Relationship boundaries in social media

As a pre digital revolution baby boomer, traversing the world of IT and social media has been challenging.  I was slow to venture into the realm of Facebook and was certainly naïve about how to use it helpfully. For my first 7 years I friended family only, ignoring all incoming friend requests. Then I did an about face and somewhat impulsively accepted all requests in one foul swoop, announcing that I had decided to come out of the ‘stone age.’

When my book publisher fed back that I needed a social media presence in order to gain entry into the US publishing market, I decided it was time to be better informed about this area. This prompted my seeking assistance to start up this blog site along with its attached Facebook page. I wasn’t aiming for a large reach, just a platform to gradually work out how to utilise this medium for sharing ideas. For the past 2 years I have been fumbling my way through navigating this strange boundary-less online world; and it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.

Like any new relational domain, my interactions with social media reveal much about myself. In particular it has revealed ways I’m inclined towards fusion in relationships. For example, I have written some personal blogs along the way, which have  included my intersections with broader family member’s lives. Often in ways that identify some of their circumstances – at times including photos. Importantly this has been done without fully asking permission. While I have consciously focussed on representing my own ‘growing up’ journey, I have come to see ways that I have inadvertently invaded other’s personal boundaries.  While it has been uncomfortable, I have been grateful to receive some honest feedback about other’s unwelcome experience of reading mentions about them in a blog or post. This feedback has helped me see the subtle ways I make assumptions on behalf of others.

In the realm of social media, I think us parents need to be especially respectful of the autonomy of our children (whatever their age). I recently came across a new word to describe social media boundary issues for parents: ‘Sharenting.’ It’s quite telling that such a word has emerged to describe how over-involvement with our children may spill onto a parent’s Facebook and Instagram pages. I remind myself that our children are not our property and hence their lives are not open slather material for our conversations and our social media. I have come to see more clearly that as my children have launched into their adulthood, their separate lives and boundaries are even more important to honour.  Mia Freidman, long time Mamamia blogger writes:

We are the first generation of parents who have to decide how much of our children’s lives are made public. We must choose how exposed they’re going to be. How much of their story we’re going to write through images of them and words about them before they’re old enough to decide how – and if – they want to be portrayed to the world. These are very big decisions.

For my adult children and for all of the people who are part of my systems of relationships, I have increasingly seen the importance of thoughtfully considering what I write and post. Given my blog is all about relationships, the appropriate lines of privacy can be easily blurred. Primarily I refrain from the fusion trap of assuming that any other person would approve of my referring to them in a public blog or post. I can mention the relationships I’m part of but if I refer to another’s life circumstance, then their permission needs to be requested. At the same time if I only write what I think others will approve, this can be another expression of togetherness fusion. I see that mindreading on others behalf is a form of ‘over-functioning’ in crossing boundaries while posting what we perceive will bring the most approval is an ‘under- functioning’ kind of fusion. If I’m honest I need to watch for both immature possibilities in my online relating.

What is this ‘fusion’ thing I keep referring to? Immature fusion (or undifferentiation) is when we fail to discriminate where our separate selves begin and end in relation to others. It is when the positive bonds of human relationships are amplified (usually unintentionally) to the detriment of respecting each person’s autonomy within the family/group. The more a person utilises the experience of togetherness with others to steady them self in life, the more vulnerable they are to ‘fused’ relationships. Additionally, the more a person avoids uncomfortable relationships and focusses on the validating harmony that can be found in a small nuclear family/ or ‘in’ group, the more likely they are to lose perspective regarding their boundaries with these people. I see that we all have degrees of such immature fusion in our lives and relationships.  My responsibility is to address indicators of my fusion, to the best of my capacity, when it is evident in my relationships.

Self- absorption and unhelpful togetherness is a challenge for us all in this anxious world. The realm of social media provides a new stage for this and hence calls for honest reflection and clarification of relationship principles. I have seen my own lapses in wisdom and maturity as I have engaged with this public, web based domain.  At those confronting times it would have been tempting to simply cut off my social media involvement to avoid the risk of future discomfort. However I consider that I’ll learn and grow more by continuing to work at managing myself online with clearer principles and awareness of my potential lapses.  For this work in progress, the following principles are emerging as helpful to me:

  • Is there any assumption made on behalf of another in posting this?
  • Am I conveying thinking about myself in my relationships and not crossing into giving a subjective commentary about another’s life?
  • Have I thought about the longer term implications for people’s privacy around what I post?
  • If I am conveying the thinking of others? Do I appropriately give them credit in my referencing?
  • Am I clear about the purpose of my site (which posts belong where)? Have I communicated this clearly to the potential readers? Do I keep within these parameters and not impulsively post about areas about which I have insufficient knowledge or permission?
  • Is my self-referencing in social media portraying an exaggerated picture of my accomplishments, my relationship strengths or the flip side = failures?
  • Equally is my other-referencing portraying an exaggerated picture of other’s accomplishments or failures?
  • Am I posting what conveys my own thinking or am I editing myself in an effort to garner the most online approval?

NOTES: Bowen conveys that = High Fusion People Live in a feeling dominated world. So much energy goes into seeking love and approval and keeping the relationship in some kind of harmony, there is little energy for life-directed goals.

Less fused people = have employed logical reasoning to develop principles and convictions that they use to over-rule the emotional system in situations of anxiety and panic. They are less relationship directed.

Summarised from: Family Therapy in Clinical Practice p 366- 370

Mia freedman blog and use of the term: ‘Sharenting’ 

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