"i keep stalking people on social media who are no longer in my life."
Hi mixed feelings,
I keep stalking people on social media who are no longer in my life. My best friend of over eight years and I stopped being friends because she got a boyfriend and didn’t tell me, so I unfollowed and she blocked me after we argued. Now I keep stalking, hoping they break up and to make sure I am doing better. I try to stop but the urge is strong and it’s embarrassing for moi. — ✨toxic✨, he/him
Over the years, I’ve used social media to check in on ex-friends and see what they’re up to—sometimes a bit too much (yes, I mean borderline stalking). That irresistible urge to check in on people is like a modern-day version of keeping up with the Joneses. It can feel like a high…but also a mind fuck. For me, doing this has never filled the hole that the loss of a friendship created. I’m curious to unpack the urge to cyber stalk and learn more about how to develop healthier social media habits so I talked to some experts. Let’s dig in.
“Social media continues even when friendships and relationships end, which can make it difficult to move on and find closure,” says Juli Fraga, a licensed psychologist based in San Francisco who focuses on women’s health and wellness. It can be painful to see how your friend is moving on without you, but it can also make your dynamic feel like a contest causing you to compare your accomplishments, lifestyle, and more to others. Fraga says it’s almost like a Rorschach inkblot in the sense that someone else's photo can trigger our projections. Often we make assumptions based on what we see, but the thing is we often don’t see the full picture. We project our own flavors of truth onto what we see, twisting two-dimensional images into distorted realities. “[This] can eclipse our authenticity,” Fraga adds. “Blurring the lines between who we think we should be and who we are.”
When someone we care about hurts us, a natural response is to feel angry, says Elizabeth Beecroft, a psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker based in New York. It’s important to work through that anger—process it and learn more about where that response comes from. It’s normal to miss good times you’ve had with a friend and the way you both supported one another, but it’s also valid to feel hurt that your friend didn’t tell you she started dating someone. “Being angry with someone can be emotionally exhausting, making it difficult to trust others,” Beecroft explains. “Or affect your mood so much that you don’t feel content or joyful.”
It’s normal to feel hurt that you used to know so much about someone and now they feel like a stranger. “Our brains can create a drive to check up on that person via social media and get some answers to feed that curiosity,” Beecroft says. “But it’s not always healthy to do so, especially when it’s hindering the healing process.”
Take Time To Heal
So, what do you do? Fraga says it might be helpful to explore the meaning of this behavior. For instance, perhaps "stalking" is a way to stay connected, which prevents feelings of loss from surfacing. It could also make you feel like you have some sort of control (despite feeling out-of-control) or be an outlet to externalize your sad or angry feelings onto this person. If you're stalking someone who used to mean something to you, what's sparking your curiosity? I wonder: Are you placing your feelings in the hands of someone else instead of taking stock of them yourself and healing them on your own? Fraga says you might need to give yourself a social media break and replace this behavior with something more fulfilling or nurturing.
How To Stop Social Media Stalking (Beecroft’s version):
1. Consider how your relationship is impacted by social media: Be mindful of what role social media plays in this specific relationship. Were you commenting on and liking their photos often? Posting photos of your time together? What feelings did those interactions bring up? Considering this might give you a better understanding of yourself and the true nature of the relationship, especially if you find that the friendship existed mostly online for public view.
2. Limit your exposure: You might want to consider muting, blocking, or even unfollowing this person as a form of self-care. Try to limit any way to inadvertently remind yourself to go to their profile to check in on them.
3. Foster a community you want to be a part of: You are in control of who you follow and what you post. Engaging with accounts you find uplifting, unfollowing accounts that make you feel bad, and being more aware of what you post can help foster a more positive online environment.
4. Track your triggers: When you get the urge to check in on that other person's social media account try to keep track of what happened that made you want to do that. Were you in a specific environment, around certain people, or doing a certain activity?
5. Be intentional: Have a plan in place so that when you find yourself developing the urge to check in on this person, you can do something else instead. These can be activities you can do solo (like going for a walk) or things that might require support from others (like Facetiming a friend).
Don’t forget to ask yourself how the behavior feels. “Setting boundaries often feels empowering in some way,” Fraga explains. “Whether we set boundaries to opt-out because we're burnt out or because the other person lacks limits, boundary-setting usually relieves stress.” Avoidance, on the other hand, can make worry and anxiety grow. If you feel the urge to disregard your own boundaries, it’s equally important to develop self-awareness of what people, places, situations, or feelings create the urge to avoid boundary-setting and work through processing them. “This will help you get a better understanding of what fuels your avoidance and if that comes from a place of feeling uncomfortable,” Fraga says.
It’s like social media is wired to make us forgo our boundaries; it’s built to make us scroll into oblivion. There are many ways to be more intentional with social media, but above all, prioritize your mental health. Though you might worry that social media FOMO will get the best of you, Fraga says, you might also realize that you feel freer when you replace online socializing with other nurturing activities. “Give yourself permission to step away and see how you feel.”