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Can social media crush your self esteem?

redes sociales autoestima.jpg
redes sociales autoestima.jpg

It is no secret to anyone that social networks promote demotivation in those people who often compare their lives with those of other users who show a lifestyle that is rarely compared to reality. That could consequently damage your self-esteem.

This need to compare ourselves with others because of what we see on the screen is not a practice that favors our mental health, and today psychologists ask that we handle social networks with caution and create instead feeds or home pages that provide us with knowledge and positive feelings.

We not only compare ourselves to those with better lifestyles than ours

Sabrina Laplante, a PhD student in psychology at the University of Québec in Montreal, Canada, argues that there can be several types of comparisons. In addition to comparing ourselves with those who are shown as achievers on social media, we also compare ourselves with people whose lifestyle is not so amazing to feel better.

In times of pandemic, the confinement has led us to consume more social networks than before and comparisons and the FOMO (or Fear of Missing Out – fear of missing experiences) harm our mental health. Although this could take a different direction, as we will tell you below.

Social comparison and motivation: Does comparing ourselves to others really make us better?

Woman sitting on the couch with her hands on her face as a sign of concern, a product of social comparison.
The social comparison in social networks is one of the causes of anxiety and depression in young people. Image: Annie Spratt via Unsplash

According to a study conducted in Germany by the Ruhr University, Bochum, human beings have a level of perception of differences between ourselves and others that affects the level of social comparison.

Take for example a person with a superiority complex. When this person compares his life with that of another user on Instagram, the motivation to change is practically non-existent, so he will not do anything to improve aspects of his life.

On the other hand, a person who believes himself inferior to others, comparisons do not count as a motivation to change, because he would believe that achieving that lifestyle that he sees on the screen is something that he cannot achieve. Consequently, this person’s self-esteem is getting lower and lower.

This explanation is based on the concept of social comparison established in 1954 by Leon Festinger.

Comparing yourself to the false illusions we see on social media affects our mental health

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is the second leading cause of disability-adjusted life years. This term refers to the years lost to illness and is used as a measure of life expectancy.

The saddest thing about all this is that the people who are most affected by this are young people, who are the ones who spend the most time interacting on social networks. According to figures from 2015, 90% of the young population in the United States used social networks, the majority at least once a day.

Group of teenagers standing holding a mobile in their hands looking at social networks.
Young people are the population that most interacts with social networks, therefore they are the first affected by social comparison and its negative consequences. Image: Creative Christians via Unsplash

Consequently, being the ones who spend the most time on social networks, young people are the ones with a higher level of social comparison, which can lead to self-esteem problems, sleep problems, cyberbullying and of course, anxiety and depression.

What is this about? Mainly because not everything we see on social networks is reality. Our comparisons are often far from reality, if you don’t believe us, ask yourself how many attempts you had to make to get the perfect selfie.

An opportunity to transform social comparison into a pandemic

Laplante mentions in his essay that the pandemic could bring interesting changes in the dynamics of social networks. It is clear that the tool itself is not negative, but in the use that we give it. In this way, sharing our day-to-day lives in a pandemic has rather been positive because it gives us a sense of belonging, of seeing that we are all going through more or less the same experience.

At least that’s what a study conducted by researchers at the University of Kore in Italy. The negative effects of the comparison on social networks diminished during confinement.

More importance to emotions and less to physical

Woman sitting on the floor with a laptop surrounded by books writing in social networks.
Sharing our passions and emotions on social networks is a positive way to navigate the digital environment by sharing common experiences to feel that we are not alone. Image: Christina Wosintech via Unsplash

A good way to transform the negative of social comparison into a positive is to talk more about our emotions and personal projects than to focus on the superficial. Social networks are excellent tools to replicate information, it is convenient to use them with that intention to talk about what worries us or makes us feel sad to find support in others.

That social networks can damage our self-esteem? Yes, but it is possible to change this by taking better care of the accounts with which we follow and interact, as well as using them more responsibly to talk about issues that contribute more to us as human beings.


How social media can crush your self-esteem: https://theconversation.com/how-social-media-can-crush-your-self-esteem-174009

Use of multiple social media platforms and symptoms of depression and anxiety: A nationally-representative study among US young adults: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311568667_Use_of_multiple_social_media_platforms_and_symptoms_of_depression_and_anxiety_A_nationally-representative_study_among_US_young_adults

How use of social media and social comparison affect mental health: https://www.nursingtimes.net/news/mental-health/how-use-of-social-media-and-social-comparison-affect-mental-health-24-02-2020/

The role of online social comparison as a protective factor for psychological wellbeing: A longitudinal study during the COVID-19 quarantine: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886920306772?via%3Dihub