Breakups and the Social Media Minefield

by An EXaholic

Whether we like it or not, our lives are now pretty much ruled--to an outsized extent-- by social media. Like no other time in history, apps like Facebook are allowing us to contextualize our lives next to those in our social circle, community, and beyond. While that's never an issue when we're winning and loving life, social media becomes a dangerous minefield and constant source of anxiety for one with a broken heart. To manage breakups and social media minefields it takes more than the layperson's sheer wit. As complex emotional beings, we're better off being armed with a better awareness of what's triggering us.

As EXaholics (a self diagnosis loosely defined as suffering from a preoccupation with an ex, to the detriment of everyday life and productivity), we are desperately missing those constant messages from our ex, which used to supply us with hit after hit of warm and soothing dopamine. Almost as a reflex we reach out to social media in the hope that it will give us an alternative fix of some kind, and invariably it doesn't. On the contrary, our news feed horrifies us with images of our friends enjoying those perfect days out, or cozy nights in with their loved ones - all the things we've lost. The colorful memes we so often see, preaching how to nurture and treasure our precious relationships, reinforce the idea that we have failed at doing so, and that everyone else has followed the rules and succeeded.

When we experience a breakup, our anxiety is often heightened, which means our nervous system is primed and ready to fight off any external threats, which includes seeing anything that reinforces our loss and feelings of failure. This explains why our heart leaps at the sight of a friend announcing her engagement on social media, or check-ins from couples jetting off on exotic holidays. We may have defriended our ex, but there is often the danger that their profile will reappear as a suggested friend, or if mutual friends happen to comment on their activity. The resulting effect for an EXaholic may be devastating in terms of the resulting anxiety. This can be a time when our heightened emotions will cause us to post angry or emotional comments in haste, but we really must remember that we are only causing more damage if we do so, and that stalking our ex is literally the key to reliving the breakup again and again.

We can also fall to the temptation of using social media as bait or as a weapon against our ex. We are only too aware that the ex is still out there and some of us will even make sure they are able to continue viewing our activity. While it may be tempting to share new photos of our 'amazing' new social life, as we would have them believe, this is only serving to prolong the emotional attachment by the inauthentic feeling we are winning the battle against them. On the flip side, don't be tempted to flaunt your sadness. This can include liking or sharing memes that hint at the sadness and regret that is overwhelming you. Remember that social media is a powerful reflection of yourself, and your image matters for your success in the future, in the eyes of friends, colleagues and most importantly, employers.

While it may be advisable to avoid social media altogether for our own mental well-being, fortunately our favorite apps are becoming more compassionate these days in terms of allowing us to be discreet about changing our relationship status and choosing not to see posts from friends of friends. But the devastation of breakups is still rarely discussed openly, and there is certainly a long way to go in terms of making cyber space a safer place to be when we are dealing with raw emotional pain. Finally, we must never feel ashamed of having to declare ourselves newly single - breakups are part of life, they show you were not prepared to accept the unacceptable, and it's guaranteed there will be some friends out there who will be envious of your freedom and your strength.

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