If you hear a “Yes” in your mind for many of these questions, this article will help you in dealing with the challenges of the FOMO effect in relationships.
The Paradox of the FOMO Effect: The more I know, the lesser I know
The Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) has rapidly become a way of life for many of us. We constantly live in the fear of being left out and the assumptions of missing out on something important around us. We become a duck swimming in the pond – on the face of it, we appear to glide through our life with a smile, and underneath, we’re busily paddling away, figuring things out, finding out what is happening and where without us.
Sadly, this search for knowing starts a chain reaction – the more we yearn to know more, the more this knowing becomes insufficient. It becomes a bowl without the base, feeding an ongoing cycle of hopelessness, isolation, and insecurity. We become more dissatisfied in the search for satisfaction. Recent studies have shared that when we give in to the FOMO feeling, we experience depressive symptoms, lack of concentration, mood swings, loneliness, feelings of inferiority, reduced self-esteem, and extreme social anxiety. Such effects show up in our physical and mental health.
In the words of Brené Brown, “FOMO lures us out of our integrity with whispers about what we could or should be doing.” Researchers Przybylski and colleagues in 2013 defined FOMO as “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent” which is characterized by the desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing.”
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Why the sudden fear of missing out??
As technology brings us closer to information, it also increases our hunger to know more. The quick access to information on our fingertips has surely benefitted us, but it has also implicitly encouraged us to feel entitled to every piece of information anytime, anywhere. Hence, when we don’t know what is happening where, especially about the ones we wish to keep an eye on or genuinely know about, we begin to experience symptoms of anxiety. We experience persistent thoughts throughout the day, which interferes with our relationships and work life.
Another tangent to consider is that not everyone posts everything they do. Some of us post everything we do, with images, and blogs about our lives. We follow our admired celebrity figures, and our known and unknown acquaintances on their social networking profiles and keep ourselves up to date about their lives. However, some of us are discrete and selective in what we post and what we don’t. So, there is a gap in what we know about them. And that gap in knowing gets us wondering incessantly about what is going on in their lives. We fear missing out on being with them or knowing about them, physically and virtually.
Our sense of entitlement to all information, disregarding private and professional boundaries, and our conditioning of accessing information about people we follow encourages us to assert our perceived need to know everything in our physical interpersonal relations too This shows up in constantly keep tabs on our beloved ones, asking too many questions, expressing suspicion, nagging to be informed, installing hidden gadgets, and much more. Naturally, these are genuine to us, but toxic and neurotic needs that damage our relationship with ourselves and our significant others.
Decoding the FOMO effect: What could possibly be happening within us when we experience FOMO
There is a lot being said, written, and argued about this FOMO effect in recent times. However, I feel it is critically important to pause for a few minutes and consider the underlying, deeper process. We are all much aware of how toxic the FOMO effect in relationships can be, and yet we are unable to stop ourselves from experiencing it. What seems to be the payoff in experiencing the FOMO? What could possibly be happening to us within when we experience the FOMO effect?
We are social animals, wired to connect. Isolation and alienation are disturbing experiences for humans. Our need to belong and affiliate is inherently strong, and they often motivate our actions. In this sense, when we become aware of the world moving at a pace faster than us, or different than us, this need to stay affiliated and included, belonging with our peers is activated. It compels us to maintain our status of belonging with our group.
My personal sense is that the way this need compels us is by mentally designing a gap in our mind, which is filled with all the possible pleasurable activities that could be happening and we are not included in them. The more we revisit this image, the more the fear of missing out on belonging with the world, staying connected and included with our group increases. So, when experiencing the FOMO effect, we are truly fearing the loss of belonging, connection, affiliation, being seen, and being validated.
This can be explained further with the example of dating experiences. There are people who report deep dissatisfaction with their dating life because no one seems to be good enough for them. Rather than fully exploring the human encounter they have in their present life, they are scanning for options on dating apps, assuming there is something better for them. They experience the fear of missing out on the best! Yes, there can be something better, but before that, let’s define better.
Better in terms of what? Does better mean in terms of all your needs in a partner getting met? Well, in that case, we’re making even bigger mistakes. Expecting your romantic partner to be a “one-stop-solution” for all your needs and experiences in life is a damaging image we have all grown up watching on popular media and dreaming for the same. It places undue pressure on the person and the relationship, ultimately damaging our own sense of self!
