posts. In addition, block an ex if a relationship was toxic and harassment is occurring online.
Don’t drink and cyber stalk.
As a matter of fact, just don’t drink and social media at all. Nothing good ever comes from an alcohol-infused visit to an ex’s profile. Studies have shown that there is a strong correlation between binge drinking, difficulties accessing emotion regulation strategies, and drunk texting, a behavior that can also potentially be triggered by cyber stalking while intoxicated.
Don’t post to get the attention of an ex.
Don’t lose sight of yourself trying to win someone back through social media. Post what is authentically you and do it for yourself, not for anyone else.
The Moral of the Story: Live Authentically
A hard breakup can be a good excuse to go on a social media cleanse and focus on living presently. Taking care of ourselves during the times we are most vulnerable, such as immediately after a breakup, is critical to self-care and self-love. If you’re not ready to face the presence of your ex on social or the memories of your relationship saved online, disconnect until you’re in a better place.
At the end of the day, social media isn’t real life and no online app should interfere with your emotions.
Using Many Social Media Platforms Linked With Depression, Anxiety Risk. (n.d.). Retrieved May 29, 2017, from http://psychnews.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.pn.2017.1b16
Austin, M. W. (2012, January 25). Quitting Facebook Could Make You Happier. Retrieved May 30, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/ethics-everyone/201201/quitting-facebook-could-make-you-happier
Dardis, C. M., & Gidycz, C. A. (2016, August 13). The Frequency and Perceived Impact of Engaging in In-Person and Cyber Unwanted Pursuit after Relationship Break-Up among College Men and Women. Retrieved May 30, 2017, from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11199-016-0667-1
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