“UNFRIENDING” AS EFFECTIVE COPING
Several years ago, sometime between when Facebook lowered the age to join to include adolescents and when adolescents decided they were cooler than Facebook, I (Carlea) facilitated a group with a few “tween” and teenage girls. One of the girls, Alyssa (all names are fictitious), was describing an issue she was having with a peer, Sarah, from another town. Sarah was consistently posting degrading, hurtful, and offensive comments on Alyssa’s wall. Even though this was in a time before smart phones and social media outlets were as ubiquitous as they are today, Alyssa felt trapped, helpless, and a disheartened. A typically quiet member of our group innocently offered, “Why don’t you just block her?” This simple suggestion changed Alyssa’s perspective on the situation as she suddenly realized she had an option that would allow her to regain power and control over the situation.
The next time the group met, Alyssa proudly reported that she blocked Sarah and felt a lot better after doing so. But her comment led to some other observations from our group. Christina asked Alyssa if she had any guilt about blocking her supposed-friend (the current word for this dynamic is “frenemy”). Alyssa thought about it for a moment and said it never occurred to her that she should feel guilty about blocking Sarah. “Why do you think I might have felt guilty? Sarah was being nasty so I stopped it.” Christina replied that she probably would have experienced some guilt, and would probably have taken a less extreme step and just “hidden” Sarah from her newsfeed. Christina continued, “What if Sarah noticed and called you out on it? What would you do?”
As we discussed these issues it became apparent to the group that everyone has different thresholds for emotions. Whatever the threshold, however, the key is to search for options that will provide a sense of empowerment, and remember that there are often several solutions to issues. The key is first to realize you always have a choice and then you should do what makes you comfortable. There are seldom universal solutions. Alyssa chose to “block” Sarah; Christina would have chosen to “hide” her.
Bullying is not the only time blocking may be appropriate. For some people the barrage of “special events” photos that are posted to social media (e.g., new baby, first day of school, family outings, holidays) can be overwhelming, especially when grieving a loss. You may choose to avoid social media when those posting “triggers” are around. You may choose to block (or hide) the friends or family who routinely share pictures that you find upsetting. The thing to remember in all of this, of course, is that you have the power.
You might ask, “Well wait a minute, isn’t blocking someone really just avoiding an issue?” That’s a valid and fair question, especially in the context of the themes we try to develop in this blog. But the answer is no! Something like blocking in the context we discuss above is not avoidance because you are actually taking a very proactive and empowering step; you are taking charge of an issue that is bothering you, and in essence taking charge to control that issue. Exercising power and control when appropriate is the gold standard of coping when confronted with the types of challenges noted. In fact, not trying to empower yourself will prevent you from coping effectively with the challenge. So, when it comes to social media and those who just bring you bad vibes, go ahead and hide or block them; you will ultimately feel a sense of control when you scroll through your newsfeed. Think of it as a virtual “decluttering.”
One thing we have not mentioned is whether you feel you should speak to the person you chose to block, hide, or completely unfriend. Would doing so help you feel even more empowered, or wouldn’t it matter to you? This is an individual issue with no universal answer, but we would be interested in hearing readers’ responses.
Finally, there’s another side to this unfriending coin, one we also hope readers will comment on: How would you react if someone blocked you from their feed? Would you feel guilty, immediately thinking you must have done something to offend that person? Would you be angry, offended that someone would dare unfriend you? Would you want to broach the action with the individual or just let it slide? Let us hear from you! Remember, there’s no “right” way to handle the situation – there’s just the right way for you.