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The #Grief We Feel

How social media changes the way we grieve

Key points

  • Social media can be overwhelming following a tragic event and can hinder the grieving process.
  • Reading too much about tragic events on social media can keep people from feelingt feel present in their own daily life.
  • For some, it may be wise to refrain from using social media in order to grieve over a tragic national event.

In the wake of tragedy, social media comes alive. It is only natural, as people try to make sense of senseless acts, that we turn to media platforms as a place of shared confusion, anger, and grief. In turn, it is easy to become encompassed by secondhand grief after scrolling through apps and websites full of sadness and heartbreak.

We become so engulfed in the news and events that we read about on social media that we sometimes forget to step back and turn the grief into love for those around us. Hours of scrolling through tweets and headlines pulls us away from the life that such news proves is so very precious. Certainly, grief is warranted in such situations, as are anger, fear, and dread, but saturating ourselves nonstop in anguish prevents us from being able to process the grief we feel.

Moreover, it can also prevent us from seeing what is right in front of us: our lives and loved ones who are still with us and deserving of our love. Scrolling mindlessly through our feeds in times like this takes us down a rabbit hole of anguish that permeates our real life and leaves us dissociated and numb, too disgusted by the state of the world to be in the mood to show love to those around us. Meanwhile, a loved one might be sitting only feet away, themselves falling deeper into a rabbit hole, unable to be fully present while the opportunity to do so is still there.

Photo courtesy of WikiCommons
Source: Photo courtesy of WikiCommons

It is hard to stop the scrolling. Sometimes, it even feels as if avoiding social media in response to crisis overload is pledging oneself to willful ignorance, a privilege that some do not have. Failing to speak out or express some form of despair can also feel wrong, a statement of passivity. And yet, choosing to verbalize sadness or anger can feel like shouting into an already-too-loud void in which nobody truly hears anyway.

Social media can be a wonderful thing in many ways, but it is also a double-edged sword. It makes personal introspection difficult, as we amplify our grief in an echo chamber without understanding why we feel the need to do so and until we forget what exists beyond the screen or who we are when others cannot hear our thoughts. It makes working through grief feel impossible, because moving on feels insensitive and soon another tragedy will yoke us back to the first stage of grief. It makes the world feel lonely and hopeless, despite our friends and followers being quantified on the screen in front of us.

Surely, this is not what social media is meant to be.

And yet, social media can also be a beautiful place where humanity is on display in all its forms. Our capacity for hatred and spite coexists with our capacity for love and understanding, just as it does in real life. Our ability to empathize truly and deeply with complete strangers is awaakened by these apps, as is our capacity for choosing to connect with others despite knowing the harm that we humans are so capable of.

Grief is grief. It has no hashtag. It has no word count. It was never meant to be as loud, as all-encompassing, or as never-ending as it is on social media. It’s normal and necessary and so difficult to bear, especially when we know that another’s suffering could just as easily have been our own on a different day.

Social media may help us make sense of our grief, but it can also hinder our ability to turn our sadness into something greater,—love, a call to action, inner peace. So scroll to mourn alongside neighbors, connect with old friends, or distract yourself with laughter, but don’t forget that the most important things in life aren’t found on your feed.

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