Pseudo-Relationship Syndrome and Social Media

Social media communicating can be instrumental in keeping us informed about the people that we have in our lives. It can enhance our lives through rapid information sharing, leading to new ideas and emotional stimulation. But social media communication will never provide what real life intimacy offers. If you become too satisfied with tweets, picture sharing, and posts, then you may become the pseudo person that no one really knows or misses.

Despite the benefits of convenience and immediacy, social media has, for many people, become a tool which limits, not enhances, intimacy within relationships. Answering someone’s Facebook post or acknowledging someone’s latest Instagram post has become confused with actually being engaged in a relationship. It is true that these more surface modes of social media communication have created more frequency of contact between people, but is it the kind of contact that really matters? Most people admit that they spend too much time managing and thinking about the influx of information online and in phone texts.

In the majority of cases, social media has not created connections between people that lead to deepening, growing or life enhancing experiences. The new norm of online communication saturation has replaced more personal forms of engaging with information sharing.

Transmitting a photo of the giant sized burger you are having for lunch, or sharing a quick opinion on the movie that you just saw can be fun and there is no downside to tweeting out an opinion or thought before you forget it. But there is a downside to these brief sound bites replacing more personal forms of contact that create more emotional, and expansive experiences between people.

The immediacy and ease that social media contact offers has become, for many, an addictive replacement for real connections, and has normalized the development of pseudo relationships, that is, a physical exchange of communication through technology that is lacking in in-depth, shared experiences between people.

Of course, we don’t need or desire intimacy with everyone that touches our lives in some incidental manner. These peripheral relationships lend themselves well to social media communicating. But when people who matter to us, or people who could potentially matter to us become relegated to our social media contact pattern, opportunities for a real connections are greatly diminished.

Common Problems That Are Part of the Pseudo-Relationship Syndrome

The fear of Intimacy is often behind why some people saturate themselves with social media communicating. Many say that there is less vulnerability online so the experience of rejection feels muted. The reality is that vulnerability online can pose an even greater risk to self esteem. The sharing of too much information online in words and pictures exposes one to excessive judgment and potential relationship rejection, conflict and embarrassment.

The idea of being shielded from rejection or pain by online vs real time experiences is not accurate as so many people are now learning through negative experiences of over exposure to the masses.

Many people experience tremendous shame, regret and anxiety regarding their excessive use of social media communicating, and yet continue doing so. Is it an addiction or just a normalized way of relating to people in modern times?

Is Self Esteem the Issue?

People with low self esteem indulge in social media contacts to boost their egos. It is easy to become dependent on getting large numbers of people giving feedback and attention to you on your social media. For many, these new personal media stats have become a measure of self worth within their social groups and business communities. This desire to manipulate people into developing positive perspectives of oneself creates a tendency, for many, to lie or embellish personal information or accomplishments. There is a risk online for people with shaky self esteem as the feedback can be brutally critical and make one feel excessive personal shame, anxiety and isolation. And the humiliation of being exposed for lying can be devastating to self esteem as well.

The Attraction of Drama

Using social media communicating as a primary form of communication tends to keep relationships superficial, but it can also create a great source of drama. People who crave conflict or chaos are particularly prone to social media obsessiveness, as their over involvement with what people are doing and saying can trigger the intense emotional responses that they crave. You cannot take a picture back once it’s been viewed. You cannot erase the words that may hurt someone or cause them to want to be hurtful towards you. The ease and immediacy of the technology creates an impulsivity that many people cannot control. It feels powerful in the moment to get into conflict with someone online, and yet it can become an obsessive dynamic with negative outcomes both personally and professionally.

Dealing with these emotional issues is an essential part of reducing the over use of social media communicating and its negative outcomes. Learning to properly use social media as a springboard to developing more meaningful relationships will preserve it as a positive medium for communication instead of it being a faulty replacement for healthy relatedness with the people in your life. A tweet will never feel as good as a smile, handshake, hug or kiss.

Rebecca Sperber, MS, MFT

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