I am finally on Facebook.  It’s a strange declaration for 2013, I know, but it’s time to start thinking about promoting my novel, which comes out in July.  Time to bite the bullet and enter contemporary life.

Weirder still: My novel is about a woman who embarks on a social media campaign to find her runaway daughter.   Art does not always imitate life.

Part of my reticence has been the time-suck of it.  I fear going down into the rabbit hole of everyone’s musings and links and never being seen again.  But the other part has been witnessing the negative impact social media has had on some of my clients.

So in this post, I’ll ask: How do you know, from a mental health perspective, when to stop clicking?For the purposes of this post, I’m going to use Facebook as a stand-in for all of it (Tumblr, Twitter, what-have-you.)  Because essentially, what these sites have in common is the ability to compare yourself to others in real time.

You’re able to see what’s happening for others (in their lives, in their heads) and while that can be great entertainment and/or social engagement, it can also be detrimental.

I’ve noticed that clients who are struggling with their self-esteem also struggle with Facebook.  Sometimes they fail to recognize that people’s posts are, in fact, mediated.  What I mean is, people are curating their own thoughts.  They’re deciding which aspects of their lives are suitable for public consumption.

The people who struggle the most with Facebook are the ones who have trouble seeing that other people’s lives are not only what they portray.

Because some people tend to see themselves unfavorably, they may also tend to idealize others.  This is a particular issue for those suffering from personality disorders (for example, borderline.)

Facebook allows for this sort of real-time idealization.  “Oh, look what she’s doing,” or “Look at that picture of her.”  The follow-up thought?  “I’ll never been as pretty or as interesting or as…” (fill in the blank.)

If you find that you have this tendency, it’s time to monitor your Facebooking.  It may be time to get off the site altogether.  The hope is that you will feel more connected to others, not more alienated (from them and from yourself.)

It’s important to realize that people have their own goals in what they choose to post (or what they don’t post.)  There’s nothing wrong with that, unless you’re reading as if it’s gospel.  It’s not truth; it’s a mode of presentation.

People who tend to judge themselves harshly may use Facebook as a way to validate those judgments.  “Oh, no one responded to my post”, or “No one ‘liked’ it,” whereas they’ll notice other people got 25 likes for a picture of their dog.

If social media is causing you more pain than pleasure, more isolation than connection, it’s time to rethink your relationship to it.  Sometimes, mediated experience isn’t as good as the real thing.