Growing up, my parents painted an intriguing picture of life after sprouting into adulthood. “I was out of the house at 18!”, my father would remind me. Having now grown well past the age that my parents were when they flew from their nests… then owned their first home… then had children… I feel that living in a one-bedroom apartment with questionable asset accumulating potential and no seedlings makes me look soft by comparison.
When my father left the house at 18 to start his life, he was able to take a healthy step away from the environment he was raised within and become an independent and successful adult. Consider your High School experience: puberty smacked you upside the head and — just like everyone else — your life was full of sweeping, jubilant highs and dramatic, melancholic lows. As juvenile as adolescence seems to those that have grown beyond it, the experiences during your formative years have a profound impact on shaping the person you become. Some experiences can be scar-like.
Things are different now. In our over-connected existence we have lost the ability to create a blank slate. When, previously, you could separate yourself from past lives and — through reflection and distance — achieve emotional growth and maturity, you are now inhibited by the confines of socially networked relationships.
It has been over ten years since I graduated the dregs of High School cliques and hierarchies, yet returning from socially ambiguous anonymity to the sun-exposed magnifying glass of social networks has sent me spiraling into strange old thoughts, beliefs, and desires.
Oddly, what I felt were long faded alternate life-visions returned, slowly creeping into the new and happy life I have spent a decade carving out for myself outside of the burning eyes of social networks. In psychology, there is a concept known as regression, which is a defense mechanism appearing against emotional stressors. When faced with reminders of past emotional turmoil, an individual will regress back to mental patterns from the respective former stage of their life.
The act of being tied to your former friends and acquaintances seems harmless; you’re a good person, they’re good people. You’ve grown apart, so what’s the harm in opening the door when a friend invite knocks upon your curated digital existence?
The problem is that you have not grown as far apart as you believe you have and each time a face that should be forgotten pops up as a friend request, on a news feed, or over a mutual friend, you are scraping at scar tissue.
Keeping people tied to you via social networks is emotional, confusing, and unhealthy. Research has demonstrated that Facebook use makes you feel like your friends lead better lives than you… which ultimately leads you to become more envious of your friends and peers.
While you may think that your former best friend or lover is a relic of the past, a study (Marshall, 2012) revealed that: “*surveillance [on social networks] was associated with greater current distress over the breakup, more negative feelings, sexual desire, and longing for the ex-partner, and lower personal growth.*”
As we continue to reverently embrace the flood of digital information into every interaction of our lives, a growing body of evidence is appearing that reveals we’re physically altering the dopamine receptors in our brains. Pleasure itself is becoming redefined through our interactions and reducing something as important as social, emotional growth to a superficial abstraction of reality feels like a path to the dark side.
We are creatures who — for the sake of our own mental health — thrive on living in the present. It is natural and healthy for people to fade out of our lives as we grow, learn about ourselves and try to figure out our places on this earth.