We're all guilty of comparing ourselves to others. It's part of what makes us human beings social animals. But social media has turned this natural survival behavior into a self-sabotaging activity that destroys our self-esteem.
THE NEED FOR COMPARISON
We often feel bad about comparing ourselves to others, but this activity is a crucial part of living in social communities. It's how we understand our place within our community and how we negotiate our social relations. It also gives us valuable information about ourselves. Through comparison, we get information about how we are living in relation to others and what we can do to improve ourselves and our lives.
We engage in two types of social comparison. Upward social comparison is when we compare ourselves with people who seem to be doing better than us. This type of comparison can help to inspire and motivate us. Downward social comparisons are when we compare ourselves to others who seem worse off than us. This comparison can make us feel better about ourselves. The problem is that this natural human tendency was not designed to function in the age of social media.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND COMPARISON
Social media sites and apps provide infinite sources of comparison. Social media users are exposed to profiles rather than people. And the profiles are unending. Added to that, profiles are not an accurate depiction of real life. Instead, profiles are a carefully curated collection of the best parts of someone's life put through social media filters.
That means we're comparing the reality of ourselves and our life with infinite filtered highlights of others' lives. Of course, we can't compete! Rather than inspire, it makes us feel worse. We start to evaluate ourselves and our own lives negatively. And dissatisfaction sets in when in truth, we have so much to be grateful for.
Social and clinical psychology research into social comparison theory has found a link between comparing oneself and low-self esteem. It turns out that the more we compare ourselves, the lower self-esteem we have. It gets worse. Social networking sites and apps, with all their filters and algorithms, social networking sites and apps feed us a stream of dissolution that's affecting our mental health.
Suddenly, our friends' lives look like magazine lives while ours appear ever more boring and bland. I'll never forget seeing my kitchen through a social media filter for the first time. I'd made cocktails for my niece and her grandparents. She took a photo and posted it via the filters. It looked like she was living the New York high life in a super cool cocktail bar. But in reality, she was drinking a cocktail in the kitchen of her aunt and uncle's house with her grandparents!
Instead of inspiring and motivating us and helping us feel better, with social media, comparison becomes a self-sabotaging habit that lowers our self-esteem and impacts our mental health.
THE MENTAL HEALTH IMPACT OF LOW SELF-ESTEEM
Self-esteem is how we regard ourselves. It's based on a self-evaluation of our merits and faults. When we have positive thoughts about ourselves, we have high self-esteem. But when we have bad or negative feelings about ourselves, it has negative effects and negative consequences, which cause mental health problems.
Low self-esteem causes depression and anxiety. It is also linked with self-destructive behaviors like eating disorders and suicide ideation. And because we tend to isolate ourselves and hide away from the world when we have these depressive symptoms, our social and professional lives are also negatively impacted. We start to find ourselves in a downward spiral.
STRATEGIES FOR OVERCOMING SOCIAL COMPARISON AND BUILDING SELF-ESTEEM
How we feel towards ourselves is not set in stone. Our self-evaluation changes as our thoughts and feelings change towards ourselves. When we have positive emotions toward ourselves, we improve our self-evaluation and confidence, and our well-being levels increase too. The better we feel about ourselves, the less we compare ourselves to others. Overcoming social comparison starts with building our confidence. There are many ways to build confidence, improve our self-evaluation, and have healthy self-esteem.
Adopting a growth mindset is a great place to start. Acknowledging that we are always growing and evolving and being committed to our self-development reminds us that we are not who we were yesterday and that tomorrow, we have the potential to be a better version of ourselves. When we combine a growth mindset with acknowledging that part of growth is making mistakes and failing, we start to accept our mistakes as learning opportunities instead of personal flaws.
Mindfulness can also be helpful. It teaches us that each of us has an inner critic and a kindly witness. Neuroscience has found that when we suffer from anxiety and depression, our inner critic is on overdrive. Replacing our inner critic with the kindly witness can help to improve our well being in everyday life and our self-evaluation.
HEALTHY BEHAVIOURS ON SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS
Changing how we use social media can have a massive impact on how we view ourselves and our lives. Instead of mindless unlimited scrolling, try using social media in more conscious ways for specific amounts of time or things. If you're really serious about spending less time on social media platforms, uninstall your social media apps from your phone. Unfollow accounts that make you feel bad or have a particularly unrealistic representation of life. Find social media communities about personal and spiritual growth and development. These types of communities tend to be supportive and provide a more realistic representation of life with all its ups and downs.
CUT SOCIAL MEDIA USE AND START BUILDING CONFIDENCE
The results are in - social media destroys our self-esteem. So if you suffer from a lack of confidence, anxiety, or depression, cutting social media from your life could change how you evaluate yourself. And swapping our social media comparing habits for personal and spiritual development will keep building your confidence and well being.
Written by Kirsti Formoso - Wellness Writer for Koraru
Kirsti Formoso is a wellness writer and researcher. She is passionate about holistic health and wellbeing. She has over 30 years of experiential knowledge in personal and spiritual development, and a Masters of Science in Consciousness, Spirituality and Transpersonal Psychology. She is also a peer reviewer for two scientific journals specialising in Transpersonal Psychology. When she’s not writing she can be found working on her vegetable plot, hiking in the mountains and breathing in all the wonders nature has to offer.
Header image by Merakist