Why are we obsessed with social media?

Our culture’s current obsession with Facebook/Twitter/Tumbler and the like is related to our natural desire to be witnessed. And yet interacting with our community in this format leaves many of us feeling hollow and disconnected. I can’t tell you how many times my clients and friends have complained to me about how hurt they were when no one “liked” their recent post or photo. This quantifiable way of measuring how our friends and the broader community are responding to us can be pernicious.

Participating in social media can be understood as a way in which we ask our community to connect with and/or bear witness to us, and yet as fun and interesting as it can be, most people find this way of connecting leaves them lacking, still searching for that felt-sense of being truly seen and accepted.

When we become overly focused on who has “liked” our recent posts, or commented on our family photos, we lose sight of what the desire to be witnessed is really about. Being truly witnessed is powerful and transformative. It is the feeling experienced by a newborn when their parent gazes lovingly at them, witnessing and celebrating every tiny burp and giggle as a miracle.  Why is it that we can do this for a child, but not for each other in adolescence and adulthood?  We get more and more disconnected as we grow up and join the social world. Our need for deep, genuine connection changes as we age, but doesn’t disappear.

Humans developed in community, not in isolation. There is a reason that a form or torture is to isolate someone from all contact with other human beings. This literally makes us crazy.  Though we are connected through social media, there is a distinct lack of that difficult to describe, but impossible to miss feeling of deep connection that we all need. We are all clamoring to be seen and acknowledged by one another, but aren’t able to quiet our own voices long enough to hear the other person and truly bear witness. Sure we may like their post, or comment on a photo, but does that really connect us on a deep level? No. We are typically distracted or scrolling through many interesting things which are all competing for our attention.

So, should we all delete our Facebook accounts and disengage from social media?  Sometimes it sounds tempting, but I think the answer lies not in putting our heads in the sand and pretending the world hasn’t changed, but rather in realizing the power of giving someone our undivided attention.

Try this experiment: The next time you communicate with a local friend over social media, make concrete plans to meet up with them in person. Then when you are with your friend, commit to both of you keeping your phones/tablets/etc off for the duration of the time you together.  See how this changes your interaction with them, and what it feels like to focus your undivided attention on one person, and to have their undivided attention focused on you.

Feel free to post comments below letting me know how this goes for you!

~ Erin Jacklin, Psy.D., LCP


Ask a therapist: “Why does therapy heal?” (answered by Dr. Erin Jacklin)

Dr. Erin JacklinIn my work as a psychologist I often get asked the question: Why does therapy heal?  My answer is quite different that you might think.

We all desire a witness, someone who sees us in a way that feels true, and accepts us as we are (even as we struggle to accept ourselves as we are).  We recognize the feeling of being truly witnessed, and it is transformative.  In my experience as a therapist, when I am fully present and connected with a client, and truly bear witness to them, something incredible takes place.

It is hard to describe, but impossible to miss when it happens. Even in the depths of a terrible life event, being witnessed makes us feel lighter somehow and less alone. Having someone with us, feeling what we are feeling, trying to look through our eyes and be “in it” together with us is something we are all yearning for and rarely get.

Having a trusted confidant who you know cares deeply about you, doesn’t need you to be perfect or to sugar coat the truth, and is able to witness you and accept you with all your strengths and all your challenges changes you in a profound way. I feel incredibly blessed to be able to bear witness to my clients in this powerful manner. Every time I am privileged with the opportunity to truly witness someone it transforms both of us.

The spiritual side of me believes this is an example of the power of seeing the divinity within each of us. This makes me think of one of my favorite quotes by Marianne Williamson from A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

The transformative power of being truly witnessed in therapy is actually less about having someone with you in the toughest moments, it is more about having someone who can see your light shining through, even when you cannot. Your witnessing therapist sees it all, not just how stuck you are feeling in this moment, but the beautiful, magnificent part of you that wants to shed your darkness and fly.

~ Erin Jacklin, PsyD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist