Social Media and the Need to Belong - Kimberly Thompson

This article is the fourth in the Taking Care of #1 series, about the hierarchy of human needs, how we experience those needs, and what we can do to help ourselves move toward higher-order living.

Belonging Needs

We all need a tribe: the people who we belong with, who accept us as we are. It is hard to overstate the importance of the family, the circle of friends, a collegial network, and the large interwoven web of culture. Those connections bring meaning and purpose, and help us to advance in every area of our lives.

Social Media

Social media has emerged as an important way that people connect. It started with millennials but quickly spread to baby boomers like me! I have enjoyed reconnecting with distant family members, and friends reaching back into childhood, through the magic of social media.

Our society is extremely mobile, with the more success-driven social classes constantly reshuffling who lives where. This means that professional families may live far away from the neighborhoods where they grew up and may have left a trail of friends and colleagues behind them as they have chased better-paying, more fulfilling, higher-status jobs. There are other reasons too – my husband and I both grew up in big cities and made a conscious choice to raise our family in communities that were less crowded and more tight-knit. As empty nesters, we made still another move that we thought would enhance both our careers and our quality of life.

Enter social media! We no longer have to write Christmas newsletters or make long-distance phone calls (remember those?) to keep in touch with old friends. We not only can keep up with the major events, but with the causes they support, photos of their kids as they grow, and what they think is funny. When I meet my college classmates at Homecoming each year, it’s as if we’ve never been apart. We still feel as if we belong together.

You’ve got to admit, though, that social media does have its downside. In particular, it cannot meet all of our belonging needs. Here’s why.

1. Online interactions are “flat.” No matter how skillfully we use emojis and LOLs, we can unintentionally come across as harsh and aggressive. I am very conscious of the need for care when posting, and I’m careful to clarify and apologize whenever I miss the mark. I don’t think everybody out there in cyberspace understands this! Too many insensitive remarks online can lead to withdrawing and isolation.
2. Online interactions support real-life relationships but can’t replace them. There will never be a replacement for sharing a meal or a cup of coffee, for a hug, or for the in-person rituals that bind us together. It’s rare for something online to make us feel the way face to face does.
3. Online interactions are selective. Some people choose to put their private business all over social media, creating drama and sympathy for themselves. Some people just don’t seem to comprehend that very intimate details of their lives are being sprayed all over the internet. Other people choose to only post about their successes. They may not be trying to create envy – maybe they are just private about their struggles. You can’t know what someone’s life really is like just from social media!
4. Online interactions shouldn’t keep you from making new connections wherever you are living right now. I’ll grant you that when you have small kids, it is easier to check social media than it is to get out of the house. But you really need to make a regular effort to get out there and make in-person friends. It’s important for you and for your kids!

I’ll be talking about social media again next week, as I cover “esteem” needs. Be sure to subscribe if you want my articles delivered to you by email!


I’m Dr. Kimberly Thompson, a clinical psychologist with a maternal mental health practice in Lubbock, TX. From pre-conception to the empty nest, mothers can work with me in-person and online. Download my free e-book, The Busy Mom’s Self-Care Planner, and bring yourself into the circle of care. You can also find my book, Perfect Mothers Get Depressed, on Amazon  or Praeclarus Press.