Insight Is 20/20

Exploring the pervasive, and unperceived, patterns that govern our lives

Facebook OCD

Facebook stalking: Yes, it really is a problem.

Oh, Lord, I just can't take it anymore. All over the world, men and women are emotionally regressing at rapid rates, morphing into adolescents who've caught a terrible romantic infection whose symptoms are jealousy and paranoia. Making this epidemic possible is Facebook, the social-networking site that has the world singing the same "Kum ba yah, we're all connected!" chorus, and I'm concerned that the state of romantic relationships today is jeopardized because of it.

I find that men and women, when interested in someone romantically, obsessively check their romantic target's Facebook page, wall, pictures, posts, statuses, etc., trying to get more information on said target. Early on, they're on the hunt for photos: does it look like he might be with that girl? Is her arm wrapped around him in a sexual way? Do you think they're together?

Once the relationship is actually underway, I've noticed that this obsessive-compulsive checking not only continues, but gets worse. Afflicted men and women (and aren't we all just a little bit afflicted?) start searching for information about their paramour's friends, reading everyone's walls for appearances of the target's name. People start getting anxious, and there's no slowing down from there. Has she mentioned me in her status update? Has she posted any pictures of us yet together?

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The worst of the Facebook OCD I see (and keep in mind that I use the term "OCD" here to compare it to a well known psychological disorder, not to suggest that this is a mental-health disorder on the same level as professionally diagnosed OCD) happens when men and women in romantic relationships end those relationships. People are breaking into their targets' Facebook accounts once they've been cut out of their target's friendship circle, trying to glean more information about what he or she is doing now. This behavior, the Facebook obsessor realizes at some point, is becoming a problem. Checking Facebook to see what the ex is doing becomes a drug. People start swearing off Facebook, determined to close their accounts and somehow make it impossible to check their obsessee's page again.

Oh, this is terrible! The therapist in me is crying out: "This is really unhealthy, and it is lowering your self-esteem!" Facebook OCD is revealing adult men and women to be overgrown adolescents who are susceptible to feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. One of the hallmarks of Facebook OCD is the fact that, after all the obsessive thoughts about his or her romantic target and the compulsive checking on Facebook to keep track of the former crush's daily life, the checker feels worse: ashamed of the lengths he or she has gone to, and feeling empty, sad, and alone, while connected - so to speak - with five hundred million others.

If you engage in this kind of self-destructive behavior on Facebook, try to cut it out altogether (or, at the very least, reduce its frequency). Focus on your feelings and your needs, rather than the person you were at one time - or still are - interested in. Finally, if Facebook is leaving you feeling unhappy, consider taking a break (you can temporarily deactivate your account without losing any of the information you and your friends have posted there). Maybe when you return to it, you'll have had time to focus your mind on things that make you feel better, rather than worse.


PLUS: Dr. Seth's new book, Dr. Seth's Love Prescription, delves deeply into how to stop repeating bad patterns in your romantic relationships. It's in bookstores today, or find it at Amazon.com and other online retailers.

 

Seth Meyers, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health.

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