Social media connects us, get us talking and sharing – right? In 2004 Facebook’s mission statement was to “give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” It seems their gallant intentions are far from being realised.
Instead of promoting open, adult debate that connects, for many social media streams are a conveyer belt of filtered photos showing off just how wonderful everyone else’s life is, which beaches you’re not lying on, which parties you’ve not been invited to, and how much more successful others are.
Most social media feed us an idealised, Friends-sitcom existence suckering many into thinking their lives (by comparison to their oh-so-happy ‘friends’) are boring, too mundane, too lonely and difficult. By comparing our lives with others we see online it creates what’s termed a ‘downward social comparison’ and also the dreaded FOMO (Fear of Missing Out, a phrase added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013). As Instagramer and former model Stina Sanders, told The Independent:
“I know from my experience I can get FOMO when I see my friend’s photos of a party I didn’t go to, and this, in turn, can make me feel quite lonely and anxious.”
Social media does little for many people’s well-being. Most ironically, it’s making many feel lonely as well as depressed. It can damage our self esteem. In one study, by the University of Copenhagen, people who suffer from “Facebook envy” reported that when they stopped using Facebook they felt ‘more satisfied with their lives.’
So, bar avoiding social media altogether, I’d recommend three ways to stop social media seriously damaging your self esteem:
1. Remember that social media is not real
An obvious solution is to join the growing movement of people in the UK logging out from social media sites permanently. For many this might seem extreme, so if you’re to go online and spend time looking at what others are up to, then remember this:
A great deal of the posts and photos people share online are not real. Many are Disneyesque images of an idealised world that others want you to see to make themselves feel better.
2. Crapbook – post your holiday nightmares and avoid showing off
If you’re guilty (and just about all of us are) of posting images and comments that show only an idealised self then try this…
Turn Facebook into Crapbook. On holiday in Norway this summer we were driving on a completely empty road, plodding along, when a traffic cop jumped into the road and pulled us over. The consequences are shown above in the photo of my Facebook-feed: a £300 fine for going 6mph over the limit in a 60 zone.
I’d encourage you all to post pictures of yourself stranded at airports; in Spanish hotels overlooking building sites; watching telly with a ready-meal on a tray; or of yourself looking awkward and bored at a party. Let’s make social media honest!!
Being honest on social media will help avoid what’s been termed emotional labour, which is when we feel the need to suppress our own emotions to look good in others’ eyes. We spend enough of our time at work having to put on a brave face, so why torture ourselves with a false smile when we go online, in our own leisure time, too. While social media is not an online therapy-chatroom for sharing our problems, we can at least stop using it as a platform for showing off.
So have a sense of humour – laugh at yourself and the world around you. Don’t take yourself or life so seriously. In place of Facebook’s giving “people the power to share and make the world more open and connected”, let’s have giving “people the power to be themselves, to post everyday images that show people who we really are, not how wonderful or clever we want others to think we are.” This attitude would create a new social media platform for boosting not harming your own and others’ self esteem!
Take a look at this article in The Independent (where I first worked fresh out of Uni!) about the previously mentioned Stina Saunders, who decided to post ‘honest’ pics of herself and the positive reaction she (eventually) received.
3. Be your own judge – don’t give others the opportunity to judge you
In place of comparing how well we’re doing relative to others, we need to develop an intrinsic sense of worth. This means that you’re in control of how you feel – you know you are a worthwhile person without needing others to validate you. When you’ve develop a healthy level of self esteem it means you’re no longer at the mercy of your friends latest posts or timelines full of seemingly exciting activities and impressive achievements. And if you do post anything yourself, you don’t care too much what others say or whether you get enough ‘likes’.
Our How to Build Unbreakable Confidence online course has exercises, tips and techniques to help you identify your own values and strengths, how to develop self compassion and build self esteem. And our time management course even has a class on how to cull your mobile phone use, which many of use to plug ourselves into social media 24-7.
Happy social networking,
Course tutor and co-founder of Unchainyourbrain.org