How social media can crush your self-confidence

How social media can crush your self-confidence

We all have a natural tendency to compare ourselves to others, whether intentionally or unintentionally, online or offline. These comparisons help us evaluate our own achievements, skills, personality, and emotions. This in turn affects our view of ourselves.

But what is the impact of these comparisons on our well-being? It depends on how much comparison we do.

Comparing ourselves on social media to people who are worse off than us makes us feel better. However, comparing ourselves to people who are better than us makes us feel inferior or inappropriate instead. The social media platform we choose also affects our morale, as do crisis situations like the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a doctoral student in psychology, I study impulsive men – men who see rejection of women as the cause of their involuntary aloofness. I believe that social comparison, which plays as big a role in these marginal groups as it does in the general population, affects our general well-being in the age of social media.

Optimal level for comparison

It is believed that the degree of social comparison individuals make affects their degree of motivation. According to a study conducted by researchers at the Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, an ideal level of perceived difference between self and others increases the effects of social comparison.

A woman sitting on the sofa holding a cell phone in one hand and holding her head in the other hand in distress.
When people compare themselves to others who seem to be better off, they feel inferior, resentful, or inappropriate.
(stock struggle)

Specifically, if we see ourselves significantly superior to others, we will have no motivation to improve because we already feel that we are in a good position. However, if we consider ourselves inferior, we will have no motivation to improve because the goal seems difficult to achieve.

In other words, the researchers note that after or suboptimal the perceived difference between self and other, the person no longer makes any effort. By perceiving oneself as inferior, the individual will experience negative feelings, guilt, and lowered pride and self-esteem.

Unrealistic comparisons on social media

So social comparisons have consequences for our behavior and psychological well-being. However, comparing yourself to others at a restaurant dinner does not necessarily have the same effect as comparing yourself to others on Facebook. It’s easier to invent an exciting presence or decorate certain aspects of things on a social media platform than it is in real life.

The rise of social media, which allows us to share content where we always look our best, has led many researchers to consider the possibility that this might amplify unrealistic comparisons.

Research shows that the more time people spend on Facebook and Instagram, the more they compare themselves socially. This social comparison is associated, among other things, with lower self-esteem and increased social anxiety.

A cartoon of a woman smiling on a social networking site, but unhappy in real life.
Many people share only positive moments in their life on social media.
(stock struggle)

A study conducted by researchers at the National University of Singapore explains these findings by the fact that people generally provide positive information about themselves on social media. They can also improve their appearance using filters, which create the impression of a huge difference between themselves and others.

In contrast, researchers working at Facebook note that the more people view content in which people share positive aspects of their lives on the platform, the more likely they are to compare themselves to others.

COVID-19: A Less Negative Social Comparison

However, could the impact of this comparison in a particularly stressful context such as the COVID-19 pandemic be different?

A study by researchers at Kore University in Enna, Italy showed that prior to the lockdowns, higher levels of online social comparison were associated with greater distress, loneliness, and a less fulfilling life. But this is no longer the case during lockdowns.

One reason for this is that by comparing themselves to others during the lockdown, people felt they were sharing the same difficult experience. This reduced the negative impact of social comparisons. Therefore, comparing oneself to others online in difficult times can be a positive force for improving relationships and sharing feelings of fear and uncertainty.

Four girlfriends greet each other on an internet video call.
The shared difficult experiences of COVID-19 lockdowns have minimized the negative effects of social comparisons.
(stock struggle)

Different influence according to social media

There are differences to be made depending on the social media platform a person is using. Researchers at the University of Lorraine in France argue that social media platforms should not be combined.

For example, Facebook and Instagram use is associated with lower well-being, while Twitter is associated with more positive feelings and higher life satisfaction. One possible explanation: Facebook and Instagram are known to be places of positive self-presentation, unlike Twitter, where it is more appropriate to share one’s true opinions and emotions.

Trying to get social support on social media during the COVID-19 pandemic may reactivate rather than release negative emotions, depending on the social media platform a person is using.

Many things motivate us to compare ourselves socially. Like it or not, social media exposes us to more of those motivations. Depending on the type of content being shared, whether it’s positive or negative, we tend to refer to it when we do a self-assessment. Sharing content that makes us feel good about ourselves and gets praise from others is nice, but consider the impact of those posts on others.

However, in general, I believe that sharing your difficulties in words, pictures or videos can have positive effects and bring psychological benefits.

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