Electronically connected but emotionally disconnected?
One of the phenomenons of the past year has been the continuing growth of social media. This ties in with the human need to be in contact with others. But has social media made us closer to our friends and relatives?
Or are we using texts, emails and other electronic means to put a barrier between us and them - possibly unintentionally? And it is making us feel more alone? Therapists are now working with more and more people who are having difficulties relating to others either in relationships or through friendships.
Electronic communications is a way of talking to others but indirectly. Strange? Not really it means we can talk to others as if through a third party. We don’t have the immediate reaction to our message. Unlike face-to-face communications where we see and hear the emotional response to what we are saying electronic chatting absolves us, if we want, from reacting to the receiver’s feelings.
Passing bad news to friends and family via texts and emails has increased substantially in the past five years. It’s so much easier to control and the general belief is that it helps avoid pain and unpleasantness. But it can be so much harder for the receiver.
If we write a message we know what we are writing and what we want to say. But we don’t know how the other person receives and interprets what is written. If we are not there to see their reaction we cannot explain if that the message has been incorrectly understood.
More and more people feel that more communication is better. But is this correct? In fact for humans it is the quality of the communications that is better than the quantity. Humans really like to be in the company of others. In some cases we feel that what we share on social media is keeping us in touch. But it is also making us more disconnected emotionally.
The world is becoming more impersonal. And with that is an increase in loneliness. Do you feel you know more about what your friends and family are doing but at the same time feel more alone? So what can we do?
Changes for the New Year:
1. Decide to restrict your hours on social media. Wait an hour after you wake up to turn on and turn off an hour before bedtime.
2. Set aside a time for responding to personal emails and let your friends know that you won’t be replying immediately. Perhaps reply when you get home in the evening?
3. Check your ‘friends’ list on social media and decide to only include real friends. Delete the others. Seeing the good times other share can make your life seem boring. At least if you are only looking at your real friends you can celebrate their achievements.
4. Meet your friends regularly if only for a half an hour coffee check up.
5. Reduce texting, call more often.
If loneliness is really getting you down a few sessions with a therapist may help you get back on track. They will work with you on improving how you interact with people; how to accept yourself for what you are and, if your self-esteem is a problem, how to develop a better self belief.
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About Owen Redahan
Owen works with individuals and couples. He focuses mainly on issues around self-esteem, relationships, sexual addiction and work problems using CBT and person-focused therapies.
He has a diploma in Counselling and is Vice Chair of ATSAC (Association for the Treatment of Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity). He is based in Canary Wharf, London E14.