Take a Look at This! / Keep Your Opinions Off My Menu
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I’ll get right to the point: What is it with people who have the uncontrollable need to display their most personal issues/ physical maladies/bathroom adventures on Facebook? I opened my screen the other day only to behold a totally gross incision—all purple and sewed up like a football—taken while still in the hospital! Does anyone want to see this? Apparently every toenail fungus, mangled finger, black eye, glistening rash, or nasty bruise qualifies as delightful viewing. It’s like Facebook is the anti-HIPAA! Where did privacy go?
Dr. Hurd replies,
There’s a psychiatric term called “exhibitionism.” Exhibitionism is the public or semi-public act of exposing those parts of one’s body that are not normally exposed. For example, the breasts, genitals, or buttocks. The practice may arise from a person’s desire or compulsion to expose him- or herself to friends, acquaintances or strangers for their amusement, sexual satisfaction, or for shock value.
Originally, exhibitionism only referred to a sexual fetish or inclination. However, it has taken on broader ramifications. Take The Jerry Springer Show, for example. Some people actually like to have their personal lives exposed, and not just for sexual titillation. Motivation will vary from person to person, but one common motive is martyrdom. Whether we grow up with old-fashioned religion or modern morality, most of us are taught that self-sacrifice is the ideal. As a result, some want it known that they are suffering—as if this somehow makes them virtuous. Of course, the suffering has to be public to get the virtue out of it, right? If nobody knows you’re suffering, then how do you get to feel virtuous? Exhibitionism accomplishes that goal.
For others, social media biological showmanship is simply a way to feel close to others. Some people are lonely. Some of the loneliest people are actually in relationships, are married, or have families. But for whatever reasons, they do not feel visible to their loved ones. Others are indeed alone and are lonely for more obvious reasons. Regardless of the circumstance, sharing such personal matters on Facebook permits one to feel intimately connected in a way that otherwise wouldn’t happen. People do this all the time on social media without actually showing off their medical maladies, but leaving aside the graphic specifics, it’s a somewhat understandable motive.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My best friend of over 20 years has suddenly decided that she is a vegan. OK. Fine. To each his or her own. The dark cloud inside this purportedly silver lining is that she simply can’t shut up about it. She picks apart every plate in front of anyone within earshot, explaining why this or that will put them in their grave—instantly. Shopping with her is a nightmare, and our long-standing dining group is no more. Nobody wants to be preached to while they are eating.
I’ve told her she needs to curb her enthusiasm, but that just triggers yet another homily about how I am killing myself with every piece of cheese or bacon I eat. Is there any alternative other than my just telling her our friendship is over? It’s almost like she likes hearing herself prattle on about her eating proclivities.
Dr. Hurd replies,
Don’t be a victim. You don’t like being lectured to while you’re eating? Then stop eating with the person who’s lecturing! It’s as simple as that. It does not make you mean. It does not make you wrong. The wrong person is the one who seeks to impose his or her will upon you. I know vegans, vegetarians, and others who have never lectured anyone while eating. They quietly pursue their own choices and leave you to do the same. That’s how it should be!
I know you’re suffering a sense of loss here. You want your best friend to be your best friend. You want to go back to the way it was. But she has changed her mind, and that’s her prerogative. I’m not saying you can’t keep her as a friend. But you can no longer eat with her, at least not right now. If she’s important enough to you to remain your best friend, then your friendship will withstand this. You’ll find other things to do together other than eat. (Imagine that!)
Allow behavioral conditioning and accountability a chance to do their thing. Maybe she’ll get the message and stop lecturing you while you’re eating, and maybe you’ll go back to eating together some day. If so, that’s great. But if you sit there resentfully stewing while she subjects you to her lectures, nothing will ever change.
If you can do so with integrity, tell her you respect her passion. But remind her that you, and your fellow friends, respectfully disagree with some of her conclusions. It’s OK to disagree. She has not persuaded you, and she has to accept that fact. Otherwise she’ll be eating a lot of meals alone, or only with other vegans. And maybe that’s what it will take to drive the message home. If so, that’s perfectly OK. It’s how we grow and learn.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email questions or comments to Dr. Hurd.