Are You A Masochist? The Psychology Behind Stalking On Social Media

mas·och·ism noun \ˈma-sə-ˌki-zəm: enjoyment of pain : pleasure that someone gets from being abused or hurt

You know the feeling: sudden nausea, accelerated heart rate, wishing you could instantly erase the memory or merely pretend you didn't see it. But, you did see it. In fact, you didn't just stumble on it — you were looking for it. And now, you can’t look away.

Whether you were secretly stalking your ex or the person he or she is dating now, the details you need are all easily available on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. There are Foursquare check-ins at the restaurant you used to always go to together, photos of your ex with someone new and, of course, the social media sting of the century — the changed relationship status. Actively looking for this information only causes you pain and yet, you continue to do it.

So the question is: deep down, do you like it?

If the definition of insanity means doing the same thing repeatedly and hoping for a different result, we all belong in an asylum. We know the innate risk in staying friends with exes on Facebook, in following their new flames or posting a status that puts us in a somewhat vulnerable position. So, why do we keep coming back for one more digital slap?

Apparently, the desire to discover painful truths runs deep.

A recent study by The University of Gothenburg in Sweden determined that there was a strong link between Facebook usage and low self-esteem or self-worth. The more time people spent on the site, the worse they felt about themselves. And yet, a staggering 84 percent of people who were surveyed admitted that they log in daily and one-quarter of them confessed they would feel uneasy if they couldn’t use Facebook on a regular basis.

Another survey by the University of Michigan found that the more participants used Facebook over the two-week study period, the more their life satisfaction plummeted.

In his 1988 paper on masochism, psychologist Roy Baumeister detailed how the intense societal pressure to develop a unique identity can ultimately lead to an urge to escape. Of course, social media gives us the power to reinvent ourselves, but that same freedom can be a burden. Trying to accumulate the most “likes” with every post and rewording tweets to get the most followers is nothing short of exhausting. We are constantly calculating and fine-tuning our personas to get cyber approval, and as we become increasingly self-aware, we in turn become more vulnerable. Inevitably, we seek the strongest mode of escape that exists: masochism. We're disassociating the only way we know how — by hurting.

It’s not surprising that we keep coming back for more e-flagellation. What’s so exhilarating about social sites is that the experience can be unexpectedly visceral. Checking comments on your latest profile picture or scanning through some photos that were tagged of an old flame can be agonizing and elating — it can make your heart drop or your endorphins surge.

So maybe we are simply a generation that takes pleasure in the pain of knowing too much. We’ve been granted the key to way too much information and most of us become too powerless to resist, laying ourselves out to be whipped and lashed by the digital masses.

The truth is, though, it doesn’t have to be this way. All it takes is a click of a button to hide what is ultimately self-destructive and self-defeating, and as we all know, sometimes, ignorance really is bliss.

The major problem with allowing what you see on your Twitter and Instagram feeds to have such a significant impact on your emotions and self-esteem is that so much of it is an artificial reality. Just because that couple staring back at you looks so irritatingly blissful or that girl to whom you constantly compare yourself appears to have it all doesn’t necessarily make the assumptions valid or true. What does that mean? You’re torturing yourself for nothing.

One of the defining traits of Masochistic Personality Disorder is choosing situations that you know will only lead to feelings of disappointment or failure when better options are available. So maybe it’s time to ask yourself a few questions — like why you’re choosing to stay friends with your ex on Facebook.

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