We love talking about ourselves. In fact, according to Time Magazine, researchers from Harvard University Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab discovered that talking about ourselves triggers the same points of our brains as eating or sex. Think about the last time you were at a party and someone said something that caused you to think about your own experience or take it one step further and ask yourself: did it trigger emotions which caused you to want to react. Chances are you patiently (or not so patiently) waited for them to finish talking so you could then share your story with them.
We seek out audiences because we tend to understand other people, situations, and even our own behavior through conversations. This is the main reason why people come to therapy – “Please listen to my story and tell me what you think.” If someone agrees with us, we’re happy knowing that we made a “correct” decision. When they disagree we experience uneasiness.
Another reason why we enjoy talking about ourselves is because we love to include our friends in an entertaining story. If we find something funny, we believe our friends will too. Every time we share something with our friends, there is a feeling of connectedness and understanding. On another level, our activities don’t seem as “real” as they do until we share them, and sharing them requires an audience who will hear them. Our need to self-disclose is very much like the empty forest riddle: If you tweet in an empty forest and no one is there to read it, does your message have meaning?
All of these needs of ours in regard to exposing aspects of ourselves isn’t so surprising. All you have to do is attend a cocktail party. In almost every corner you will hear conversations about a person’s life, their family, their jobs, how many networking contacts they have, the parties they attended, and how crazy they got last Friday night. People get excited when given the opportunity to share their story. And along comes the Facebook gathering to fulfill this need we all have.
Every minute on Facebook walls, we see people post about their latest experiences. We read about our friend’s new haircut, their cat’s health, their all-star parking spot, their hot new girlfriend, the horrible blind date, and their child’s debut in the school play. At other times we read about our friend’s more personal thoughts on certain subjects; thoughts more often seen in their personal diary: “My family members are all crazy. Why can’t I find a good man? My neighbor needs some serious therapy. His wedding ring is off…guess I know what that means.” The emotional consequences of sharing such personal information publically can be severe. Excessive sharing and newsfeed-checking can even lead to increased narcissism, ADHD and stalking behavior – and yet many of us keep on sharing.
Metaphorically, the keyboard has become a gateway between our thoughts and the public, while the computer screen has morphed into an emotional shield against a face in which we stare at directly, a fixation where we project our desires and our fears. Perceived safety and unlimited public access encourages us to openly broadcast our most private thoughts and feelings. And while we may feel empowered by our ability to express ourselves like never before, sharing our thoughts without filter can leave us feeling overly exposed. When we find that our self-expression gets us (or others) into trouble, we may be pushing the limits of what’s considered healthy communication. Ask yourself this: Is your emotional expression based on a need to elevate others or the opposite? Are you possibly hurting yourself in the process? Here’s a thought – what if over-sharing emotional expression on Facebook actually promotes problems instead of alleviating them. What happens then?
Maura noticed her husband Charles becoming increasingly distant from her. He started spending a lot of time on Facebook and whenever she’d ask him what he was doing or with whom he was talking, he would quickly close his laptop. Each attempt she made to involve herself more in his life was rejected. She avoided what she already knew: Charles was having an affair and it was with someone that he frequently interacted with on Facebook. She began noticing a woman adding flirtatious comments on his posts and when Maura checked this woman’s Facebook wall, she noticed comments alluding to her feelings towards Maura’s husband. Maura started sharing her own feelings about her husband on her wall. Way deep inside she knew she was wrong to do this, especially since she and Charles were Facebook friends with their teenage daughter, but somehow she couldn’t help herself. If this woman is going public, so could she. After all, she had feelings too.
- Maura, 35, Chicago IL
As you would guess, there’s a wide range of what some people are willing to share on social media. Some people avoid this feature entirely, some simply update their status with their latest news, while others leave nothing to the imagination. Whatever thoughts they are having, whatever feelings they are experiencing, whatever situation they are going through – friends on Facebook will become aware of it and regardless of how much is publically shared on one’s profile, every post that is openly exhibited will inevitably be examined and judged. But somehow, we don’t mind the judgment as long as we are heard, and there are plenty of us who want to read all about it.
Perhaps voyeurism is becoming our new favorite pastime. Realty shows certainly have given us plenty of opportunities to spy into the lives of others. How many of us have at one time become addicted to watching at least one? I’ve definitely needed my “fix” of a few. I’ve often wondered which need is stronger: the need to express oneself or the need to watch the expression of others? Maybe Facebook fulfills both needs at once, and possibly the current technology toys: tablets, laptops, and mobile phones are changing the game in terms of how quickly we all can gain access into a theatre-like world where we can become both the performer and the audience.