May 13, 2020

How to Set Boundaries & Navigate the Wild West of Social Media.


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I began using Facebook in 2007 because it was a new platform, and everyone else was doing it. 

I sporadically maintained an account for about two years. But, due to my distractible nature and images from estranged family members that, for some reason, were now my “friends,” I realized that it wasn’t for me. I found it triggering and upsetting, often feeling more lonely and irritable after viewing my feed. I thought to myself, this sh*t is voluntary, and I promptly deleted my account.

I stayed off social media for the next decade, through various life events, including the extremely early birth of my son, when some would have sought more connection through these platforms. I chose to meet that need by maintaining a thorough blog, detailing my son’s condition, surgeries, and our lives with a medically complex and acute baby for two years.

It wasn’t until last year when I joined a coaching certification program to pursue an online business structure that I recognized the need to return to social media. I was extremely resistant and wary of the prospect. I knew why I had abstained for the past decade and was not eager to rejoin, despite the passage of time, my growth, and improved boundaries.

I knew it would be one of many challenges to overcome in the process of building a different business. I also knew I was capable of hard things. Life has certainly taught me that. I took heart in this conviction and moved forward, creating a personal Facebook account, a business Facebook page, and a business Instagram account. Sigh.

Alas, it has not been easy. Shocker, I know. 

I still get triggered by it. I still seek something from it that it doesn’t deliver—because it can’t. I still get hits of dopamine from arbitrary hearts and likes. I still get disappointed when I post, see that 30 people have viewed it, and it’s still a barren oasis of response. What lovely features they’ve added through the years!

These technologies and platforms are designed to hook, sink, and anchor us to them. I don’t need to go into the research on their addictive features; at this point, it’s common knowledge. Yet we are all still engaging with them to varying degrees. It’s basically a mandate, especially for an internet-based business model.

These spaces offer quick wins and equally sharp blows. It’s only the most stoic, securely attached, and confident among us who don’t fall victim. I can count on one hand how many people I’ve met that meet such criteria. Personally, my background is not well-suited to these conditions. I come from an addicted, violent, and shame-based family. My inner reality was a wasteland for much of my life.

Always sensing something inside me was wrong, and my worth was dependent on how I made other’s feel. Always seeking approval and embrace from others to ease the pain and lack of a core sense of self.

Always building an identity around what I could do and produce, not who I was. Always seeking external solutions to internal sorrow.

Always deriving esteem from hustling. Hustling for acceptance and praise from the world based on my appearance, my degrees, my sense of humor, or my anything.

Always wrestling with a pervasive sense of some threat, and its accompanying vigilance and defense. Always holding the fear that I was going to be caught and revealed for a fundamental bad-ness. The mere perception of disapproval represented being cast out by humanity and, in turn, my annihilation. 

The stakes have always felt high. 

Social media targets these insecurities, planted and sowed long ago, by my upbringing and lost parentage. Despite a lifetime of therapy, professional training, personal development, and spiritual growth, remnant threads of these ancient core beliefs can be unearthed and pulled. In those moments, I am regressed—my focus narrows and my options limit. 

In those slivers of times, I have lost access to my functional adult self.

Social media provides intermittent reinforcement, which, in behavioral psychology, is the most resistant to extinction. Sometimes we get affirmations, which are perceived as acceptance. Sometimes we get nothing, which is perceived as rejection. And sometimes we get trolls, which are perceived as a threat

There is no predictability or rhythm to this experience—a cacophony of reaction. If this dynamic existed in a friendship, that connection would be short-lived because as the adage goes, “With friends like that, you need friends.”

It also mimics poor attachment styles of preoccupation and anxious attachment, which cause bodily distress and autonomic nervous system dysregulation. Lastly, it is quite disembodying which we don’t need more of in our high-paced, externally fixated culture. People report looking up from the abyss of a feed with a sense of amnesia and disorientation because they have vacated their bodies.

What can we do differently, as fully consenting, grown-ass adults, in relationship to these sticky technologies and platforms? 

How can we assert agency over these disturbing elements of our relationship to social media while keeping it in our lives?

There are strategies, but we need to employ them with the utmost diligence. We can create boundaries by identifying when we will engage and when we won’t (and then, this is the hard part, we stick to those parameters). We can trust that the container is safe, and that serves its purpose if we stay within the limits we’ve set.

We can recall the fickle nature of relationships in these spaces and how people follow and unfollow us for unknown reasons. 

“The Wild West” is one term I heard a social media marketer use to describe the variable—the unknown nature of how these systems work. The mighty powers that be shift the holy algorithm at a whim and no one knows what the hell is going on. This feels like some slippery ground for connection, which is what they claim to be about. 

The overarching message from these platforms remains: “Be on here a lot and engage to stay relevant in a culture with a median attention span of 35 seconds, thanks to us.

Lastly, we can hold all of these truths with a light but steady hand. Creating structure and intentionality around our relationship with social media is mission critical. To me, this sounds like a thesis from Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport.

If we don’t know why we are using these platforms, by understanding and appreciating their specific function for us, we won’t be able to determine how we are to be in a relationship with them.

There are too many landmines littering these systems not to protect ourselves and enter with eyes wide open.

How do you navigate this territory? 

What has helped you cultivate a healthier relationship with social media

Let me and others know. We could all use a little help from our friends (you know, the real ones)!

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