My breakup with social media - and why we're getting back together
Updated: Sep 29, 2021
Ever since I first signed up for a social media account, the energy of it has always given off a weird vibe to me. The best way I can describe it is that it's like being at a party with about a hundred of your best friends, where everyone's talking at once and you can hear snippets of all the conversations; every now and then a disagreement or a potential ruckus pops up and you could engage in it if you wanted to but it's not right in front of you, and yet that tension weaves itself into all of the interactions around you. As someone who picks up on the energy around me, I can feel it after a while. My brain gets foggy, and when I sign off I feel a little disconnected from myself, along with the shame of "wasting time" when I could be doing something more productive and/or interactive. It feels sneaky and insidious, and it has touched all areas of my life in different ways.
I've had a love/hate relationship with social media as long as I can remember. I avoided MySpace and Tumblr and Reddit like a plague, and when Facebook first took the spotlight I resisted the prodding of friends and family members. My stance was that if I wanted to stay in touch, I'd call or send an email, and that's what I did for a long time (this was back in the days of the flip phone, before the smartphone blew up everywhere). And then slowly, as friends moved away and our extended family spread out, as I leaned in to the reign of the smart phone, as life got faster, I succumbed to the lure of social media and Facebook. I reasoned that it was a simpler and more efficient way of staying in touch, and since there were so many people already using it, I was missing out by not joining the party. I started an account and dove in.
Over time, as I escaped into the scrolling feed again and again, it became A Thing. So easy to just sneak a peek, and then a half hour (more like an hour) later, I'd pull myself back into reality. The habit became a compulsion, and the compulsion became a "secret" obsession. I'd sneak into any private spot in the house (raise your hand if you've run the bathroom fan just to get some time to yourself!) to log in and see what was going on. I'd sit in the car in the garage, scrolling until someone would open the kitchen door and look out to see what was taking so long. My husband started commenting on the amount of time I was spending looking at my phone. It was an itch always prickling to be scratched. And every time I scratched it, I got a fresh dose of shame.
Around the time I was creating this new shame cycle for myself, I began reading and hearing news about the effects of social media on teenagers. Friends with daughters (we have two sons) would share stories about their kids and kids' friends that made me uneasy, and when I asked if they were concerned, they'd just laugh and shrug and wave it off - "they're all doing it, so what can I do?" was a common statement. I paid more attention to my own social media habits and justified to myself that since I'm an adult, I was in control and could stop at any time. And since I didn't want to address that gnawing discomfort, I buried the shame. Then I got into coaching.
I was first introduced to coaching through an article I read by John Kim, the Angry Therapist. I was intrigued by his core messages - build a safe container for your emotions, find your stance, live a real life - and eventually became a certified life coach. Every week throughout the training, I was able to connect with people from all over the country and the world. I began to see the benefit of using technology to stay connected and to forge new relationships. We used video conference calls to take classes and stay in touch with each other. I still talk with some of these folks every week, even five years out, and these friendships are at least as meaningful and heartfelt as my local relationships. And as I began my coaching business and started to get my message out, using as many platforms as I could manage became part of my strategy. Now I had a legitimate reason to be on social media! Whenever my husband mentioned it, I could say I was working. I scrolled to my heart's content (or so I thought), liking and hearting and posting and commenting with abandon. I'd ignore my kids so I could engage with strangers, telling myself it was a way to grow my business. I snapped photos in the middle of conversations, interrupted or tuned out those around me so I could write and post. My phone never left my side, and Facebook was my most-used app. And while I told myself it was all worth my time, it felt like shouting into the void. I'd get a few likes or engagements here and there, but my self-induced attention tug-of-war created a divide within myself. The compulsive itch was still strong, and every time I scratched the itch, there was the shame right underneath.
Over the past few years, my engagement has waxed and waned, yet was always an undercurrent in my awareness. I've had times in which I felt overwhelmed by the (self imposed) pressure to post something amazing or clever or catchy or eloquent or insightful or profound or... you get the idea, and the overwhelm has pushed me to disengage. And then, after a few days the compulsive itch would come back and I'd scratch it again. I thought I had dealt with the shame I felt around my not-so-secret compulsion, and there were times I've felt like I made a difference in someone's life, even if only for the moments in which we corresponded. It felt like I was finally finding a way to keep the balance.
Fast forward to 2020.
High tensions, social upheaval, global pandemic, emotional roller coasters, a contentious election cycle, and what feels like a collective loss of perspective, kindness, and compassion were already overwhelming. And then I watched "The Social Dilemma" on Netflix in October. The topic itself wasn't anything new; what struck me most was the admission of pervasive and deep manipulation, not only of a few groups or types of people, but of everyone using social media - entire regions, even countries, bought and sold for the profit of a few. Deep, divisive rifts in the fabric of society around the world, fueled by the whims of those who see division and disagreement as a benefit to their own causes. This goes against every core value I hold, against my mission as both a coach and a human being. All of this felt slimy and gross, nothing I want to be a part of. That was it for me - hard stop. I stepped away and gave myself time to really think about what I was doing and why. Was it because I'm "supposed to"? Because of underlying FOMO? Because it's a good marketing strategy? None of the answers I could come up with felt aligned with who I am and how I want to live in the world.
And then it hit me: that's been the issue for me all along - social media use has never felt like something aligned with my values. It has always felt fake and forced, a pretend version of myself that doesn't dare to show anything deeper than the surface. I've adopted the styles and topics of others rather than standing firmly in my own stances and ideas, believing they weren't exciting or catchy enough. And this misalignment, the desire to be seen as one of the "cool kids" who makes a social media splash, isn't really what I want at all. It's an old, worn out story that I've carried with me for decades. The shame I've felt is from getting sucked into that mindset again, that feeling of so desperately wanting to be liked and included while knowing that it's not who I truly am. That shame is the feeling of betraying myself.
One might ask: after all that, why in the world would I want to dive back in? Why put myself in such a position, in which I'm seemingly going against my own core values? Why risk falling back into my shame story?
Because now that I recognize my shame, I see it for the old story that it is and I no longer give it any power.
Because I know that my work in the world goes deeper than fifteen minutes of fame.
Because I know that what's important to me is continuing to show up as myself for people, not in building hype or counting likes.
Because I realize that showing up consistently builds trust, not only in the relationships I cultivate, but more importantly trust within myself.
Because I believe that if even one person hears my message when they need it, then I'm doing what I'm here to do.
So we're getting back together. Like any relationship, it's work. Knowing that the reward is trust and alignment with my purpose makes it work worth doing. I'm heading into it with clarity, awareness, and a commitment to being fully myself. I'm taking back my power. You can find me on Instagram at @v.lbassi for now, where I'll help you take back your power, too. Let's get to work!