Behind the Facade
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Behind the Facade

When social media obsession becomes an addiction

It’s a spider web that I’m always caught in.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

I’ve been obsessed with social media since I first joined MySpace in 2003.

And when I say obsessed, I mean in its truest form: addiction.

AddictionCenter.com defines social media addiction as, “a behavioral addiction that is defined by being overly concerned about social media, driven by an uncontrollable urge to log on to or use social media, and devoting so much time and effort to social media that it impairs other important life areas.”

There is no such thing as an official “social media addiction” diagnosis, but I can tell you with confidence: this is me to a tee.

Like many, I started using social media to connect with friends and family, but it quickly became more than that.

Even now, I can’t go a day, maybe even an hour, without thinking about what to post, whether someone has liked my content, or rethinking my recent posts, wondering if I need to rephrase it so as to not offend anyone. I know it’s unhealthy, but honestly? I just can’t break the habit.

When I contemplate getting off social media — truly not using any platform that has profiles, comments and followers — I start feeling an intense sense of anxiety. Literally, my body shakes, my heart starts racing, my chest starts hurting.

There have been a few moments in recent years that I’ve been able to overcome this, even getting to a point where I deleted an Instagram account with 13,000 followers, but I quickly replaced the empty void with YouTube — and when I got bored of YouTube, LinkedIn. And now that I found Medium, I can’t stop thinking about what I’ll write or post next. It’s a constant cycle that’s never really broken; the need for validation seemingly always there.

While I definitely experienced some positive aspects of social media, they were heavily weighed down by the negatives:

  • I replaced in-person relationships with people online, convincing myself that the people I followed and engaged with online were just as important as my friends. In fact, I called those who I followed on Instagram “friends” and considered them to be actual friends, even though we had never met, much less talked, in person.
  • I became infatuated with influencers who were seemingly living the perfect life, knowing but not believing that there was more to life than Instagram.
  • I developed a very strong fear of missing out (FOMO) and more often than not, felt lonely and isolated because of it — especially if I saw a photo of my real-life friends getting together without me. I’d realize I wasn’t invited, which would throw me into a downward spiral, questioning if I wasn’t invited because they no longer liked me and my self-worth plummeting.
  • When I did get together with real-life friends, it always had to be documented. As a group, we’d have to decide when to take a picture, who had the best-quality phone, whether it needed to be landscape or vertical, how to share it with the others, who would post it first and how we should repost it. Rather than asking, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?,” the question became, “If a photo wasn’t shared on Instagram, did the [insert event here] really happen?”
  • I lived for the likes and the validation that came after sharing a post. I would refresh every few minutes, itching to see if the number of likes would skyrocket to double- or even triple-digits.
  • I compared every part of my life to others based solely on what I saw online, knowing but not fully comprehending that social media is a highlight reel. Just because someone is smiling in an Instagram photo doesn’t mean they’re happy. It doesn’t even mean they were happy when they took the photo. It’s all a facade.
  • I measured my self-worth based on the number of likes a post got compared to someone else’s.
  • I used the comments as entertainment, enjoying the drama that undoubtedly unfolded; yet when I started receiving hate comments on my own posts, I fell into a deep dark hole that I wasn’t able to pull myself out of.
  • I changed my body to try to become like the women on Instagram who I admired so much. I made their recipes, used their workout apps and even copied their posting styles, hoping that if I did what they did, I would not only look more like them, I would radiate the same confidence they had.
  • I spent money I didn’t have on products that others swore by, with the hope and expectation that they would change me, too.

And this doesn’t even account for the biggest downside: how much being on my phone — much less thinking about taking the perfect photo, writing the perfect caption or figuring out which hashtags to use — got in the way of my real-life relationships, pulling me away from having and forming real connections with those who truly matter: my husband; my family; my in-person friends.

I was living in a fantasy; a fairytale with a storyline and characters defined so clearly that I was convinced it was real.

I’ve tried time and time again to go cold turkey but usually find that it ended up making things worse. As an all-or-nothing kind of person, I swing from one extreme to the other, going from deleting the apps off my phone to refreshing the screen hundreds of times as soon as I give myself permission to add it back on my homepage, anxiously waiting for the notification bubble to show up.

At least for me, social media is an endless spider web that I’m seemingly always caught in.

Will it ever be possible to escape?

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