Anyone who’s been through or is going through a breakup will understand how lonely it can be. Can online communities help?
You can have the biggest circle of friends and family around you but if no one understands exactly how you feel, then it can be a lonely place. I had amazing friends supporting me through the tough times, but only one of them had been through a divorce and as much as they cared for me, could not understand the pain and fears I felt.
Community is an essential part of life.
Part of being human is craving connection in person, and to search for others going through similar experiences or with the same interests as us; thus the word community (common-unity). There is also a physiological response when we spend time with others in person, for example, making eye contact, shaking hands, hugging when greeting each other or departing company. We release oxytocin and endorphins, the hormones that give feelings of pleasure and happiness which is important for bonding and feeling safe.
Communities allow us to support each other, share experiences, offer advice and build relationships. It gives us a sense of belonging and being a part of something bigger. So it’s no wonder that when going through a traumatic episode, we go in search of others who are going through the same.
So are online communities as good as in-person communities?
One problem these days is that we are so busy, it’s often difficult to meet in person and while platforms such as Facebook can be a source of discomfort for some people, it’s an essential place of connection for others who perhaps can’t get out of the house or are too shy for in-person meetups.
Facebook is chock full of groups for all sorts of things from business to new mums and everything in between and it will come as no surprise that there are lots of groups for people going through divorce and separation. Seven years ago when going through my first year of separation, I didn’t even think to look on social media for support, and here I am today with my own group supporting women through divorce.
Social media v face to face interaction
Social media has become a normal part of life for most of us and being able to connect with others wherever and whenever is quite frankly amazing. To have that support at our fingertips is a lifeline that we should embrace.
However, I would never consider online communities to take the place of in-person meetings completely because as humans our need for human connection is deep and goes back to our roots. There’s a comfort in knowing that you’ll be sitting next to a person and connecting on a deeper level and of course, there’s nothing better than a hug from someone you love and trust.
The flip side of this online connection is the experience of someone relying solely on online groups that they end up isolating themselves looking for the support they require.
Another issue that may arise is the quality of these ‘friendships’ found online, for example, Facebook friends. Because of the distance, it’s often not possible to develop deeper bonds from not meeting in person, friendships typically develop because of our similar availability with others.
Whereas we may feel a deeper sense of caring and responsibility for the friends who live close by, creating a sense of obligation to each other. There’s also research to show that some people are more open to sharing their issues at a deeper level online than to friends in-person. It feels safer and less vulnerable sharing details with people we will never meet or who are not in our circle.
For me, both online groups and in-person groups/friendships are important. I need both…I love meeting up with friends and I also love online groups for advice and support. The online groups tend to give you quick answers to problems you are facing, without any ties. They can also fulfil my need for feeling a sense of belonging which feeds my human nature.
Some guidelines to consider when forming new and healthy friendships online:
- Sometimes the thought of taking part in something with new people can be daunting, but this is a gift to yourself. Think about what it is you need, whether it is a social experience like a book club or perhaps a “feel better” experience like a walking/running group. There may be something you’d like to learn or just need emotional support. Assess where you are and what kind of group will help or encourage you to reach your goals and grow.
- Be patient. One of the traps that being online feeds is a sense of immediacy or expecting people to reply right away or constantly checking to see if messages were read as some people can take time to warm up and trust.
- Make sure the groups you are interacting in are good for you. Don’t stay in groups where there’s too much negativity that makes you feel worse or fires up your angry side. One example is a divorce group I was in where there was a lot of aggression and anger towards their ex and the ex’s new partners which isn’t good for moving forward amicably.
- And finally always put your safety first, especially if you are meeting up with someone you have only known online. It goes without saying that meeting in public is the first rule and the second, make sure someone knows where you are.
Whatever stage you are at, reach out to online communities where you feel safe and supported.
Lean on friends and family to get you through the tough stages, making sure you never feel completely alone. Or find a good therapist or coach who can help you untangle the messy parts and help you on the road to recovery.
If you’re currently struggling with the end of a relationship or feeling stuck after a breakup, then consider joining an online community and attend in-person based on personal interest and hobbies to fulfil your need for human connection. You could also find a local church, peer group or even create your own through meetup.com or the events section of Facebook.
To join the conversation and get support through your separation/divorce contact me through my website, www.debbierosecoaching.co.uk, or join my free Facebook group Divorce with Dignity, and follow me on Instagram @coachingbydebbie.