“Life is like Ice Cream, Enjoy it Before It Melts”.
In essence, that quote inspires living in the moment. Ironically, the fear of missing out on something better can blind us to precious moments in the present. How do we help our client’s navigate their concerns when the need to not “miss out” causes self-doubt and anxiety? Recently, I observed an enlightening and endearing moment shared by two siblings in an ice cream shop. I overheard them as I walked away delighting in my ice cream fudge sundae.
The young woman asked her brother how his new relationship was going with concern in her voice. He responded enthusiastically that things were “going really really well!”
His sister did not seem to take his answer at face value.
“Are you sure? Because I haven’t seen any recent posts, pictures of you two, or tags on Lydia’s Facebook page.”
She had drawn the conclusion that a lack of online presence filled with “loving” pictures and hash tags meant that something must have been missing. I pondered how frequently the assumption was made that a person’s relationship was less fulfilling than those who posted more visibly about their significant others online.
Witnessing this interaction made me think of the infamous “Fear of Missing Out” phenomenon (FOMO). Essentially, I felt I had just observed what might be coined as second-hand FOMO! While I am hypothesizing based on witnessing a brief interaction, it is entirely possible that the sister feared that her brother could be missing out on a better love life or a better partner.
It dawned on me that it is prevalent to experience the fear of missing out based on what we are NOT seeing just as much as by what we are viewing. While social media does play a huge part in propelling “Fear of Missing Out”, what other ways can we as therapists see it playing out clinically?
Whether working with individuals, couples, or families, FOMO can be underlying in many dynamics. As an LMFT, I see it playing out second-hand where a client fears that a loved one is missing out on a better partner or a better career. For example, a mother believes her son is wasting his potential and missing out on successful career opportunities due to pursuing his dream of being an artist. Her anxiety might persist despite her son supporting himself and reporting satisfaction.
The fiancé of the artist joins in with the mother catastrophizing her partner’s choices to be a “waste of intellect” because he is not working in a career that she deems as “accomplished”. She fears that he “could be doing so much more”.
The artist is not in distress over his decisions or career path, he is however experiencing distress due to pressure from his mother and fiancé. The anxiety is coming from a place of concern, but also from what “could be”.
The saturation of narratives that are thrust onto us from endless angles in society no doubt feed into the occurrence of FOMO. These norms, “shoulds”, and “coulds” can cause us to question what our desired truths actually are and can cause us to project anxiety onto our loved ones.
We are in a position where we can help clients access the preferred parts of themselves and their lives through many theoretical avenues. However, we want to be alert to clients searching for solutions based solely off of the prospect of “missing out”.
Working with clients from a narrative perspective and an angle of curiosity creates space for my clients and I to explore new possibilities. Conversely, if a client is working for solutions from an angle of pure comparison, then we could find ourselves down a road of FOMO and further from our self-truths.
Note that I am not speaking of comparison in terms of encouragement or motivation (such as admiring your boss’s career trajectory and exploring how you can attain that). We must listen for our clients’ use of comparison to strive for the “shoulds” of societal norms and of romantic comedies with perfect timing and fairy tale endings. We as therapists have a duty to intervene and invite our clients to be curious in these moments.
What a shame it would be to very suddenly experience an ice cream sundae differently because of seeing someone else with eyes closed, basking in a huge waffle ice-cream-dipped cone. Blindly, the flavor is unknown, yet we might begin to question if we should’ve gotten the sundae to begin with. Are we missing out on something better? Within moments, we can go from savoring over a sundae to thinking, “Maybe this doesn’t taste that good.”
Essentially, we must be mindful of how focusing on “missing out” can block our capacity to access what we truly need and desire in our lives and in our relationships. Ironically, we can “miss out” on moments of pleasure by fixating on the possibility of “missing out on better”.
Though we want to encourage exploration of undiscovered flavors, that journey does not have to come at the expense of a melted ice cream sundae that we were so passionately eager for just moments before. Let’s help our clients find and relish in the dishes of life that nourish them in the moment.
-Featured and Published in the NYAMFT Metro