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How We Use Social Networking, Part 3: The FoMO Effect

FoMO can easily take on a life of its own and gradually dominate a person's life style. As daunting as it may be, working toward developing real-life attachments and close friends is ultimately likely to be a better cure for any insecurity that may be motivating you.
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Fear of Missing out, popularly referred to as FoMO, is defined as a pervasive apprehension that others might have rewarding experiences from which one is absent. FoMO is characterized by the desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing. FoMO is most common in those who have unsatisfied psychological needs such as wanting to be loved and respected. (Przybylski, A.K., Murayama, K., DeHaan, C.R., & Gladwell, V. (2013). Motivational, emotional, and behavioral correlates of fear of missing out. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 1841-1848.)

We all know at least one -- and probably many more -- people who have fallen victim to compulsive social networking. They include friends, family, and even colleagues who seem to spend hour after hour sharing and communicating over social networks like Facebook. While it may be true that any of us can potentially get "addicted" to the Internet, it's also possible that some people are more vulnerable than others. That's where this concept of FoMO enters the picture.

In my previous two posts I described recent research that sheds light on the different needs that social networking may satisfy, and how individuals' attachment styles may play a role in this.

Secure vs. Insecure Attachment

Psychologists have long been interested in the concept of attachment. They view it as having its origins in our earliest years, and specifically with our earliest relationships with our most significant caregivers. Essentially, a child will form a "secure" attachment to a parent or other adult (for example, a nanny or even a day-care worker) whom they learn they can rely on consistently for basic needs such as nurturance, comfort, and safety. Such secure attachments, it's believed, opens the door to establishing secure attachments in adulthood.

In contrast, if parental or other supposed caregivers turn out to be unreliable (or even rejecting) that leads to "anxious" attachments. Anxious attachments in childhood also have lifelong implications. They become men and women who are typically referred to as "insecure": nagged by self-doubts, chronically anxious and seeking frequent reassurance.

Attachment Styles and Insecurity

In my previous posts I described how the psychologist Kim Bartholomew devised a simple instrument to measure four different adult attachment styles (Bartholomew, K. & Horowitz, L.M. (1991) Attachment styles among young adults: A test of a four-category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 226-244). To determine what your own style is, respond to each of the following statements from 7 (agree strongly) to 1 (disagree strongly).

Style A -- It is easy for me to become emotionally close to others. I am comfortable depending on them and having them depend on me. I don't worry about being alone or having others not accept me.

Style B -- I am uncomfortable getting close to others. I want emotionally close relationships, but I find it difficult to trust others completely, or to depend on them. I worry that I will be hurt if I allow myself to become too close to others.

Style C -- I want to be completely emotionally intimate with others, but I often find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I am uncomfortable being without close relationships, but I sometimes worry that others don't value me as much as I value them.

Style D -- I am comfortable without close emotional relationships. It is very important to me to feel independent and self-sufficient, and I prefer not to depend on others or have others depend on me.

Most people can identify pretty much with one of these styles, though they may not be at the extreme score of 7.

Of the above four styles it's easy to see which ones might reflect "insecurity" as described above: Style B, and Style C.

Insecurity and FoMO

If you are someone who uses social networks a lot, it may be worth reflecting on the above. Consider, for example, the following:

• Do you use social networks such as Facebook primarily to build a large network of "contacts," but without revealing much of yourself? For example, do you build and use this network in order to stay in touch with colleagues, or to relay "news" about yourself such as a promotion? Or...
• Do you use your social network to get close to people in a more intimate way, sharing more personal information about yourself, your experiences, your emotional life, etc.? This may include staying in touch with far-flung friends and family, but also including sharing personal information. Or...
• Is social networking a way for you to deal with anxiety or loneliness? Do you feel compelled to stay in touch for fear that you may in fact miss out on something if you don't? Or...
• Do you worry about what people might be saying about you via the social network, and do you therefore find yourself feeling competed to check that out?

Of the above, the third and fourth alternatives may make individuals more vulnerable to getting hooked on social networking. Though is not necessarily pathological to use social networking for comfort in one form or another, it may be important to recognize that it is certainly not the only way -- and maybe not the best way. Instead, it might be helpful to take some time to do a personal inventory:

• Who were your primary caregivers during your early years (birth to 5)?
• Were either of your parents unreliable as caregivers for any reason (absent a lot, ill a lot, depressed)?
• Were either or your parents (or other significant caregivers) rejecting or abusive in any way?

If your honest answer to either the second or third question is yes, then you'd be wise to keep this in mind when using social networking -- especially if you find yourself using it a lot, or using it because you feel anxious or lonely. FoMO can easily take on a life of its own and gradually dominate a person's life style. As daunting as it may be, working toward developing real-life attachments and close friends is ultimately likely to be a better cure for any insecurity that may be motivating you.

Joseph Nowinski's next book, Hard to Love: Understanding and Overcoming Male Borderline Personality Disorder will be published next spring and is available for pre-order at

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