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Digital Boundaries: Navigating Social Media in Trauma Recovery

In the year of 2024 technology is everywhere and social media is practically inescapable. While social media can be a great resource for connecting with others, networking, and self-expression, it also can be triggering for those in trauma recovery. Processing traumatic events and recovering from them takes time, and everyone's timeline for recovery looks different. Unfortunately, social media does not wait for individuals to process their trauma and algorithms can often display triggering content. While being triggered is unavoidable, there are ways to set boundaries while using social media to reduce the possibility of being triggered.

Boundary #1: Adjust your Settings on all Platforms and Devices

  • Goal: Adjust the algorithm so less triggering content is displayed.

  • How: The first step in adjusting your settings is to understand what can trigger a traumatic memory or feeling. If you are having a difficult time identifying exactly what triggers you, it may be time to seek therapy as a therapist can often help you on the journey of understanding your triggers.

    • Once you identify your triggers and what you do not want to see on social media, you can go into the ‘settings’ on each platform and adjust as needed. Additionally, you can adjust your overall settings for social media on your phone which may be easier than going on each platform individually.

    • Sometimes it can be helpful to set your preferences to be ‘child safe’ even for adults. When ‘child safe’ modes are on there is less likely of a chance to see content that is flagged as ‘not suitable for children’ which in most cases is violence, profanity, and sexual content. If any of that type of content is triggering then ‘child safe’ may be the easiest way to filter content out.

Boundary #2: Logout Instead of Responding

  • Goal: Take control of your ability to navigate experiencing distressing content on social media.

  • How: Due to the vast amount of content available online, it is almost impossible to be on social media without seeing something upsetting. One of the first steps to take after seeing distressing content on social media is to immediately log off as soon as you see that type of content. When I say immediately I mean quite literally the moment you see a post that is triggering to step away from your phone, computer, or whatever device you are using to access that social media. Ideally this will create a habit of disengaging with triggering content and eventually being able to process what impact that type of content has on your mental health.

Boundary #3: Practice Mindfulness after Getting off Social Media

  • Goal: Remind yourself that social media is curated for online audiences and your life in the real world is much more important than anything on social media.

  • How: Social media is great for many things but can leave one often feeling like they are living in their digital world rather than present in reality. There are many mindfulness techniques to use to help one ground themselves back into the present. Here is a previous blog post that discusses some mindfulness techniques one can use. Once you find your favorite technique you can utilize it every time you get off social media as a form of decompressing from the content you just consumed. As you create this habit of mindfulness, you may find yourself automatically disengaging from social media altogether.

Alternative Strategy: Manipulate your Algorithm

  • If you are unaware, every social media platform use a type of digital coding that we label as an ‘algorithm,’ platforms use this algorithm to cater your experience to keep you on their site so they can make more money from advertising.

  • The bad: algorithms are seemingly random until the platform can curate enough data to start understanding what type of content you will engage with. This leaves individuals vulnerable to being triggered to something related to their trauma until they disengage with that type of content.

    • Additionally, individuals who have a difficult time disengaging from triggering content may be more susceptible to curating an algorithm that does more harm than good.

  • The good: algorithms can be easily manipulated to display content you actually want to engage with if you do it right.

    • Here’s how: only ‘like’ social media posts that display content you are interested in and will not trigger you in the future. When working with clients I will explain how they may need to spend some time going on social media and only looking up content of things that make them happy such as cooking shows or zoo animals.

    • The more time one spends looking and ‘liking’ content that is not triggering, the less likely the algorithm is to display content unrelated to those types of posts.

    • This also stands as your reminder that technology is only as smart as we allow it to be. For example if your traumatic memories are triggered by seeing physical violence, only ever engage with social media posts that are undoubtedly non-violent. If you close out the social media platform as soon as you see violence, you are much less likely to see that type of post again (due to the algorithm).

            Now that we have established methods to navigate social media when in trauma recovery, let’s check-in about how social media impacts trauma recovery. A large part of processing trauma is allowing an individual time to do so without experiencing additional trauma. This process is increasingly difficult for social media users as triggering content is almost always accessible. We can hope with boundaries and strategies mentioned in this blog post, individuals may have enough tools to utilize social media while processing their traumas. For some populations it may be more helpful to take a step back from engaging with social media at all during the first part of their trauma recovery. The overall goal of this blog is not to demonize social media but allow individuals to understand it is okay to step away from social media platforms as much as possible while in trauma recovery.

Written by,

Madison Repak, LPC



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