Meaningful You

Voices of contemporary psychoanalysis

With FB, You Never Have To (Get To...) Say Goodbye

Social media and the end of endings

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This blog curates the voices of the Division of Psychoanalysis (39) of the American Psychological Association. Shelley Galasso Bonanno, MA, a psychodynamic psychotherapist in private practice, submits this post:

Through the beauty of social media sites such as Facebook, we may never have to say goodbye. Emotional involvement can live on and on and on through the World Wide Web. For many relationships, rehearsals for separations and terminations become much more unlikely, if not impossible, to accomplish. Often, goodbyes can be avoided indefinitely. I have been contemplating the value of never letting go, of avoiding painful separations, of never having to say goodbye. In other words, of a world essentially without emotional closure or death.

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The idea of never having to say goodbye can be contemplated as both a wish and a dread. I am reminded of early science fiction films where one can live forever, sometimes without visible signs of aging. Where we never have to say goodbye or grieve our losses, and instead must learn the art of never having to say goodbye, even when we want to. Is the absence of such loss a luxury, a curse, or both?

Social media sites, such as Facebook, seem to transcend time and place. In the past, we went on a vacation, met new people, shared days of fun, and then separated after exchanging photographs and addresses. While the partings may have saddened us, the connections formed rarely continued or developed long beyond the initial encounter. Perhaps, years later we might revisit the relationship in our faded memories when we come across the vacation photograph depicting smiling faces, allowing us to exclaim, “Remember so and so? What was her name again?” Now, we share emails and become their “friends” on social media sites. We learn of their lives. We see intimate photographs of their children, their grandchildren! We never have to say goodbye. We keep in touch and reconnect years later, perhaps for another carefree vacation. Or we wonder how to extricate ourselves from a relationship that was meant to be only a fling, and as an ongoing connection interferes with our daily life.

Young adults graduate from high school and college. In the pre-social media world, scribbles on the inside of yearbooks with promises to always stay in touch quickly fade as we settle into our adult life and the years pass. We never hear from our “closest” friends again. Separated by time and distance. Years later we catch a glimpse of someone who reminds us of our beloved classmate, with whom we once shared everything, and wonder if that could be them. We might decide, (or decide not) to approach them. We have moved on. Now it has become often more difficult to move on from childhood relationships than to maintain them. Close friends remain such, acquaintances remain on the radar. Does that make it harder to find space for new, adult relationships?

Romantic breakups. Divorces. In the past, we went our own ways, particularly in the absence of children, without connection. We worked through it emotionally. We cried—hopefully growing emotionally from the experience and moving forward. Often, our paths never crossed again. Now, we continue our emotional connections, often unbeknownst to our previous partner, through social media. We view photographs, read postings, catch a glimpse of their newborn children, and our emotional connection seemingly never ends, making it difficult to move on, foreclosing or at least encumbering new emotional connections to others.

There is no question that social media allow us the indulgence (or is it the torment?) of avoiding terminations. Even when Facebook users die, often their pages are saved and memorialized by those by whom the person was loved and cherished. One can live on in social media, not one dimensional as in print or photographs, but through a living web page, with postings and updated status reports, that continue to be active even years after one is departed. A lovely way to revisit one’s beloved, or a way to prevent closure and live in the past instead of the present?

What about those who have decided against joining the social media craze? Those who are technology challenged or uninterested in maintaining online connections? Are their closures and separations more psychologically healthy? Less complicated? More final? Do they move-on more quickly, with less difficulty?

And what does that mean for the world of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy? Given that we are unlikely to “friend” our analysts or our therapists, we must either struggle with an apparently interminable analysis or work through a termination. Thus psychoanalysis is one place where both the wish and dread for termination is alive and well. Where dress rehearsals for the final act are commonplace.

Like it or not, social media are almost certainly here to stay. Therefore, the real question is not whether they promote emotional health, but how to ensure that they do not interfere with achieving the delicate art of closure. Sadly, although web-wide relationships, with all their glory of inhibiting the need to ever let go completely, may often prevent us from achieving closure, they have yet to allow us a way to avoid the ultimate separation; that is, death.

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Shelley Galasso Bonanno, MA has been a practicing limited licensed psychologist since 1987. In addition to conducting psychotherapy and psychological evaluations, she is also a court approved mediator. She is a member of multiple psychological organizations, as well as an associate member of the American Psychological Association, Division 39, Psychoanalysis. Her writing has been printed in various publications including The American Psychoanalyst; The Division Review, and local mental health newsletters. With much excitement, she is pleased to announce this represents her first blog post.

Kristi Pikiewicz is managing editor of the American Psychological Association's Division of Psychotherapy DIVISION/Review.

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