When Facebook friendships get stressful
I was “defriended” by an acquaintance after I made what I thought was a pretty funny comment on one of his political Facebook posts. I don’t defriend people when they write downright snarky things on my posts, even though it does piss me off sometimes. Am I only one who finds Facebook stressful?
Not at all. As a psychotherapist in private practice, I can’t help but notice that Facebook is wreaking mischief in some of my clients’ personal lives.
One client caused a family scandal when he established privacy settings that prevented some, but not all, of his relatives from seeing his status updates. A 14-year-old client gave up Facebook for Lent, yet still managed to become entangled in a high school “defriending” drama. A third client “disallowed” her archly conservative brother from commenting on her statuses after he started arguing with her politically liberal friends.
Indeed, social media offers the online universe a whole new arsenal to offend, snub, flirt with, spy on and make public declarations about those we “like” and those we don’t. Given the growing ranks of users, it’s hardly surprising that Facebook is making its way onto the therapy couch.
According to psychologists at Edinburgh Napier University, Facebook stresses people out. In a study of 200 students, researchers observed a correlation between stress levels and the number of Facebook “friends.” Apparently, the more friends a person has, the more one worries about missing important social information, offending contacts, rejecting user requests, deleting unwanted contacts, being entertaining or using appropriate etiquette for different types of friends. Additionally, Facebook can engender lifestyle envy.
Lest the messenger be confused with the message, one might argue that Facebook isn’t necessarily creating drama, just reflecting subtle relationship dynamics that lurk beneath the surface. Social media is, after all, a modern form of storytelling, predicated on people’s desire to share their stories in moment-to-moment sound bites and colorful narratives. Where else can I follow the daily chronicles of my childhood friends and long-lost relatives, or enjoy the chapter-by-chapter unfolding of my friend’s sojourn into single fatherhood?
But by pronouncing precisely who likes and doesn’t like who and who is doing what, Facebook tells us in black-and-white letters and full-color photos what we might otherwise never know and perhaps wish we could ignore.
My advice: If you’re stressed out, think about the consequences before you comment on other people’s posts. If you get into a tiff, you can always apologize online or offline.
Of course, you can also take a break or stop visiting the site altogether. After all, social media is not the same thing as face-to-face interactions, which are ultimately more rewarding.