Breakup Hygiene, Part I: Share Carefully
Written by: Melissa DaSilva LICSW
The breakup of any longtime, committed relationship is notoriously painful, whether it arrives as a whimper at the end of a slow, spirit-sapping decline in intimacy, or explodes, tsunami-style, devastating the domestic landscape and traumatizing everyone present. Even when people break up by mutual decision– celebrities like to use the term “conscious uncoupling”– there is pain– usually a lot of fear and confusion, too. Even at the gentler end of the pain spectrum, the end of an intimate relationship inflicts radical change.
Change is challenging. The best way to navigate it is to slow down, to stop the rush of thoughts and actions. When we learn to savor self-control, we increase our awareness of the here and now. This rarely stops big changes from churning through our lives, but it does help us respond thoughtfully.
Unfortunately, for many of us, the many awful phases of a breakup send us seeking quick emotional fixes. Seeking a quick shot of drama, affection, or numbness, people often make bad mistakes– like driving under the influence, or engaging in unsafe sex. These days, one of the most common mistakes made involve poor social media behavior. Posting on Facebook, Instagram, etc. can give a quick, illusory hit of attention, but when postings reflect ugly emotions or embarrassing thoughts, the results are decidedly negative.
Too often, social media is where manic or depressive thinking collides with romantic notions of how we want to be perceived by others. Fixating on others’ perspectives is antithetical to proper self-care at any point in our lives, but especially during emotional turbulence. Social media activity has extremely toxic potential for increasing emotional turbulence, by exposing it to… everyone.
A sudden torrent of selfies, exclamation- pointed posts, or general oversharing reveals a great deal to any reasonably insightful online visitor. Similarly, a hunger for sympathy or comfort makes the person going through emotional distress even more vulnerable, and can result in sharing private details of the broken relationship. This can devastate progress in couples work, especially if the other partner feels publicly tried and convicted by postings indicating fault or blame.
Our ability to examine ourselves goes into a tailspin during times of emotional upheaval. That’s the excuse I use to explain when people post thinly veiled announcements of plans to leave or violate committed relationships (hypersexualized behavior is too often documented on Facebook before people consider possible consequences.). Depression can blunt people’s judgment, which is what happens when people share their distress online, rather than in conversation with trusted friends, family, or therapists.
From making threats, to sharing an ex’s personal information out of spite, the potential for ugly consequences is unlimited when we post on social media while in the throes of a breakup. So don’t do it. What to do instead? Anything with long-term benefits to you. This might include exercising; planning a vacation; getting together with friends, new or old… or talking with a trusted therapist.
Your pain, hope, and insights deserve sustained attention. So share carefully, enjoying the experience of exploring your newly earned wisdom.