FOMO: An Answer to The New York Times Article, “The Summer You’re Not Having”

The Times article, “The Summer You’re Not Having” (8/19/15) http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/20/fashion/on-instagram-the-summer-youre-not-having.html is all about FOMO. It’s not new,  we’ve seen that sort of feeling expressed forever; but it’s certainly exacerbated by the ubiquity of people’s online “curated” lives (aptly described by Dr. Ethan Kross, cited in the article).

Having occasional concern over missing out, or not being part of things, is not uncommon. It’s when there’s an ongoing anxiety about it that it becomes more about the adequacy of the self; that is, whether we perceive ourselves as fitting in, attractive, fun, worthy, successful, etc.Interestingly, the people with the most FOMO are sometimes the very ones who are taking the thousands of photos; it’s as if they’re saying, “you see, I exist!….(‘because people like me’)**  More about this in another post.

Underlying FOMO are beliefs concerning ‘what’s wrong with me that I wasn’t invited or don’t have that life or those friends’; or, ‘I need to go to that party or they’ll forget about me and I won’t get invited again’ (because, inherently, I’m not interesting enough). Or for a person who repetitively searches (aka stalks) online for an old partner who’s now with someone else, it’s about the obsessive replaying of ‘I wasn’t good enough’ – even if it intermingles with thoughts of ‘Wow, I’m so much better than her/him’ (e.g. the new love interest) – though this latter part isn’t truly believed (if we feel pretty good about ourselves, we don’t feel the need to see others as ‘less than’).

When FOMO is a central theme for a person,  anxiety is a constant and one remains stuck in those ways of perceiving the self and the world, forming a negative feedback loop.

Strongly related to this are the kinds of attachments we formed early on with significant others. Various kinds and levels of attachment ensue, but the most basic are: Secure, Anxious and Disorganized. In some anxious and disorganized attachments, one hasn’t necessarily developed a robust enough sense of self to function well without continuous feedback from others. Consequently, the need to be noticed and liked is strong – as well as the envy of others who get noticed; hence, FOMO. (For an apt and terse discussion of Attachment, see Wikipedia)

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There’s a lot that can be done to change both the feelings and beliefs related to FOMO and, thus, how you interact in the world so that you’re not forever enviously comparing your life to those of others. Identifying the sources of these beliefs and then helping people try out new ways of functioning with specific tools is key:

-Sometimes it’s about starting to take a look at what you’re doing in your life, including the people and activities in whom you’re investing. FOMO is common in people who idealize things and live with a lot of ‘shoulds’ in their lives: I should be successful, find a (smart, wealthy, admired, well-bred) partner, do the most fun things (in all the right places), be able to tell all my friends about it, go to the right functions, etc. Re-addressing the veracity of these beliefs and then determining if they’re truly satisfying is a beginning toward change.

-Trying to experience new people and activities, even if at first it feels uncomfortable, helps people to identify more satisfying forms of ‘engagement’.

-”Returning to pleasures IRL (In Real Life) as expressed by Dr. Kross is key. Helping people do this (and figuring out what has been interfering with doing so) is where the real work is.

-Sometimes people with FOMO come to realize that they have feelings of social awkwardness that they hadn’t recognized (often hidden by drinking or drugging). Via successive approximation and shaping (easily learned), they can try out new methods of approaching and speaking with others, asking questions, taking the focus off of self (and ‘what I’m doing wrong’ or ‘did I say the right thing’), even learning to focus on something special about the person – how he laughs, smiles, pauses on a funny line.

-When FOMO has reaches the point of interfering with actual involvement with others, trying to manage this in a proximal way is key. The use of shaping to gradually lessen the frequency and time spent on social media platforms can successfully reduce isolation and enable positive social interaction which, in a feedback loop, will enable healthy engagement with the concomitant reduction in anxiety.

*On the other side, for those incessantly posting on social media (‘incessantly’ being the operative word), the person often feels a sense of emptiness if not somehow interacting with others, whether actually being with them or by being acknowledged by them, the latter being far more critical. So that means being invited, being called/texted/emailed/snap chatted, being ‘liked’ for one’s postings, etc. To play on Descarte’s dualism, “I think, therefore I am”, it’s more like, “I’m seen (and approved of), therefore I am”. The constant viewers and posters are actually quite similar in some ways.)

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