Alert: The online stuff you love to loathe could be harming your mental health. Here's why - and how to quit.
Step away from the screen, is what you’re telling yourself, but nope, you just can’t stop. Nestled among your bookmarks are a bunch of ‘guilty pleasure’ daily dos; the sites and social pages you love to loathe. You’re not quite sure why you keep on going back because they annoy you so much, but what you do know is you don’t want to miss a thing.
Welcome to the world of the hate read. “I know I shouldn’t do it,” sighs Audrey Ryan, 32. “At a base level I think I’m just nosy, and it’s kind of like that thing where you go home for Christmas and see how badly everyone you were at school with is doing now. That’s why I do it. I follow people I think are eejits and I’m just dying to see them do something stupid.”
“Snapchat’s really brought it to the fore – I used to think it brought out the worst in people but now I think it actually shows their true selves, their self-obsession and what they’re really like,” Audrey says.
So why does she do it if she thinks so little of the people she follows? Caroline McMenamin, an Integrative Mental Health Counsellor who specialises in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, says humans tend to have have a negative bias. “This means that we’ve a natural tendency to be pessimistic, even if things are going good for us,” she explains.
“We could have everything we want, and yet we can’t help ourselves when it comes to jealously and envy. Of course, these are also natural human emotions, but now, with thriving social media platforms upon which everyone and their granny are exhibiting their lives, via ‘perfectly choreographed’ photos and Snapchats, these emotions are manifesting into something bigger and starting to pose a big problem,” she adds.
“I don’t know what I get from it,” confesses Audrey. “Every now and then I say to myself, ‘you need to stop,’ but I don’t! I must be getting something – a feeling of superiority maybe, and it’s the voyeurism aspect too.”
Audrey’s self-aware enough to know her behaviour’s not particularly healthy and that it’s allowing negativity and jealousy into her life. “I think I’m like a silent troll lurking under a rock, judging them. I have some friends I’d never ever mention this to, because they just wouldn’t be into it, and then others who do the same thing as me, so we’d have a gossip about our shared hate reads or Snapchatters or whatever, and then move on to other things. To be honest, I think a lot of people do it.”
“We all do it, whether we admit it or not,” agrees Caroline. “We see something that threatens our ego, and our immediate defense is to find a flaw in order to ‘minimise’ their beauty and ‘magnify’ their weakness, just to make us feel better about ourselves.”
Audrey knows not to take it too far, however. “I draw the line at leaving comments. It’s one thing to watch, and another to leave nasty, bitchy comments,” she says. “If I found myself wanting to do that, I’d make myself stop. I don’t want to make anyone feel bad, I want to make myself feel better!”
While Audrey sees her hate reading as fairly benign, Caroline has a warning. “In the long-term, it’s very toxic. Anger and self-loathing, if not properly processed and rationalised, can lead to issues like anxiety and depression,” she points out.
We don’t realise that hate-reading embroils us in the emotions that are leading factors to developing mental health issues.
“Hate-reading allows us to express our irritability, and displace our anger at other situations onto ‘those girls with the stupid eyebrows and overdrawn Kylie Jenner lips’. If only we could see ourselves in those moments,” she says. “We don’t realise that hate-reading embroils us in the emotions that are leading factors to developing mental health issues.”
So, can – and should – we stop? “It’s a rush, and who doesn’t love a rush,” points out Caroline. “Hate reading motivates us, and in a sinister way, it can inspire us. It fuels us to ‘get better’ and to try harder at life. But 90 percent of life portrayed on social media is fabricated, and perfection is unattainable, so being fueled by resentment and jealously is actually futile,” she stresses.
“Without realising it, we become obsessive. We check, numerous times a day, on what the subject of our obsession is doing and we see a life that we know deep inside, we could never have, and see a beauty we’ll never be known for. Sadness, inferiority and depression ensues,” she explains, adding that the upshot of this is negativity. “We wait, patiently, a sniper behind the screen, waiting for our obsession to fall from grace. And we keep coming back, just to make sure they don’t get back up.”
If that sounds grim, it’s because it is. Ultimately, if you want to live a happy life, you’ve got to have it in you to cheerlead for others too. That starts with learning to love the unfollow button. We know it’s hard, but once you’ve gone a few days without knowing the nitty gritty of your favourite hate read’s life, you’ll actually have more room in your own to do some nice things for yourself. And who could possibly dislike that, eh?
This article first appearance in STELLAR’s June issue. The August issue is on shelves now!