How social media addiction impacts the Borderline Personality Brain
Do you find yourself spending more and more time on your social media these days? Do you feel more anxious and/or depressed? Do you think there might be some kind of connection between the amount of time you spend on social media and these two feelings? If so, you’re not alone.
The implications for people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are dire
Scientists have found that people who spend more time on social media tend to experience more depression and anxiety than those who do not spend a lot of time using this digital medium. It doesn’t make much difference which platform you are using: Google, Gmail, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram or Twitter…. All these platforms have been essentially created the same way and their main goal is to keep you (the viewer) engaged. Why? Because they are in the business of making money and they do that by selling your likes and dislikes to advertisers. It’s a big money game for them.The movie The Social Dilemma shows exactly how this happens.
Social media “programs” us to respond to notifications in a maladaptive way
The likes and comments you receive have been specifically designed to tap into the human dopamine-driven feedback loop. Dopamine is what allows us to feel pleasure. It is what causes people to become addicted. Addicted to shopping, gambling, pornography, alcohol, drugs…. They are all similar. Many people become addicted to these kinds of behaviors as a form of self-medicating. But, what if you self-medicate with your smartphone? You become addicted to your devices because they leverage the same type of neural pathways that casino owners in Las Vegas use with the slot machines to keep the person standing at the machine for hours until the money is completely gone.
The ding is what engages you
When you hear the ding from your phone telling you that you’ve received a message, it is almost impossible to ignore it, isn’t it?When you realize you’ve laid your phone down and don’t remember where, most of us experience anxiety. That’s not just because the phone cost so much money and because it carries every link you have to the world: your credit card numbers, your bank information, your contact list. It is because we have been programmed (by data mining companies like Google and Facebook to live blissfully entwined with our devices.For the person with Borderline Personality Disorder this can pay off in big ways.
It helps us avoid the “fear or being abandoned”
First of all you experience the euphoria-like feeling of never being alone because you are within a few finger taps of connecting with another person. Because all this interaction happens in cyberspace, you get the added benefit of not ever having to interact face to face which has the effect of temporarily reducing social anxiety but at the same time increases feelings of isolation and a sense of loneliness.Dr. Gini Harrison says that it is because digital devices cause several different things to occur in our brains.They give us a distraction. They cause sleep disruption. They interfere with healthy work/leisure activity. They cause us to experience a very real “fear of missing out” of something important and they cause us to doubt ourselves because we engage in endless self-comparison of ourselves to others. A great deal of study has been conducted about the psychological problems that arise from sleep dysfunction. We know that not getting enough sleep will cause weight gain because of higher levels of cortisol in our bodies. We know that sleep deprivation is a technique used to interrogate prisoners and/or terrorists.
We become hyperfocused on our digital environments
What causes us to become addicted is the over-social environments they give to us. These devices allow us to be intimately connected with social environments 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And even though the human race evolved to be socially programmed, we can generally only sustain intimate contacts with about 150 people, a much smaller number than the usual 1,000,000 million connections most of us establish through social media. Scientific studies are being to explore the links between digial devices and anxiety, poor sleep and the increase for suicide and it’s not a pretty picture. According to an article in Healthline, It is becoming an increasingly alarming picture for young teens.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) helps with things like this
This is one area where Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) really helps because it teaches us how to distract ourselves. Most people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) have great difficulty using distress tolerance skills such as distraction and that’s why we tend to get “addicted” to dysfunctional behaviors such as gambling. That’s also why our phones begin to take up more and more emotional real estate in our lives.
When we are engaging with our digital devices we are feeding our dopamine reward system. Dopamine is a chemical made in the brain that gets released every time we experience something that gives us pleasure and that is what gives us the motivation to repeat the same actions over and over again.. This chemical is also released when we experience a pleasurable social interaction. So, it gives us chemical reward every time we do something that is pleasant. Think about this in the same way that the fight or flight reaction occurs. You can not stop a dopamine release or rush but you can control how often those kinds of things occur in terms of social media.
The dopamine hit from your smart phone is stronger than cocaine
Receiving a dopamine hit from your smartphone won’t be as powerful as a hit of cocaine but the number of positive hits add up over time and the pleasure compounds. Scientists now know that when we take in any positive social stimulus whether it be the smiling face of a baby or the ding-ding-ding of a slot machine, the same dopamine reward pathways in the brain will be stimulated.
Social network platforms want to generate income from you.
They don’t give you access to their platform for nothing. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
These social media platforms are also all about predicting your behavior, how you will react and respond to a random notification, because they know everything they need to know about you to do that. They learn about you from the information you post on your profile, the sites you visit and who your friends are. Essentially, they watch your every move in order to “get to know you better and that’s the scary part.
Apps addict you because they give intermittent rewards
Our devices take advantage of this kind of dopamine-driven learning because of the way apps give us an intermittent “reward’ through notifications. In some ways we become living, breathing Pavlovian dogs because every time the phone dings, we salivate and can’t help ourselves, we are compelled to look at what it says and before you know it, you’ve spent an entire day looking at your screen.How can you stop all this?
The first step is to review your notification settings. I have mine all turned off but not everyone is going to want to do that. You can, instead, change the way the notifications are sent to you, turn off the “ding.” Set your various group settings to notify you only when a “friend” makes a post. That will seriously cut down on your notifications. I keep my friends list very small exactly for this reason. Don’t be afraid to step away from social media some times. Put your phone on “airplane mode” and take a break from it for a few hours every day. The way we engage in social contact has changed dramatically and even more so with the Covid lockdowns. Gone are the days when we would meet for coffee with a friend. But being “on call” to your friends and acquaintances 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is highly stressful.Through the technology of CT and MRI, science has been able to look deep inside the brain’s of teens when using a smart device app. They discovered that when using certain apps, their brain reward system becomes highly engaged. The app “dings” and they are compelled to look. This kind of neural response is very vulnerable for adolescents. If you are thinking about getting a smart device for one of your children, please rethink that decision.