Research Nugget #7: Social media…social anxiety?!

APA Citation: Nitzburg, G. C., & Farber, B. A. (2013). Putting Up Emotional (Facebook) Walls? Attachment Status and Emerging Adults’ Experiences of Social Networking Sites.Journal Of Clinical Psychology69(11), 1183-1190. doi:10.1002/jclp.22045

George C. Nitzburg and Barry A. Farber’s, Putting Up Emotional (Facebook) Walls? Attachment Status and Emerging Adults’ Experiences of Social Networking Sites, explores the world of social media and the needs and wants that many obsessive users of social media crave. Anxious attachment and needed comfort from others seem to be at the forefront of the motives behind many users. Some individuals use social media as a means to avoid personal conversations while others are trying to form relationships at a psychological arm’s distance. Nevertheless, the users of social media all share one thing in common, they all want to be seen and heard, they want to be the criticizer as well as the publisher, and most of all everyone wants to be a part of something, whether that is large or small.

However, as both authors discuss, why is it that individuals find themselves feeling more connected when using social media? Is it because we believe every enhanced and exaggerated posts and statuses or because social media has the ability to foster relationships that were once deemed impossible?

As one thinks about these questions, this takes me back to a piece of writing that I did at the very beginning on Instagram. My own troubling rant and opinion, although sounded crazy, had a variety of valid points about the users of Instagram, being one myself. Maybe individuals are using social media as a way to prove themselves to the world but many others may be doing is trying to get the simple approval from others, so that maybe, just maybe, they can fit in somewhere in this world.

We may use it as means to escape depression and escape the harsh and cruel realities of the world. We may even use social media to escape ourselves. Maybe we do not like ourselves; and we are trying to reinvent ourselves online. For instance, a middle school boy or girl may be finding it hard to make friends and is shy in person, but on sites such as Facebook and Tumblr, they are one of the most popular individuals, almost as if this person has an alter ego.

However, it is not a long shot to say that everyone deals with self-esteem and self-confidence issues because everyone, again, wants to be a part of something. Even the ones that swear that they do not care about what others perceive about them actually do care, and how do I know that? I use to be one of them.

But still, even on social media we still find ourselves subject to rejection, “using social media as a defense against distressing social rejection via “unfriending”(4), the authors words shines light upon this never ending cycle of gaining acceptance and rejection that makes way for our own emotional rollercoaster. However, that’s life, but even more so, that is what social media does, opens a way for relationship, connection, and communication while creating low self-esteem and a feeling of emptiness.

However, even as the authors can go on about the realities of social rejection, they presented a study done on social anxiety and attachment over social networking sites, and with this study:

“ In contrast, those with greater attachment anxiety reported a greater tendency to feel intimate when interacting over SNS while also using SNS to avoid a more personal face-to-face discussion; those with disorganized attachment only used SNS to avoid more personal face-to-face communications. These results are in line with theory about how insecurely attached individuals perceive and react to social stressors. Those with anxious attachment tend to experience social interactions as stressful because they harbor deep fears that others will accept them and that is experiences as intolerably outside of their control (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2007; Shaver & Mikulincer, 2005). Our hypothesis is that these individuals attempt to relieve this discomfort by moving their social interactions into online forums where others reactions are more predicatable (and the extent to which they feel exposed is more under their control”

So maybe social media has its tendencies to be a bit of an illusion for some, but in this particular passage, it may just be some individual’s way for dealing with social anxiety. It is not easy for some people to talk in person and that is perfectly understandable. Social anxiety stems a lot from this idea of wanting to control and the fear of unpredictable reactions. It is true, that a lot of the times social media is predictable in terms of things that individuals will reply and comment back. I find nothing wrong with using social media as another way to communicate and as a way to deal with a disorder or problem that you may have. To me, that is using social media in a more positive light, which I feel that many struggle to do. However, in How Can We Use Social Media To Cultivate Happiness, by Smile Epidemic, the writer reveals ways that are in which possible for individuals to take social media and make light of it. The author talks about how we should use social media as more of a tool to inspire and motivate you to get you where you truly want to be. If using social media is a tool to work on social anxiety, then by all means I can accept that.

“Social networking sites like Facebook provide hope for a more engaged, connected world. But these social technologies also serve to deny the universal needs to at least occasionally forget or suppress distressing information and to separate from others to maintain psychological and social health. For the robust, more securely attached among us, being comfortably connected may be relatively easily attainable. But as clinicians, we witness those like Ms. H who struggle with maintaining emotional balance in the wake of an almost never-ending stream of social information they feel compelled to perpetually process. Moreover, the concern is that for our patients with attachment difficulties, the ease of Facebook connection may allow them to stop short of the critical challenge of developing true intimacy. Indeed, as the present data suggest, a tendency towards disorganized or anxious attachment may result in holding relationships at arm’s length”

What I really love about the authors words here is their positive attitude towards social media. It really does pave the way for a more globally connected world but even more so a more engaged world, whether that is through things such as politics of the Fifa World Cup; this engagement in a way restores humanity. However, what we fail to realize sometimes is that everyone is different and everyones personality is different, some use social media as a means to overcome things such as social anxiety and others use it to gain acceptance, either one is not necessarily wrong. The wrong comes in when individuals start to let social media consume them and are using it to show off to others.

What this scholarly article presented was another perspective to look at, that this may be a new revolutionary way for individuals dealing with different disorders. Again, that is taking social media and turning it into something positive and I think that is what we need. We all know what the power of social media can do and if we use that power for more positive attributes, maybe we can finally engage as a world and as one.

Sure, I rant earlier about how individuals use social media as a means to show off to the world, but in a sense I can say I am living a double standard. I use to use social media as a way to show off to past exes, showing them that I am having the time of my life without them. And even though I really was (HA!) I realized that it’s okay, because it was part of the process of being hurt. But what I also realize, that we may never know every ones motive behind social media use and it may never sway one way in terms of positive or negative impact to society, but the fact that we even have social media and it is being used in almost every aspect of the world is well, pretty amazing.

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One Response to “Research Nugget #7: Social media…social anxiety?!”

  1. July 18, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

    The last nugget mentions our psychological need to “at least occasionally forget or suppress distressing information and to separate from others to maintain psychological and social health.” They assume (and say) that this is a universal need. What do you make of this? (It’s pretty hard to separate from others in the world of social media).

    You state this question: Why is it that individuals find themselves feeling more connected when using social media? Is it because we believe every enhanced and exaggerated posts and statuses or because social media has the ability to foster relationships that were once deemed impossible? Are these the authors’ questions, or your own? If the authors’ — do they answer these questions? What do they use for evidence? Is this a study? A review of other research? How did they collect their data to support their claims?

    You seemed to like this article! What answer(s) are emerging to your research question?

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