The phenomenon that altered the relationship we have with others and ourselves
As someone who has pretty much grown up with Facebook and Instagram, I became recently curious not just in the human psyche in general, but also in the effects that social media has on the human mind, the conscious and unconscious. Once I became overly aware of the negative impacts of social media, having lived through them myself, I started noticing patterns in others everywhere. This curiosity was fueled by observing people’s behaviors online.
Inspired by a friend, I recently deleted my Instagram account, and have been seriously debating removing Facebook too. Funnily enough, when I found myself doing something cool, I automatically reached for my phone to take a picture. I did not have Instagram anymore, so I posted it on my WeChat moments. The one singular aspect that fascinates me the most, is our NEED to post online. I can’t help but ask — why?
My questions are: What is it that propels us to document our lives and why do we feel we absolutely need to post the things we do on social media? How does this relate to the image we seek to maintain online, and our sense of self-worth offline? What is post-worthy, and why do we only post the “cool” things and hide the bad?
I believe that first and fore-mostly, our behavior online all goes back to our sense of worth offline. It also relates to our psychological state, most namely whether we have low self-esteem and other certain tendencies such as narcissism, anxiety and depression, which therefore translates in a need for admiration, for example, if leaning towards narcissism.
According to psychologists Wilcox and Stephen in their paper ‘Are Close Friends the Enemy? Online Social Networks, Self-Esteem, and Self-Control’, sites such as Facebook can increase self-esteem. People tend towards presenting a socially desirable, positive self-view to others when online. In turn, this gives individuals an increase in self-esteem, but a decrease in self-control. It all ties in with the idea of keeping up appearances, and painting a picture to the audience that compose of our friends lists and beyond. Individuals can choose information that they post, and keeping up a certain online identity increases self-esteem, but can mask our true personas. For the narcissist, this feeds into the need to be admired and the more reception a post receives, the more is fed into this type of behavior. For the anxious, online interactions can translate into real-life interaction, and feed into the anxious feeling of whether people like them or not, corresponding with what kind of reception online posts receive. These are but a few examples.
However, sourcing our self-esteem and self-worth from social media is far from sustainable. I want to argue, that these superficial means can do more harm than good. Not only does this make us more malleable to the number of likes and comments we receive, it can also cause psychological addiction, which can go as far as degrading the white matter found in our brains, and works in the same way as drug addiction at its very worst.
At the very base, one should not turn to social media to boost self-esteem since it signifies a reliance on externalities to achieve a sense of heightened feelings of worth, rather than looking inwardly. The very definition of self-esteem is the ‘cognitive and, above all, emotional appraisal of our own worth’, and when we misplace appraisal on fleeting social media, likes and comments, we both become part of a negative cycle and mistake short-term satisfaction with necessary long-term and meaningful work we must do on ourselves to improve self-esteem. When we post something we deem as post-worthy, yet hide the more negative parts of our lives, unconsciously we also attach shame to those things we sweep under the rug from others to see. We don’t realize that a healthy sense of self-worth means being free to grow without fear of failure, because failure shouldn’t change our core worth. Our addiction also ties into a need to find validation from others and the need to share our lives online, in the process neglecting our own happiness.
Not surprisingly then, does a research study show that individuals who have a sense of purpose are more likely to be immune to a rush of self-esteem that comes with online likes and comments. According to Cornell researcher Anthony Burrows, “we found that having a sense of purpose allowed people to navigate virtual feedback with more rigidity and persistence…Purposeful people noticed the positive feedback, but did not rely on it to feel good about themselves.”
“The researchers hypothesize that because purposeful people have the ability to see themselves in the future and act in ways that help them achieve their goals, they are able to inhibit impulsive responses to perceived rewards, such that they prefer larger downstream incentives to smaller immediate ones.”
So what is the big takeaway? I believe that it is important for us to realize that our sense of self-worth does not, and should not, originate from social media. We need to be very aware of the jarring reality that it is not possible to fully improve our self-esteem in the long-term by posting online and receiving positive feedback. Rather, we should look inwardly towards a more sustainable and healthy way of developing a cognitive and emotional appraisal of our own self-worth. Perhaps next time you are feeling low on self-esteem, you could try one of these exercises, rather than reaching for your phone or computer.