It was July 4th, Independence Day. The day this country celebrates its birthday and I’d had just about all I could take. July 4th, exactly one year ago, was the day my mother-in-law died; Ronnie and I were in no mood to wish America a happy birthday. As far as we were concerned, the U.S of A didn’t deserve a party. We agreed to chill at home—which was really no different than what we’d been doing since March. The only thing we cared about, was keeping Dexter and Liesel calm once the customary two hours of neighborhood fireworks commenced. We laid low with the puppers, moping around the house with a nagging reminder of last year’s “holiday weekend.” I read a bit of my birthday book, The Cult of Trump by Steve Hassan; it’s an incredible read digging deep into how America has fallen victim to 45’s destructive, administrative cult. After a little light reading, I hopped mindlessly from social media platform to social media platform—Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram… Then I realized: it’s dangerous for someone like me to have an unhealthy addiction that is just one thumb-tap away.
Someone like me—an Empath, HSP (highly sensitive person), INFJ, and a woman hyper- vigilant to the presence of cults. A colleague once said to me that scrolling social media felt like taking in the world’s pain all in the span of five minutes. Yes. That. For me, that’s exactly what it feels like. Not only is it a hotbed of conflict and unrest—swarming with what Ronnie calls “Textin’ Tough Guys”—it’s energy draining and time consuming. In recent weeks, I found myself on social media all the time; clicking, scrolling, trolling, and closing. Then again clicking, scrolling, trolling, and closing. Again and again. It wasn’t serving me, and I highly doubt I was adding value to anyone’s day; I wasn’t adding value to my own. So, on Independence Day, I decided to free myself from the chains of social media. I deleted all apps from my phone—Facebook/Messenger, Instagram, Twitter. I’d recently tried setting timed limits on my phone but that didn’t help; so, away with them all. The first 48 hours felt like a withdrawal. My thumb, as if independent from my body, tapped where the apps used to be. You deleted them, Bek. Put your phone down and just be with you. You haven’t been with you in a while. When was the last time you listened to your own thoughts, uninfluenced? And that’s when it hit me. Some of the language, behaviors, and expectations set forth for certain platforms seemed…cultish. I was raised in an austere environment; I have to work really hard to not see culty themes everywhere, whether online or in-person. Upon leaving the hand-me-down faith of my childhood, I did lots of research on various types of cults and found them fascinating; the rules, the jargon…the control. And once that switch of understanding had been flipped, it was hard for me to turn off. The Cult of Social Media had been controlling me for quite some time and I barely took notice. It started five years ago when a harmless, little MLM entered my life. While enlisting me, my fitness-pyramid coach said I had to be on multiple media platforms in order to “penetrate the market.” I cringed. I had visions of being off-grid, untethered, deep in the forests of Oregon. And I was being told to do just the opposite—be reachable and prolific. Fine, I thought, what’s the harm? I mean, I’m gonna do the workouts anyway; why not inspire others to join me with a little digital perspiration? Then the beast grew; it was almost untamable. At an annual convention for fitness junkies three years later, I finally saw what I had succumbed to—a fitness marketing cult; with its own language, expectations, rules, and prescribed behavior. I coaxed others to join me and even fell prey to the sweaty-selfie advertising gods. After that three-day marketing conference, amazed that a fitness company didn’t cover nutrition once, I got out. I did glean some positive, useful tidbits from my time with them; I did grow. The personal development recommendations were beneficial, but I could even see some culty, prescriptive themes sprinkled in there… Another cult for another day. Back to social media…do you even exist without a profile? Without followers? Without sharing your every thought and action multiple times a day? Can you be certain you’re growing as a conscious human, aware and in the know about societal issues, if you’re not present? If you’re not posting your values, thoughts, and self-growth, then how can you prove you’re “doing the work?” If the definition of a cult is, “a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same person, ideal, belief, and sacred ideology, centering around sacred symbols,” that could be almost anything—good or bad. And I’d add that there’s specific jargon, behavior, thought, and emotion control—sayeth Steve Hassan when he explains his BITE model. Examples of specific jargon in the Cult of Social Media could be: “hashtags,” “retweets,” “followers,” “influencers,” “cancel culture,” etc; things unique to that setting. As far as behavior, thought, and emotion control, I definitely noticed a shift in my mood. How I thought, how I perceived others, how I judged others, and how I felt judged…of course, affected how I felt, what I thought, and ultimately how I behaved. And the cycle continues. Cults—the fascinating beasts that they are to me—uninvitedly, rear their dogmatic heads whenever I see commonalities within any structured environment. It would be easy to say all cults are evil, but I disagree. Some are harmful and very destructive—which has been my experience—and some I think are well-intentioned. The question then becomes: which cults am I allowing into my life? When I deleted all social media apps from my phone, the goal was to protect myself from what I felt was harmful, and culty, for me. It took forty-three years for me to see that I can still fall prey to all kinds of cults, time and time again. I also noticed, instead of feeling connected on social media, I felt isolated. I know social media can be a tool with the power to connect and educate; sadly, that’s not how it feels for me. Blood boils, confusion sets in, and I often close apps feeling worse than when I opened them. Then Jas, an INFP friend in the UK, created a forum for INF personality types. He created a safe space for HSPs, Empaths, and INF peeps to congregate and connect; (a podcast interview with yours truly is on the site if you’re interested). I was so excited when I was invited to this forum because I want to connect with like-minded folks. But it seemed my social media friends had fallen somewhere between the cracks of shaming, finger-pointing, and mindless memes; I couldn’t find them. Enter the INF Club. This is where I’d say, the INF Club—a group bound together by veneration of the same ideal, belief, and sacred ideology—is a positive cult. There’s specific lingo (INF writer/author “shoptalk”), behaviors (mutual respect), and expectations (support each other) and its aim is not harmful or destructive. The goal is to connect sensitive types on a deeper level, and navigate this crazy world together. It was hard for me to close the door on social media at first but once I remembered that I was the adult in my life, responsible for my own choices, I knew I had to take control. No one is ever going to do that for me. I appreciate the folks who have my number, personal email, writer’s email, and have reached out, checking on me. Don’t stop. Please. I may still pop in some social media rooms from time-to-time, but it won’t be from my phone; it will be intentional, with sound reasons. I said in last month’s blog, I gotta stay in my own lane; one that makes sense for me. And by removing myself from the habit of mindlessly clicking apps on my phone, dare I say, I feel still, clear, focused, and aware.