'LIKE ANGST': Does It Cut Both Ways?

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Malcolm Scott

'LIKE ANGST': Does It Cut Both Ways?

Posted by Malcolm Scott 1837 Days Ago

‘Like Angst’: Does it Cut Both Ways?

‘Like anxiety’, or ‘Like angst’[1] as I call it, represents one aspect of the many problems associated with social media anxiety, particularly amongst younger people, but not exclusively in my view. Broadly speaking, it describes the anxiety someone feels when the number of ‘likes’ they receive for a post are self-interpreted as being low, and resultantly, as an indicator of their ‘unpopularity’. For this reason alone, it’s an important area of study, because the subject material arguably affects the mental health and well-being of almost everyone. It would appear that current research on ‘Like angst’ tends to focus on the possible reasons why some people experience anxiety as they wait (and hope) for ‘Likes’. Of the literature that’s widely available, there is as I see it, a compelling argument for establishing links between ‘Like angst’, early attachment experience* and a diminished sense of self.  

But does ‘Like angst’ cut both ways? In other words, is it possible that the process of choosing whether or not to ‘Like’ posts from friends and family arouses anxiety, and if so, does this experience also link to early attachment experience and self-esteem? What if, for example, our decision to ‘Like’ something isn’t solely based upon us actually liking what we’re seeing or reading? What if, consciously or otherwise, we opt to ‘Like’ a friend’s or family member’s post, because to not ‘Like’ it has wider implications for our relationship with that person? George Takei’s (Star Trek’s Mr. Sulu) humorous Dog Social Media[2] post playfully touches on this subject; he says, that if we think about it, the way we choose what to ‘Like’ isn’t that different from the way dogs ‘read’ pungent ‘posts’ left by their canine coequals. Humorous and thought-provoking for sure; but don’t dogs have far less to lose when opting not to ‘Like’? Of course they do. Wouldn’t it be great if our social lives were so simple, that we could pee on a post and never concern ourselves with what others think after having a good sniff?

But we can’t. Our emotional worlds are too complex, partly because the level at which our theory of mind* operates means we’re able to imagine how it might feel for us when someone doesn't ‘Like’ a picture of our sleeping baby, our new tattoo, our benevolent thought for the day or our view on a hot topic. I’m thinking here of relationships that carry a significant emotional investment for both ‘Like-er’ and ‘Like-ee’. Say, for example, you have a family member who’s particularly sensitive to criticism, or a friend with whom your relationship has undergone a period of turbulence. In these instances, are we more prone to ‘Like’ what we honestly dislike, in order to avoid misunderstanding, or even conflict? Although not everyone is necessarily predisposed to anxiety, I imagine a great many of us (from time to time) experience enough of it to temporarily undermine our natural psychological resolve, especially during periods of uncertainty and change. At moments like this, is it easier to ‘Like’ than to anxiously wonder what not liking has stirred in the other?

All of us, to varying degrees, desire acceptance, appreciation and love. But I believe that those who are sincere in their fondness and love for others, do so with the knowledge that individuality and difference is part of the very stuff that makes people ‘Likeable’ - even when it differs from, or is in discord with, our own values and beliefs. Perhaps then it’s important to remind ourselves, that when using social media, conciliatory acts of ‘Liking’ may have surprisingly negative effects on self-esteem, because somewhere deep inside, there may be a sense that we have sacrificed our integrity in order to keep the peace. Moreover, when it comes to the waiting game that ensues after making a post, please don’t forget that the receiving of ‘Likes’ can never provide a realistic portrayal of how much we are genuinely held in regard by significant others. I think this anonymous quotation (often attributed to Dr Seuss)[4] says it best: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

And by the way, if anyone’s wondering, I will of course be monitoring my ‘Like angst’ as I restlessly await your comments.

* The use of the word attachment in the term “early attachment experience” refers to attachment theory - a psychological concept originally developed by the psychiatrist/psychoanalyst John Bowlby (1907-1990), and (significantly) refined by the developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth (1913-1999). Attachment, as defined by Bowlby, is a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings”[5]. The theory suggests that infants, from about 1-3 years, instinctually attempt to form social attachments to one or more caregivers with whom they seek to maintain and control proximity. It is further believed this instinct has considerable survival advantages for human beings [6].

* Theory of mind: the innate ability of humans to understand theirs and other people's minds or mental states, including beliefs and thoughts[3].

[1] I am unaware of the term ‘Like angst’ having been used in previous publications. As with any work I publish online, I always use full citations. I also research terms or phrases that have arisen from my own writing process, in order to avoid inadvertent plagiarism. If anyone is aware of the term ‘Like angst’ I would be grateful if they would notify me.

[2] (Facebook 06/04/14)

[3] Colman, A.M., (2008). A Dictionary of Psychology (3rd Ed). Oxford. Oxford University Press.


[5] Bowlby J. (1969). Attachment. Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Loss. New York: Basic Books.

[6] The Cambridge Dictionary of Psychology (2009). Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.