DIGITAL EMOTIONS II (by Dries & Brooks)

Last week we shared some comments from folks who were critical of social media platforms like Facebook. The concern was about whether these platforms, by monitoring our activities and our friends’ activities, are somehow redefining how we should express our emotions.

One young lady was concerned that if we don’t post our personal emotional expressions (such as birthday greetings, condolences, etc.) can we claim that our feelings are truly sincere? A middle-aged man was irritated that Facebook was intruding into his life and telling him how and when to convey his emotions to others.

A day after our post, Brooks heard from someone who seemed to verify some of these concerns. Brooks’ correspondent told him that one of her friends posted a picture from a wake showing a deceased relative lying in an open coffin! Is this “sharing gone wild”? Whether they wanted to or not, the friends of the posting woman “attended” the wake.

Only time will tell where the issues we raised last week will go. One thing for sure is that any agent that threatens our autonomy when it comes to expressing our emotions poses a potential threat to our coping efforts. When it comes to our emotions, one set of guidelines will never fit all. Without the freedom to exercise the choices we deem as most appropriate for ourselves, we will definitely suffer psychologically.

All is not evil with Facebook and other social media platforms, however, and in this post we want to balance the ledger a bit and point out how social media can, under certain circumstances, assist us in our coping efforts. To set up our story, let’s go back to the early 1960s when Brooks was in college:

“Over Spring break I was working on a paper about treating alcoholism, and my uncle, a member of AA, got wind of it. He offered to let me ask him questions, and I eagerly accepted. One of the first things I wanted to know was how he managed during early recovery to get through those many lonely nights when he couldn’t sleep, and desperately wanted a drink. He told me about his sponsor, a person he could call at anytime, night or day, and the sponsor would talk on the phone with him or immediately come to his home, even in the middle of the night. He told me he never would have made it through the early stages of his recovery without that sponsor.”

Now let’s fast-forward to the early 1980s, when Brooks’ wife was working for a crisis intervention program called Helpline. This was a 24/7 phone service that provided professional psychology case workers for callers to talk with about any problem at all. The calls ran the gamut from everyday (a blind gentleman asked if he could take his seeing-eye dog to Veterans Stadium to a Phillies game) to life-threatening situations like suicide.  The point is, if you had a problem, question, or needed professional help, it was all there at your fingertips.

Fast forward to 2018. A counselor shared the story of Jennifer, a woman who was struggling with self-doubts because she had recently lost her job. Jennifer was so upset she was having trouble motivating herself to jump into the job-search market, and also felt she was neglecting her husband and children because of the hit to her self-esteem. The woman related how late one night, unable to sleep, she went on Facebook and posted, “I lost my job and am devastated. Anyone out there I can talk to and maybe feel better?”

Within seconds she had three replies, two from “friends of friends,” and one from a friend who lived across the country. She immediately struck up a conversation with them, and one “friend of a friend” in particular was especially supportive and helpful.

Facebook, a modernized “sponsor” and “crisis-intervention service” was there for this woman. The example is one reason why many counselors and mental health professionals are discussing how social media can be of great help to those struggling with psychological issues that pop up in their everyday lives. Under the right circumstances, social media can give troubled folks a boost to confidence and self-esteem, and provide them with suggested actions that have helped others.

Of course there are always the potential threats like those we talked about last week, not to mention the problems of cyber-bullying and talented sexual predators who are quite adept at manipulating youngsters. That potential, however, should not lead us to overlook the positive aspects of reaching out on social media.

Many young people report at least one friendship that developed exclusively online. Teens also report that the very act of developing and updating their profile makes them feel better about themselves. Both teens and adults say that the social support received online reduces their anxiety, guilt, and anger.

Online social support is a wonderful benefit of social media, and we talked about it in an August 12, 2017 post. As with most things, however, one must always be vigilant to possible danger. Parents should communicate with their kids about the dangers, and monitor their activities and exactly how much they share. For instance, everyone should be leery of sharing potentially compromising information that could be viewed by a potential employer. And if someone is already in formal counseling, the social support received online should be shared with the counselor, and be viewed as a supplement to their treatment, but never as a substitute.

If you carefully read last week’s post and the present one, you might notice an important message between the lines. And that message is, there’s no need to search for online support as a totally dependent and helpless individual. No matter how much you feel the need for someone to talk to in the middle of the night, you must always remember that you still have a lot of control in the situation. Keep your guard up and resist making yourself more vulnerable to someone who may be interested in controlling you, and that includes the media platform.


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