don’t take it personally*
*sorry, I have (because it is)
Hello dear reader,
So today, let’s talk about being unfollowed.
That moment when you spot, on one of the socials, whether it be Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, that someone you know, a friend possibly, has chosen to unfollow you.
I’m not talking about the daily unfollow or churn that comes from strangers or bots.
People that know you.
Have you ever done this? Unfollowed someone you know well?
I have – but only once. There was good reason, too, their page contained some rather hurtful stuff that was not doing me any good to read. It included some passive aggressive rants that were partially aimed at me*
Has anyone ever done it to you?
Have you ever realised that someone you know, someone who is more than a casual acquaintance, has decided to unfollow you? A friend, a family member, someone that matters to you, or you have journeyed with?
I’ve been on the receiving end, several times. Twice recently. It upset me so much I didn’t even want to tell anyone (see points further on as to why that probably was). It’s a weird experience. When you realise that the reason you’re not getting a message response is because you’re sat in their junk message box, when you click through and realise you’re no longer ‘friends’ or ‘mutual followers’ or whatever. And you thought you were.
You might be of the persuasion to think none of this matters. Good for you. I beg to differ. I have to say the last couple of times that happened to me, it stung. It pinched my ego, hurt my feelings, left me wondering why. Because, although you might say to me, oh Hannah, don’t take things personally – it most definitely is personal.
I asked you (on social media ha) to tell me if it had happened to you. It had, to lots of you. Let’s hear your feedback.
I asked: How did it make you feel?
Interestingly, even some of the most robust amongst my social community found it difficult. They *did* take it personally.
Most common responses included: concerned, curious, resigned, felt they had misjudged a situation, awkward around them, rejected, awful, horrible, angry, felt that person had been a coward, worried they’d upset that person, pretty bad, sad, p***ed off, like I had done something wrong, bothered.
In summary – in the vast majority of situations, it hurt.
Then I asked you: Why do you think they did it?
Some of these were pretty specific and personal, but could be summarised by a feeling that someone was being passive aggressive, and that it related to something much bigger, or, there was resentment of some kind, or a genuine disinterest in their posts! There was also a lot of people who just didn’t know, and this was what hurt even more.
Most common responses included: lack of regular contact, no idea, maybe I was being a bit annoying on socials at the time? they resented me, my socials were boring? distancing themselves, response to gossip about me, they had an issue with me, it was their issue, I did something wrong, because I was clearly not really a friend, they didn’t like how I was changing or developing, finding out something on socials rather than in person had hurt them.
Here’s an interesting one: shame – ‘it was easier to do this than to do it in person’
And another: ‘I had done something outside of socials that they didn’t like’
I think understanding the why, can help us deal with the feelings associated. When I asked you all about this, you weren’t really sure why it had happened in most cases, and were taking a bit of a stab in the dark.
But there are a few simple reasons that we should consider, and also decide if we have some responsibility for.
Perhaps you’re posting a lot of stuff and they don’t want to see it. Your content may, for whatever reason trigger feelings in them. Annoyance, irritation, jealousy, boredom, pain, frustration. You don’t need to stop posting, of course, it’s your space. But, perhaps the content that you are sharing is causing pain or irritation that you are not responsible for, but could be a trigger for. It could also be that they just find the content unhelpful, boring, repetitive, or just not what they want to see. Maybe your opinions on things are different to theirs, and they don’t want to work that out in a public arena.
As a regular social media user, I have to say I do worry about causing resentment or comparison in others, and know that I myself have been triggered by content. I do try to ask myself when I am posting – what am I trying to say? What am I trying to prove here? Am I trying to say something through posts that should be said in person? (or left unsaid?)
Finally I asked you: did you ever ask them about it?
99.9% NO. Including me. There were shudders and feelings of horror at even the thought of it for most of you. Why is that? Why, would even the most happily confrontational amongst us, choose not to address this and ask?
I have a few thoughts as to why we don’t, and they centre around one word. And this was the reason I didn’t even want to tell people it had happened.
I am not a shame expert (unless having felt it makes you one). But here’s a definition so that we can make sure we know what we are talking about.
intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging
In this kind of situation, my theory is, that it isn’t that dissimilar to being left off a party invite, not included in the WhatsApp, being out of the crowd on the school playground. It’s the same the world over. We find ourselves being excluded, it feels intentional, and it leads us back to ourselves. We are flawed in some way and that is why it has happened. We don’t belong. I think there could be many reasons why we may have acted in some way that has caused this behaviour from another person, but, can I please remind you that this was still their choice. They chose to distance themselves, and to do so in a way that made it hard for you to respond. Shame is a wholly unhelpful emotion as it holds us back from saying the hard word, addressing the difficult situation, or putting some distance between ourselves and somebody else’s actions.
The more we put ourselves in others’ shoes, the more we have meaningful connections we have with others (not easy on social media, for sure), the more aware we are of what triggers a sense of shame, the more we talk with others about what has happened, the more resilience we build to shame.
So, in conclusion.
It’s not a very nice experience.
It’s intensely personal, but maybe it isn’t personal at all.
Can I leave one final suggestion? There’s something called a mute button. Unless there’s a legitimate reason to unfollow someone on socials, maybe try that instead?
*I did this before I discovered the mute button. On this occasion, I also didn’t challenge the behaviour, I just walked away from it. Unsure even to this day whether that was the right thing to do.
P.S. You can read more about social media anxiety here.