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  • Fear of Missing Out and the Spectre of the Unlived Life

    Something we hear a lot about in contemporary culture and in social media is “FOMO” or “Fear of Missing Out”. As psychological researchers M. Gupta and A. Sharma have documented on social media sites FOMO is a widespread reaction involving

    “…the perception of missing out, followed up with a compulsive behavior to maintain these social connections.”

    Photo by Vie Studio 

    It’s striking how powerful the impulse not to miss out is in the human psyche. The descriptions of FOMO that researchers provide tempt us to describe this social media phenomena as a profoundly addictive behaviour. How is it that social media are able to tap into this fear? And, is there anything that this fear has to teach us about the nature of our psyche and our soul?

    Fear of Missing Out and Human Evolution 

    As discussed in a previous blog post, social media can act as a very powerful magnifier of our fears and our feelings of inferiority. It can draw on very deep insecurities. There is a part of ourselves that is all too ready to assume that others are gaining some benefit or having some great experience that we are not, and that we ardently wish to have or to take part in.

    This is a very basic part of the psyche. It touches on something fundamental in our evolution as a social species. We can see how, for a long period in our evolution, there would have been real survival value in ensuring that we, as individual primates, were not missing out on anything good in which the rest of the troop was sharing.

    However, we’ve journeyed on since those days! It simply may not be the case that a modern person should go after everything that her or his fellow humans pursue. Just because all your neighbours drive large SUVs built by the Big Three auto producers doesn’t automatically settle the issue of whether this is the right life option for you!

    When the Unlived Life Comes Calling

    There is a connection between fear of missing out, and something else to which C.G. Jung drew our attention. That is what he called “the unlived life”. Awareness of the unlived part of our lives is depicted by Jungian Robert A. Johnson:

    When we feel restless, bored, or empty despite an outer life filled with riches, the unlived life is asking for us to engage. To not do this work will leave us depleted and despondent…. As you may have already discovered, doing or acquiring more does not quell your unease or dissatisfaction.

    Jungian psychologist Jerry M. Ruhl summarizes the Jungian view of the potential inherent in our unlived life as follows:

    By exploring unlived life we learn to rise above fears, regrets, and disappointments, to expand our vision beyond the narrow confines of the ego, and to embrace the full measure of our being.

    Listening to the call of our unlived life may be a powerful impetus toward connection with the fullness of our personality, which Jung has described as the Self. However, to truly listen to that voice as it calls us to wholeness, we have to be able to distinguish it from that basic primitive fear of missing out.

    To Accept and Love the Core of Your Life

    When we experience a sense of yearning or a deep sense of lack in our lives, it can be easy to interpret it in terms of that old atavistic sense that “I’m missing out”, or that “everyone is doing better, or has more than me.” The unlived life and the fear of missing out can be easily confused. 

    We may feel a deep sense of deficit in our lives, especially at times of major life transition such as midlife transition. If so, it’s essential that we understand that lack in terms of the needs of our own unique soul and our own particular life journey.

    Do you experience a powerful hard-to-define sense of yearning, and a strong sense that something in your life needs to be completed, or lived out? It’s entirely possible that you are hearing the voice of your unlived life. Please don’t confuse this experience with the sense that everyone else is sharing in something, or has something  and that you need the same thing.

    The key question is: what do you need to live out in your unique individual life to find a sense of fulfilment? What is it that needs to express itself in your life at this point? This is a vitally important matter, if individuals are to find a sense of meaning and direction.

    To fully answer such questions, it’s essential to engage with yourself in some fundamental ways. Working with a supportive Jungian depth psychotherapist may be of great benefit in this process. 

    I wish you every good thing on your personal journey,

    Brian Collinson 

    Registered Psychotherapist and 

    Certified Jungian Analyst (IAAP) 

    Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

    © Brian Collinson, 2023