Self Esteem in the age of Instagram
A lot has been written about the connection between self-esteem and social media. There’s no question that many experience questions about their self-worth when using Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
Our self-esteem, or subjective evaluation of our own self-worth, is easily impacted these days by what we see on social media.
The "perfect” lives of those you know, and the pressure to only post the “perfect” pictures and updates about your life can make anyone second guess themselves when life isn’t feeling so perfect.
Not to get too in the weeds here, but learning how psychology sees different self-esteem groups is helpful to understanding social media’s impact, more than just in a blanket assessment of it's bad for you.
Let's see what the research says:
Three Basic Self-Esteem Groups
Low of Self-Esteem: On one extreme are those who experience a low view of themselves. This can lead to feelings of worthlessness, depression and low confidence levels.
Low self-esteem can lead to poor choices but so can the other extreme which often is called narcissism.
High of Self Esteem: These folks seem to estimate their worth (self-esteem) so high that they imagine they are more important and more valuable than most or all others.
The interesting thing is that this is a bit of a misnomer. While you and me might perceive these folks as aggrandizing, the puffed-up self is actually born out of a belief of low self-worth. And therefore, a need to boast to cover up.
A Healthy Self-Esteem Level: In the center of these extremes is the person who falls into the healthy spectrum of self-esteem. This person’s self-assessment is more accurate than not.
It’s easier to be successful in the things that matter the most in life and to treat people kindly for those who fall into this group. Of all the groups, those who fall here are the least-concerned about what others think of them.
That isn’t to say that they can’t be hurt by others’ assessments of them. Rather, it means they don’t allow others’ opinions to get in the way of who they know they’re supposed to be and the life decisions they must make.
Now that we’ve defined the three basic groups in regards to self-esteem, let’s see how each group tends to handle social media and how it affects their self-esteem.
Balanced/Healthy Self-Esteem Social Media Users:
W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D., who heads up the psychology department at the University of Georgia gives a good definition of what healthy self-esteem looks like in his book, “The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement.”
"Ideally, you get self-esteem from having strong relationships and achieving goals that are reasonable and age-appropriate…Ideally, self-esteem is not something you should take a shortcut to find. It is a consequence of a good life, not something you chase."
A healthy self-image is something that’s built up over time and made of durable materials, recognizes Campbell. Those with healthy self-esteem realize this.
Individuals with a healthy self-esteem can navigate social media options like Facebook better than most.
They can usually say “no” to the temptation to find cheap, quick substitutes for self-esteem through superficial relationships. For this group, social media is just one more avenue to foster valuable, authentic relationships.
Low Self-Esteem Social Media Users:
Those who fall into this category tend to measure themselves by the activities and lifestyles of others as seen on social media.
Until their reasons for low self-esteem are properly addressed, this will lead to an even lower view of self.
Their comparison games make them feel worse because they, often wrongly, assume that other peoples’ situations and lives are happier, more successful and better than their own.
What’s often forgotten is that anyone can project almost any image of themselves they want on social media. The best times, like exotic vacations, tend to get front and center. A disintegrating marriage or broken relationship with a child, not so much.
Low self-esteem users need to remember that what they see on social media from others is never the whole picture of what’s going on. Some whom they envy may gladly prefer the life of the one doing the envying to their own.
Inflated View of Self Social Media Users:
If the overcompensating tendencies of individuals in this category aren’t properly addressed, social media will only serve to further their self-exalting bent.
These folks, unfortunately, tend to add little value to the healthy conversations online.
So...where are you?
Does this research teach you anything interesting? Where do you land, and what does this mean for the impact Facebook has on you?
Unfortunately, social media will quickly hurtle those on either self-esteem extremes into further unhealthy thinking and action patterns until a positive resolution to their self-esteem distortion takes place.
The good news is that you can continually work on your self-esteem no matter where you fall on the spectrum. There is room to build confidence in yourself and trust that you can get through any challenge life throws at you.
We’re all still on our journey towards our ever-increasing authentic self.