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Your Finsta’s Not a Therapist

Molly Armstrong, a member of the LOG OFF writers group, dissolves the therapeutic misconceptions uplifting Finsta Culture and exposes the harm of buying into this social media craze.

I’ve been there: typing out my vulnerabilities and unspoken feelings in a lengthy Instagram caption.

Would I post it to my “real” Instagram for too many people to see? Definitely not. I’d post it to my “finsta”, the place where I shared almost anything that was on my mind, alongside many, many others.

Finstas are nothing new, but if you’re unfamiliar, a finsta, short for “fake Instagram”, is a secondary account to a user’s main account exclusively devoted to sharing the more raw, unfiltered details of that person’s life, and often in good humor. They tend to be private accounts with followers limited to closer friends, and trust me when I tell you they’re easy to spot, my own username was “scoobydoobydoop.”

The concept of the finsta really came as response to pressures associated with keeping up a careful image on social media. People have become tired of ‘perfect’ profiles and filtered lives, not just viewing, but posting it themselves. Therefore, realness and authenticity are the driving forces behind finsta culture, encouraging users to tear down their walls and express themselves freely.

It’s not surprising then that along with funny photos, jokes, and anecdotes, there’s also real and serious vulnerability. When emotions feel built up and we need a release, it's an easy fix to dump it all out into a caption for our carefully curated list of followers -- or so we think.

It’s important to give this behavior some thought, especially as finsta culture can create a distorted sense of normalcy.

For us as teens, finstas are a valuable space to reflect on ourselves, express our changing perspectives and shifting opinions, and be heard. Though in doing so and seeing others do the same, boundaries can easily become blurred.

My friend Hanna, a sophomore in college, described how she used her finsta:

“The majority of it was oversharing, like my emotions. . . [or] alluding to trauma that’s happened in my life, a lot of things like that, which in real life I wouldn’t want others to know.”

She says the process of articulating herself, like writing in a journal, felt healing and meditative, and in the moment, likes and comments were comforting.

In a sense it really is virtual journalling, but with feedback. And when it comes to sharing heavier and more serious things, especially shame-based experiences, likes and comments can act as signs of empathy or understanding.

Psychotherapist Sharon Martin explains that “empathy and connection have healing powers to reduce shame.” She says, “empathy lets you know you’re not alone – you’re not the only one who’s been through this and you aren’t an awful, inferior, unlovable person.”

Blurring boundaries can feel cathartic, too, especially if we’re unable to easily share and process these things with the people in our life otherwise.

Emotional catharsis or climax can be defined as the process of displaying our emotions in all their rawness and effectively discharging them.

Finsta culture eats this right up. After all, our finstas seem to provide us with an indirect and much less intimidating way of doing this as we sit comfortably behind a screen, whether it takes the form of a five paragraph reflection or a picture of us crying.

Author and professor T.J. Sheff describes the feeling post-catharsis as the “mind [being] clear” and “[feeling] transformed to the point [of] being fully alive and awake”, which can be similar to the relief we feel after posting.

Except the difference really is key. It’s nice to think of our depressive monologue as genuine catharsis or the support we get from followers as empathy and understanding -- but we need to remember it’s not necessarily the same.

A large part of what makes a cathartic experience effective is not only expressing emotion, but engaging in cognitive processing, in other words, gaining new insights. Likes, comments, and DMs don’t perform the role of mediating cognitive processing as well as an actual therapist or even someone you can confide in face-to-face.

Plus, being alone behind the screen, knowing our finsta is private, and having followers we trust doesn’t exactly mean we’re in a truly therapeutic setting.

Especially when numbers come in, finstas don’t live in a vacuum. At its base, the finsta is an Instagram account like any other; and the temptation of higher likes and followers might trick us into sacrificing some privacy.

Hanna regrets sharing so much on her finsta. Reflecting on it now, she says, “I don’t miss my finsta for all the things I intended to do with it, and all the things I was oversharing didn’t relieve me, it just made me more stressed out that now everybody knows my stuff.”

There’s also a high chance we’ll regret what we post being teenagers especially. Our perspectives are almost constantly shifting and transforming; and in a moment where emotional release is needed, this may not be the moment where our view is solid and we’re our most grounded anyway. When we dump out our feelings and thoughts like this, it’s likely the next week we’ll interpret those same things differently.