Consider the example of experiencing the FOMO effect in relationships that are committed and devoted. With social networking sites allowing access to quick sneak-peak into the lives of others drives us to desire their lifestyles and enjoy similar (or better) experiences than them. We dream of posting romantic pictures with our partner, in scenic locations as we see on our pages!
Little do we know that they are not true experiences – many are staged for promotion and marketing! When we see someone enjoying a pleasurable (including romantic) experience, our mirror neurons (a set of neurons in our brain) begin to mimic the feeling in our body – this means we feel awesome when we see the other person feeling awesome. We then dream of making this feeling come real and true!
Is this dream wrong? No. But consider the autopilot modes of our responding in the process of making these dreams come true. We nag and compare, we ignore the beautiful (different) things our partner does and offers in our relationship because it does not match our vision (not because it is not lovable). We hurt our relationships because we forget to pause – think and respond.
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Overcoming the FOMO effect
Disclaimer: These suggestions on overcoming the FOMO effect in relationships may sound simple and yet, believe me, they are easier said than done. The reason I write this is because the feeling of being left behind, isolated, and not seen are natural & genuine feelings. They are appropriate to be felt, by virtue of our social brain wiring.
And hence, to first gain control of this wiring, to then empathize with this wiring, and then to act in the benefit of this wiring through healthier alternatives requires one to be willing to walk the extra mile. It is surely going to be extremely difficult to keep up with these suggestions, and yet, I encourage readers to find ways to reward yourself whenever you observe yourself overcoming the FOMO effect. Reward yourself whenever you see yourself practicing this statement, which my trainer Anisha taught me, “I have my emotions. My emotions don’t have me.”
- Digital dieting – As much as catching up with friends and the world is important, so is catching up with yourself and your intimate relationships. Be firm and set aside hours in a day when there is no one and nothing between you and yourself, between you and your partner. And when you are with yourself or your partner or family or friend, talk about personal experiences, rather than anticipating what the others would be doing right now. Consider enriching conversations by feeding in compliments, praise, love talks, staring in the person’s eyes, or even breathing in silence in each other’s arms.
- Identify what you fear missing out on the most – When we are updated about the upcoming rains, we ensure to carry an umbrella before stepping out, right? Similarly, be updated about your own vulnerabilities (weak spots). What do you seem to fear missing out on the most? Talk about it with a trusted person and brainstorm ways to get that need met, without stressfully paddling underwaters. Remember to be kind to your weak spots and not to beat yourself for having them. They are yours, however they are. Welcome them, and let your self-love produce a change in them, instead of forcing yourself to change! Love produces change, never demands it!
- Practice gratitude – Reminding ourselves of the big and small mercies of life, the big and small things we are blessed with, which makes our life easier than it could have been, encourages us to accept ourselves, our relationships, and our lives as they are. In your daily conversation time (perhaps during dinner or when you’re talking before falling asleep or when you’re praying), recount at least two things you are grateful for in that day!
- Man has unlimited wants and limited resources – Adam Smith’s popular line reminds us that our needs and wants may keep growing, for they are natured that way. However, life is structured differently – she rations what she offers to us, and when she fulfills those wants. To develop an acceptance that it is not necessary to have all our needs met, but preferable to have them met is the key to contentment.
- Get realistic – It is an amazing feeling to dream about king-size love that is projected in popular media. But get real– in our daily living, we enjoy our life with people who add meaning to our existence, and who admire us for who we are. In the challenging and struggling lives, we yearn for a relationship that makes waking up every morning joyful and hopeful. In other words, define flexible (not loose) boundaries of your needs – what do you want to wake up to each morning? You can’t get it all!
- Value your relationships – Sadly, we take our near and dear ones for granted so easily. We think they will always be there and love us, no matter what we do or what happens. And while that can be true, does that automatically give us the license to discount their existence, the big and small things they do for us, the extra efforts they take for us, just because they chose to love us unconditionally? Consider staying the present, rather than fervently searching for something “better” out there! What is good for you in this moment of your life is already present in your life, right now – value it!
- Live for yourself and your relationships, not for the social media – Under the photoshopped, glamorized pictures is much pain, hurt, and sadness. Sometimes there is inequality, unfairness, discrimination, and many social evils. For a few likes, a few swipes, a few comments, it doesn’t seem worthwhile to hurt the one who you love and who love much more!
In my concluding remarks on the FOMO effect in relationships, I invite readers to practice the Feelings Of Meaning Odysseys, rather than the Fear of Missing Out!
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