Monday 22 April 2019

Do you need to block your ex from social media?

Break-ups are hard, especially when your former flame and his new love's romantic selfies pop up in your feeds. Our reporter looks at ways to block your ex from your social platforms... but maybe not your heart

Computer says no: Audrey Greene digitally erased her ex from her social media accounts Photo: Damien Eagers
Computer says no: Audrey Greene digitally erased her ex from her social media accounts Photo: Damien Eagers

Vicki Notaro

Have you ever seen the film 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind'?

 In it, a couple played by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet are so traumatised by the end of their relationship that they decide to have all their memories of one another wiped from their brains. The pain is so great post break-up that neither can bear it.

Brilliantly capturing the feeling of limbo and all the hurt involved in a break-up, the film had many people wishing they could do the same thing. But it was made in 2004, long before social media took hold on the world we now live in, and perhaps the filmmakers couldn't have imagined that in 2016, more than a decade later, we'd all be so utterly digitally connected.

These days, it's simply not enough to erase your ex from your memory. Many people are also choosing to remove former lovers from their digital memory, so as not to get hurt all over again by news of new relationships, or simply by photos of them having a fantastic time post-split.

Mind games: Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey in 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind', where characters have specific memories erased
Mind games: Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey in 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind', where characters have specific memories erased

It's a relatively new phenomenon, this ability to purge your Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp accounts of your former flame, and apps like KillSwitch can even discreetly help you go about your deleting business. But is it a healthy behaviour for somebody in pain?

Mark Smyth, senior clinical psychologist and member of Psychological Society of Ireland, thinks so. "I think this is probably a welcome development. In the pre-Facebook days, when we went through a break-up, it was somewhat easier to achieve the space necessary to survive the emotional pain that can accompany a split.

Read more: 4 signs you're heading towards a break-up

"In today's environment, this is much more difficult, because we are all interconnected on so many levels through social media, which makes it so much more difficult to achieve that necessary closure," he says.

"We tend to struggle when we're left to the mercy of our thoughts and emotions, the last thing that we need when alone at night trying to get to sleep is a barrage of emotional reminders on social media of our previous partner."

It makes sense, perhaps, to protect yourself in the aftermath of a romantic implosion, but how far should we go? With social media, there are different levels of deleting, depending on just how much you want to stick it to your ex, rub it in their face or be a little bit sneaky.

The simplest way to go about it all is just to remove them manually from every platform, utilising the delete or unfollow button. However, the person in question will know you've done this if they try to view your profile, and it could cause a little friction.

"If you don't want to see somebody in your stream, on Facebook you can just block them," says Dublin-based social-media strategist Darragh Doyle. "They won't be able to see your posts, find you in searches, send you messages and they won't appear on your newsfeed - so, for example, you won't see they're away on holiday with their new partner.

Read more: Brian McFadden is right, pretending your ex doesn’t exist is the only way to move on

"If you choose to unfriend them, they will still appear in friends' photos and feeds. It might be the more polite and mature method, but blocking can be more effective, especially if you're hurt. The unfollow option is like the mute button on Twitter - they won't appear in your newsfeed and you won't have to witness what kind of cat videos they've been watching, but they still have access to contact you and tag you, and vice versa."

Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston in The Break-Up. Picture: Universal
Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston in The Break-Up. Picture: Universal

However, Darragh warns that while your daily newsfeed is one thing, the pesky Facebook On This Day app is another altogether, as this encourages you to view your "memories" from the day in question all the way back in the website's decade-long history.

"A lot of people don't know that in your settings you can specify that you don't want to be shown any memories including this particular person, for sensitive situations."

Read more: Revealed: This is the age people are most likely to cheat

Darragh also points out that even if you're not friends with someone on Facebook or you have them blocked, if you're in the same group or invited to the same event, you'll see them. "It's like real life, you can bump in to people around the internet, too, even when you're trying not to."

Audrey Greene, a 35-year-old mum of two living in Kiltegan, Co Wicklow, has had two experiences of digitally erasing her exes. "The most recent was three years ago. We met online and for a while, things were good. He wasn't much of a social-media user or texter and preferred to talk on the phone. It all started to go downhill with him starting a new job and suddenly he became a fan of texting and social media. His life suddenly revolved around digital communication."

The pair later broke up and Audrey decided to remove him from her digital life.

"When we broke up, I became very popular with his friends and family online, so I erased all traces of our relationship; I deleted friends and family, untagged myself in photos others had posted and then blocked as many people as necessary. I also blocked his number from my phone, but he did contact me from other numbers."

Audrey said the very act made her feel better. "He lost the right to know anything about me. I would highly recommend doing a digital clear-out, because the less there is to see of an ex, the better, be it good or bad.

Brian McFadden and Vogue Williams recently revealed they're no longer on speaking terms so they could
Brian McFadden and Vogue Williams recently revealed they're no longer on speaking terms so they could "move on".Brian McFadden pictured in 2012. Picture: Frank McGrath

"Social media is meant for keeping in touch with friends. I think relationships are so much harder these days because everyone seems to be friends with everyone else, and too much of life is overshared. Ten years ago, a break-up was a break-up and you avoided the person if you needed to - crossing the road or taking the phone off the hook. Now your online activity is there for all to see."

Read more: Undercover lover - Is it ever OK to read a partner's text messages? 

If required, there are a number of apps like the aforementioned KillSwitch that will aid you in your quest to digitally rid yourself of another person. That app will remove all traces of a particular person from Facebook without actually unfriending or blocking them, wiping any tagged posts or photos of you together.

Another app, DrunkMode, allows you to prevent yourself from calling a specific number or numbers during certain hours of the day or night. Also, the aptly named Eternal Sunshine swiftly removes all updates from the person in question without letting them know.

But regardless of whether the ex in question is offended or not, is it good for our well-being to simply pretend this other person doesn't exist?

"In the short term it could be argued that it's necessary," says Mark.

Read more: Dear Mary: I'm fed up with my wife's behaviour, can I change her or should I leave?

"If we associate someone with pain, and we should not underestimate how difficult an experience emotional pain is, then there can be an understandable need and wish to avoid someone that causes us pain. However, this should only be for the shortest time necessary to allow us the capacity and confidence to cope again."

But is hitting delete in the digital space and even on your smartphone, even in the short term, enough to remove this person from your consciousness permanently - or should we even be trying to do that? After all, according to the experts, we learn something important from every painful episode in our lives.

"My advice would be not to aim to forget them in the first place, as this is not realistic. Our minds and senses create too many associations for this to be possible. A random song on the radio comes on that was 'your song', a person passing on the street with the same perfume that triggers a sensory memory and immediate association.

"What's more achievable, eventually, is to come to an acceptance that they are not in your life right now and that there are reasons why you're not together anymore. As much as a cliché as it is that 'time heals', it does and we need to hold onto that belief as hope is our escape from pain," he says.

Irish Independent

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