It is a month of social interaction, whether related to the lead up to Christmas or Hannukkah or Kwanzaa, or to this coming week’s New Year’s Eve celebrations. That means getting invited to parties, special dinners, food-filled celebrations.
Since 1996 a social anxiety condition called FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) has been known primarily to a fairly limited group of psychologists or academics. But in recent years, it has erupted into the general population. As a result, more and more people feel left out. Social media has increased it, with Facebook or Instagram posts of your most beautiful moments causing others untold anxiety because they can’t match up.
FOMO comes because we long to connect. A very human longing that more often than not is unable to be met to our desired expectations. As Meha Agrawal founder and CEO of Silk and Sonder says “When scrolling through social media, we see the best versions of people’s lives, and we think we should be doing something to feel more fulfilled and satisfied, instead of focusing on activities that actually give us joy.”
Instead of feeling joyful, we feel like we are missing out. On life, on relationships, on reality. Sometimes to counter this, I will purposely put my silly moments also on social media. I love to be silly. And I love to see others also not taking themselves too seriously. FOMO can lead us to the seriousness of feeling excluded, of missing the needed connection.
But there is another social anxiety syndrome growing in our societies, and it is perhaps even more insidious. It is called FOBLO, (Fear of Being Left Out). (Thanks to my friend Michael’s recent sermon on FOBLO, the first time I heard of it.) FOBLO strikes deeply at our heart of wanting to be invited and included. In FOMO we are afraid to miss out. That may have happened just because we do not have time to engage in the latest trivia pursuit, the latest google search or ad campaign. But in FOBLO, it is the dread that we are being excluded purposely by people that we care about.
And it is growing. More and more people feel a regular social anxiety related to being left out. Not being invited or included can be some of the most hurtful memories of our childhood. I was not particularly good at sports in school, in fact I was quite uncoordinated and awkward. I did enjoy playing sports with my friends, but somehow when it came time to choose teams for school sports I was consistently chosen last. I can still remember vividly the pain of being the last one chosen to play baseball or dodgeball. Standing there alone with everyone else chosen.
It is the nightmare of FOMO and FOBLO combined in a diabolical marriage from hell. Not only have you missed out, but you missed out because you were excluded and alienated. Treated like the alien you feel deeply yourself to be. Was our name included on the Christmas party list? Were we invited to that meeting to give our input? Were we included on the email list of those in the know? Were our kids included in the school event?
How do we counter FOMO and FOBLO? These are real social anxiety feelings and they are growing in our world today. Probably many of us can identify with both as we read this post. There are obvious practices we can develop related to our engagement with social media, like limiting our time on our devices. And as I mentioned, don’t just post your wonderful moments or beautiful photos. Post your ugly sweater moments, your make up free days, your silly pictures. Post about your darkness, not just your light.
Another practice/discipline is to be grateful. Gratefulness leads to contentment with your life, and this directly combats FOMO and FOBLO. Both of those relate to fear, fear of not being enough or having enough. Gratefulness says that I am enough, I have received enough, I am connected and it is enough. I have been created just the right way, with the right nose, the right eyes, the right personality.
I am enough. You can leave me out, choose me last, not invite me to your New Year’s Eve party. But even so, I’m enough. Life in 2020 has more than enough for me. More than enough adventures, more than enough invitations. My loving Creator invites me, my friends invite me. Even strangers invite me if I’m attentive.
In 2020, say no to FOMO and FOBLO. Say yes to gratefulness and contentment.