Twitter. Instagram. Facebook. Snapchat. Tinder. LinkedIn. Social media is everywhere. According to the most recent 2016 Neilsen data, adult Americans spend an average of 25 hours a week using some form of media. In these outlets, we are inundated with celebrity updates, breaking news, and personal messages on a minute-to-minute basis. Including information about our ex's.
When going through a breakup, navigating social media interaction can be very challenging. Why is it so hard? There are at least three main reasons:
1. Continued access to information about your ex. If your ex was a large part of your life, you will probably be bombarded by information about him or her on some of your social media sites whether you want it or not. You may still be friends with them online. Or you may have unfriended them, but they may be friends of friends—so their social life is still in your face.
The problem with this continual source of information is that, for most people, breaking up requires some space. We need time away from our ex to start creating a “new normal” that does not include them. In doing so, most of us benefit greatly by not having contact. Social media connections make this challenging.
2. Your reaction to information about your ex. When you learn about your ex through social media, it is likely that you will react to it. How? You may want to check up on him or her; try to get back together; become fixated and overly-obsessive about what they are doing now or who they are dating; or feel extreme anger and irritation about the situation.
The problem with reacting to information about your ex is that it is generally unpleasant. Who wants to feel upset about a person you are trying to detach from? It is not only uncomfortable, but it can leave you feeling powerless and challenged because you are at the mercy of outside information.
3. Engaging with your ex. Social media platforms allow you to continue engaging with your ex, which may not be in your best interest. Everything from angry interchanges to desperate attempts at reconciliation can occur on public platforms. It goes without saying, it is much healthier to have any meaningful exchanges in a private, more confidential way.
Given these realities, should you try to stay friends with your ex? Is it smart to use social media after a breakup? Should you unfriend your ex?
The answer to these complicated questions depends on you and your circumstances. Social media can be unhealthy or healthy for you when going through a breakup, depending on the circumstances. That said, if you are struggling through a breakup and fixated on your ex, staying actively engaged in the relationship through social media will make it harder to move forward.
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A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself this: Does having information about your ex will influence your quality of life? If hearing about your him or her is highly painful or traumatic, it is probably in your best interest to unfriend your ex. This does not need to be done disrespectfully--this is about taking care of yourself. If you need to limit contact, do so. If you need to stay off a given social media site for a while, do so. The goal is really to help yourself move forward in healthy ways while still having some interaction with the world at large.
How long should you limit contact? Until you find yourself not so reactive.
This is also a great time to join social media outlets that can offer you support. For example, EXaholics.com is an anonymous recovery program for anyone going through a breakup. Through support networks like EXaholics.com, you will have a community of people in a similar situation trying to do the same things you are doing. That can really help through the toughest times.
The Naked Truth is This: If you browse your social media after a breakup, stay connected to people and organizations that support you. Don’t allow yourself to engage with your ex if it makes you feel badly. If you sense yourself becoming obsessive and hyper-fixated, try limiting the amount of time you are spending thinking about you ex. Instead, focus on yourself. Every breakup—even the ugliest—offers you the opportunity to understand yourself more deeply. And it may require that you unfriend your ex.
Clinical Psychologist Dr. Cortney Warren is a featured expert on EXaholics.com.
This article originally posted to Psychology Today online.