SF Counseling Center

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

FOMO –  Fear of Missing Out: What is it all about?

Summer seems to have the unique ability to stir up all kinds of emotions. Unlike Summer’s colder and cozier sister, Winter, there is less of an excuse to stay inside and more reason to get out and “do things.” Now, based on our current cultural climate, any particular thing that is being “done,” comes hand in hand with a plethora of media postings. Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter become overloaded during the summer with pictures of weddings, trips to Greece, outside lands or an abundance of other great excursions. No wonder the fear of missing out (FOMO) has a pervasive and overwhelming presence during these summers months. But the question is, what is FOMO really about?

What we KNOW about FOMO

We know about FOMO is that it’s fear-based and the fear is about missing out on something important, interesting or integral.  Fear has a nasty way of infiltrating itself into our lives. But, when fear is present, there’s a question about whether its real or imagined. FOMO doesn’t mean I know I am missing out on something life-changing. It means I am afraid that I am missing out on something life-changing.

What we don’t know about FOMO

What we don’t know about FOMO is that it speaks to a very human, normal and reasonable fear.  FOMO is the fear: If I’m not there, will I be forgotten; If I’m not there, is there anyone in the world that is thinking about me?  Is this related to the concept of object-constancy?  Object-constancy is a concept from developmental psychology.  It describes the point at which a child can know and understand (for example) that just because the doll is under the blanket, it doesn’t mean the doll has disappeared.

Most children gain object constancy by the age of 8-12 months.  However, it is no coincidence that the saying “out of sight, out of mind” is used abundantly into the adult years (for example about the fear of adultery). Maybe “out of sight, out of mind” speaks a little to the same worries that come from FOMO – if I’m not there, will I still be “there.” There is also the fear of becoming less relevant.  If I am not ‘where the action is’ will I be forgotten?  Will I become irrelevant?

FOMO and the Fear of Being Left Behind

Biologically, we are truly relational beings, meaning that we crave connection.  John Bowlby developed Attachment theory.  In it, Bowlby postulated that connection and proximity to a loved caregiver meant safety, love and anxiety management for the child.

Perhaps, FOMO speaks to a feeling of disconnection and worry about what the consequences will be if we miss something. (“Are we not close to our loved ones?” “Am I included/safe?”)

Researchers have found a rather meaningful correlation between social media and increases in anxiety and depression. It is no coincidence that sometimes these pictures of the weddings, trips, etc., stir up some uncomfortable feelings of loneliness, sadness and worry about our lives and the connections or disconnections we experience on a daily basis. If this is the case, maybe we can use FOMO to our advantage – maybe it’s trying to tell us something.

Next time you feel afraid of missing out, think about who or what you can connect to that might make you feel a little less forgotten and a little more loved.


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