Shoot. This was definitely not my high school teacher.
She and I have stayed close since I graduated high school in 2004 and I know her well, know her speaking style, and knew she would never be so generic.
Quickly I checked against my other IG followers and sure enough, there was her “real” profile.
The one that followed me that morning, the one I gave access to my private IG feed where I post photos of my daughter and husband, was a dummy.
Quickly, I blocked that person, whoever it was.
And then the thought that’s been keeping me company since 2004 when I got on social media came up again:
“Was that just a bot or was it one of my estranged family members?”
It was such a uniquely relational trauma recovery kind of thought and experience that, after my chagrin subsided, I knew I had to share it with you in case, you, like me, experience social media as yet another complexity of coming from a relational trauma background.
Social media: yet another complexity in the relational trauma recovery journey.
Most of us have a complex relationship with social media for many reasons.
And, these days, almost all of us get followed by bots on social media from time to time – “Hey Aunt Jane, IDK but I think your account was hacked again?!”
And while no one likes when bots spam them, not everyone has to worry about someone they really don’t want to have access to them deliberately and under false pretenses attempting to get in touch with them via social media. Repeatedly.
That – the experience of having estranged or abusive family members you’ve blocked – deliberately trying to get in touch with you by posing as profiles of your accepted followers is, however, something some of us from relational trauma backgrounds might relate to.
The reality is that social media is, for better or worse, like an extension of life, a second relational world we have to navigate these days.
And, as with life in the real world, the social media landscape is also a place where we’re forced or compelled to hold boundaries with people in our life.
For some, both in real life and online, holding these boundaries feels low stakes.
For others, like those of us who come from relational trauma backgrounds, both in real life and online, the stakes can feel higher.
The stakes can feel higher because many of us who relate to coming from relational trauma backgrounds often have estranged relationships with family of origin members.
Or, if not estranged per se, relationships who, quite frankly, we’d just prefer not have access to more intimate details and photos of our life.
And so, sometimes, the same level of vigilance we may have to employ in the real world – such as when considering whether or not to say yes to a cousin’s wedding invitation or whether or not to attend the funeral of a grandparent knowing certain others will be there – can play out in the digital space as well as the flesh and blood space.
The relational trauma recovery question persists with social media as it does in the real world: how do I keep myself safe and away from people who feel harmful to be around?
Upholding social media boundaries, making mistakes and moving forward.
You – like me – have probably already taken steps on social media to address that key question – how do I keep myself safe and away from people who feel harmful to be around?
Personally, I keep my personal profiles private.
I’ve blocked people.
I’ve unfriended people.
And I take a lot of care to verify that the people who follow me are in fact my real friends who I trust.
If a follow comes through and it looks even remotely suspicious, I text or call that person to make sure it’s really them.
I take extra care about who I allow to have access to my personal social profiles because that’s where I post photos of my husband, daughter, and our life together.
And both my husband and I are estranged from family members who we absolutely don’t want to have access to that content.
So normally, I have strong and rigorous social media boundaries (as I do in real life, too).
But that day when I quickly accepted a follow to my private IG (all my profiles are private except for my work ones), I made a mistake.
I didn’t take the time to double-check.
I made a mistake and gave a dummy profile access to about 100+ pictures of me, my husband, our daughter, and our life together.
This is content that I don’t want those estranged family members to see and it’s painful to think that one of them might have seen it.
Now, I can’t prove it was an estranged family member or just a random bot, but the chagrin I felt imagining that, for four hours, an estranged family member did get through, was painful.
And, as I mentioned, even as I sat with those painful feelings, I thought to myself, this is such a unique experience for someone who comes from a relational trauma background with estranged family members. I’m going to write about it.
I wanted to write about it to validate yet another nuance some of us might contend with if we come from relational trauma backgrounds.
I wanted to write about it, too, to illustrate how, even 15+ years into my own relational trauma recovery journey, I still make mistakes with my boundaries sometimes.
And I wanted to write about it in case my normal practice of being very careful of accepting follow requests and taking time to screen for the legitimacy of the follow, could feel helpful to you as you deal with estrangements or challenging family of origin relationships.
There’s no thesis to today’s essay. There’s no solution.
There’s just me sharing with you about a mistake I made in my life, the automatic place my brain went to when it happened, and being right there with you in the continued complexity of a relational trauma recovery journey, holding boundaries and protecting myself as an adult while I live my life.
I’m guessing, if you’re on this mailing list, making mistakes with your own social media boundaries might be something you can relate to as well.
If so, would you mind sharing with me in the comments below:
Has this scenario ever happened to you – an estranged family member attempting to get access to you through dummy profiles? Does social media also feel like a fraught landscape for you? What action steps do you personally take to uphold good, strong social media boundaries with estranged or painful relationships in your own life?
If you feel so inclined, please leave a message in the comments below so the 20,000+ monthly readers of this blog can benefit from your wisdom and perhaps feel less alone seeing their story mirrored in yours.
And, as always, until next time, please take such good care of yourself.
You’re so worth it.