While bartenders certainly will not be out of the therapy business anytime soon, many individuals are getting their therapeutic respite from social media websites. The website, Post Secret (http://www.postsecret.com) operates solely based on the premise that people enjoy sharing their deepest secrets with complete strangers. Users anonymously mail in homemade postcards that share their secrets. The website claims to receive on average, 200 postcards a day, and that the admissions range from sexual misconduct to confessions of secret desires, hopes and dreams.
Tumblr, another social media website, allows users to post multimedia in short-blog-like form. A previous patient of mine once told me that her tumblr account was her most effective coping strategy for stress. Now, we all have friends that overshare their thoughts and feelings on facebook, instagram and twitter. In fact, I’m sure on more than one occasion, you have found yourself wondering why someone would use social media as this type of outlet and broadcast something so personal to hundreds of their followers. I asked my patient this question and she said that the therapeutic benefits of posting on tumblr came from the feeling of “talking to everyone and no one ” at the same time. I found there to be power in that statement, and to a certain degree, I understand it.
Day in and day out, we carry around our emotional baggage. Our emotional burdens, anxieties, worries, doubts and feelings of guilt create a heavy load that at times can become cumbersome. When the load gets to be too much, it creates a tension that we feel emotionally, mentally and even physically. Unloading that tension gives us relief. For some, an effective coping strategy for the tension is through exercise or deep breathing. For almost everyone, talking about our problems and related thoughts and feelings is the most helpful. Many of us will turn to a friend or confidant when we are feeling troubled, but that does not stop us for turning to the ear of a stranger.
So why do we talk to strangers?
- Strangers can be objective. Your bartender does not know that you’ve made similar mistakes in the past, that you have a history of jumping to conclusions or that you secretly hate your brother-in-law. They can only offer advice based on the information that you provide them. Additionally, they are looking at your issues from a fresh perspective, and are not colored or biased by history.
- Our problems are burdensome to others. Family and friends have probably heard your same quips before, and after awhile, we start to pick up on their subtle cues that they do not want to talk about the same topic again, or maybe we fear that we are annoying them by going back to the same issues over and over again. Confiding to someone we have just met is equivalent to one-shot of therapy, and the stranger will never hear you bring this topic up again.
- Its safe. When talking to strangers, there is no worry about the stranger spilling your secrets to other people in your inner circle because they are not a part of it. It gives us the opportunity to make an anonymous confession without fear of any type of backlash.
- There’s no reaction or consequences to what you disclosed. Your secrets have no effect on the stranger, so there is no worry about them reacting in shocked disbelief at something you think or did. There is no fear that they will hold something against you and there is no concern that they are making judgments about your character.
"Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute."
Let’s not forget that with bartenders in particular, alcohol is most likely playing a role in our willingness to divulge our secrets. Alcohol causes us to lose our inhibitions and take on more extroverted behaviors. One last fun fact: if you are confiding in your bartender, chances are you are not in your neighborhood bar where everyone knows your name, since a research study in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism found that people are twice as likely to lose their inhibitions in an unfamiliar bar.
Remember, if you feel the need to talk to someone, do not forget that mental health professionals are always available.
Birak, K.S., Higgs, S. & Terry, S. (2011). Conditioned tolerance to the effects of alcohol on inhibitory control in humans. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 46(6) 686-693.
Winerman, Lea. (2011). Suppressing the ‘white bears.’ Monitor on Psychology, 42(9), 44.