Pain Shopping: How Our Online Activity Hurts Mental Health
One of the less attractive qualities of an online existence is that, rather than allow you to create the best version of yourself as you possibly can, it invariably brings out the worst. None more so than in a concept that 20 years ago, had a very different form, but, thanks to the miracles of digital technology, has evolved into a beast of true, self-esteem damaging importance.
For those unfamiliar, the term pain shopping is fairly self-explanatory, but in context goes something like this: a partner cheats on their significant other, and, rather than try to move on from the heartbreak and shock, the spurned other uses the opposite of tactics, compulsively clicking online to see what their lover, partner, spouse, is up to, and whether they can find any clues as to why this has happened to them in the first place.
Significantly, for the spurned partner, this amounts to a certain kind of digital flagellation, with the whip being made from multiple TABS and the impact always negative. Basically, they shop for pain, becoming obsessed with their ex, to the point where they thrive off the negative impact all this information gathering is doing to them. The idea that, at the very least, they’re feeling something, is all they have to hang onto.
This is nothing new, of course. Men and Women have been cheating on each other since they discovered their genitals, and the notion of digging for clues (a restaurant bill, or a love letter, or a condom in a wallet) has now, simply, evolved.
Sadder still, is the notion of pain shopping, once the relationship is over.
So much of our personal lives is now shared online that it is entirely possible to assume that you could weave your own narrative of events, based on a status update, a photo upload, or even by accessing private messages, in some sort of vein hope that you can find the source of what caused the relationship to go sour, or, better yet, if there is any chance of reconciliation. It’s a counter measure to that period, when a relationship has ended, of numbness, when you feel nothing. Before the internet, you had letters to sift through, photographs to stare blankly at, but these could be put away, in a box, and forgotten about.
Now, with the internet, those artefacts are available 24/7, in the form of texts, DM’s, Instagram albums. And it’s harder to put those in a box.
It’s a habit closely associated with cyber stalking, and while the process is similar, the motivations are vastly different. It has, over the last 10 years, created a new form of mental instability, and paranoia, that is a direct reflection on how we interact with each other in the 21st century. The biggest threats to modern relationships are the various messenger services that allow you to talk to whoever you like, within a secure zone of anonymity.
Reconciliation is the carrot on the stick, an unobtainable (in most cases) goal, but it’s also what fuels this need to be a part of your ex’s life, even to the point of posting messages on their social media accounts, asking them intimate, personal questions, about what went wrong. It is, in most cases, a futile endeavour. You can carry around all the screenshots of what you might consider a confirm or denial of infidelity all you want, but you might as well be carrying a plastic bag full of bricks. At some point all that weight is going to make the bag split.
Driven by the age old assumption that their partner is now living a better, happier life than they are, they begin to fabricate their own existence, trying to give the impression that they are doing great, successful, etc, all the while secretly hoping that these posts will bring that person back, eventually, in that “what was I thinking?” fantasy that is usually the mainstay of teenagers, but which never truly leaves us.
It will always be hard to tell, statistically, how large a percentage of the online population affected by this compulsion are male and how many are female. Indeed, with so many outlets available, it’s safe to assume that no definitive poll could ever be taken.
It may well be that as technology grows, as does our dependence on it to interact, that we will see the problem evolve ever further, until it reaches some sort of event horizon.
In the end, something always has to give.