How unkind is it to ‘unfriend’ after all?

This week happens to be the week in which two interesting ‘National Days’ fall quite closely together, but their design couldn’t be more different…or so it may seem.

Monday was ‘National Kindness Day’, and Thursday is National ‘Unfriend’ Day – both of which focus on the people around us. When this first popped up in my weekly work email of events, it made me smile at how ironic this crossover was. Then I got to thinking about it and actually, I wondered whether both could be trying to get to the same kind of outcome…a happier individual and a happier environment to live in.

Unfriend Day was started in 2014 by Jimmy Kimmel, and this is the reason why:

“Comedian Jimmy Kimmel founded Unfriend Day in 2014 to combat the growing trend of social media profiles collecting ‘friends’ like Pokemon cards, amassing a ridiculous amount of ‘friends’ they barely know at all in short periods of time. Getting rid of distant acquaintances on Unfriend Day can help streamline your internet experience, allowing you to use your profiles to keep in touch with people you really care about, and preserving the true definition of ‘friend.’”

I get his point entirely and have spoken about ‘unfriending’ before in one of my earliest posts. We all probably have people lurking in the depths of our friend list who we don’t remember adding, don’t want to be connected to anymore or just don’t know how to distance ourselves from. However unfriending them seems unkind, but why?

I’m fascinated by the way our brains work, it’s one of the reasons I started this blog. The psychology of ‘unfriending’ clearly holds some power over us, which is expertly and beautifully described by Laura Schadler in an article in which she shares her own thoughts on this social taboo. Here are some of the best bits from her story which I had to share…

“…it seems many of my friends have never unfriended anyone. Reasons include fear of seeming too invested or concerned, of offending, of giving Facebook too much validity, that they might change their mind (though in what dramatic statement about an interpersonal dynamic might we ever be sure?) and so forth. They rightfully hide the offending party and continue on. It’s a reasonable and sustainable approach where no one’s feelings are hurt and we don’t seem crazy. After all, there are plenty of people I’ve merely hidden and soon forget. It’s easy, painless and non-political. I can un-hide if I want and I don’t seem fickle. Due to this clandestine option, I forget half the people I’m friends with, but therein lies part of the strangeness and the question. Why do I stay invisibly connected to someone I want to hide, no matter what the reason?” 

“Facebook has made us forget that we don’t want to know everyone. We’ve forgotten it can be nice to be alone, as it can be helpful to be quiet…I’ve also decided that the unfriend is allowed. The art of the unfriend can range from the occasional housecleaning of people you really don’t know or will never see again, to the psychological protection of ridding yourself of someone bad for you, to no longer aligning yourself with someone you don’t want to be aligned with. Don’t avoid the unfriend for fear of seeming melodramatic or one day changing your mind. Delete your ex-boyfriend if he makes you so mad you forget you’re a grown woman. Delete the friend you wouldn’t want to meet for a drink in real life. Grow apart like you should.”

So much of this spoke to me on a very real level. So many of my friends ‘hide’ those on their feed whom they find annoying, OTT, vain or obnoxious – but why keep that invisible tether when you clearly don’t want to interact with the person at all? It feels like an easy way out but as Laura says, in real life you gravitate toward people and then circumstance, time and experience pull you apart sometimes. It’s a normal part of life and shouldn’t be something to fear.

As Jimmy says, in regard to the word ‘unfriend’, it wasn’t even in the dictionary until 2009…it wasn’t even a thing! If you didn’t want to be friends with someone it just happened, organically. It seems we collected our friends too keenly in the early days of social media, like a race to hit the highest number possible – without having the foresight to know how we’d feel about them or the platform ten years later…how could we have foreseen the power it would hold over us? I find it fascinating and scary all at once.

So, how does this relate to National Kindness Day? You could say it’s not very kind to unfriend those you once connected with in good faith. Is it indeed harsh, melodramatic and cold to cut ties – or is it the best way to be kind to yourself?

Mindfulness and making time to care for our own mental well-being is regularly talked about as being at the very bottom of our ‘to-do’ pile. We don’t put ourselves first, we don’t take the time we need to relax, give ourselves some lovin, or voice the true thoughts and emotions buzzing around our ever busy brains. What’s the long term effect of that? Stress, illness, exhaustion, depression…the list goes on. Yet at the click of a button we can rid ourselves of some of that weight pulling us down, making us feel observed, judged, spied on, tense, annoyed, angry, sad – a whole range of emotions which we don’t need social media to exasperate.

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I’m not saying getting rid of these people from your friend list will solve all your problems, you might bump into them, it might be awkward, you might feel bad for a bit – but those feelings will pass and you’ll realise that the act of perceived ‘cruelty’ to those people, was actually an act of kindness to yourself. After all, if the unfriended person truly cared and wanted to understand your thought process or build bridges with you, they’d ask you why you did it in the first place. If they don’t notice or don’t say anything then likelihood is – it hasn’t rocked their world enough to care for very long. It’s just FB after all right??

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Ultimately the very fact an ‘Unfriend Day’ exists, means that MANY MANY people out there are crying out for a reason to take that digital leap…but you don’t need Jimmy Kimmel to hold your hand.

Be kind to yourself, make that list of people you are connected to a TRUE reflection of your real life, living breathing friends…otherwise what’s the point of the whole damn thing anyway?

It’s like cheating on an exam, the number on the certificate might make you feel good for a moment – but deep down you’ll know it’s not a true reflection of who you are or what you’re about. Own it.

It’s your path…you choose which direction it goes in. 

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Feature image credit: blacksheepcreatives.com.

 

 

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