Social Media's Impact On Self-Esteem

02/22/2017 03:22 pm ET Updated Feb 22, 2017
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Social media has been linked to higher levels of loneliness, envy, anxiety, depression, narcissism and decreased social skills. As a Behavioral Scientist, I wonder what causes this paradox? The narratives we share and portray on social media are all positive and celebratory. It’s a hybridized digital version of “Keeping up with the Joneses”. Meaning for some, sometimes it appears everyone you know are in great relationships, taking 5-star vacations and living your dream life. However, what is shared across our social networks only broadcasts the positive aspects of our lives-the highlight reels.

Since we’re only getting people’s highlight reels and comparing it to ourselves, it is natural to have reactions to what we’re watching. How does this impact relationships, dating and our love lives? I conducted in-depth interviews with men and women, ranging from ages 28-73, that are active social media users and found that:

  • 60% of people using social media reported that it has impacted their self-esteem in a negative way
  • 50% reported social media having negative effects on their relationships
  • 80% reported that is easier to be deceived by others through their sharing on social media

Paradox Effect

It seems that social media is creating a paradox effect: giving off the illusion of many choices, while making it harder to find viable options. Can it be that our highly connected world has now become disconnected? Dr. Jennifer Rhodes, a licensed psychologist, relationship expert, and the founder of the bi-coastal relationship consultancy, Rapport Relationships, explains “My clients that are a little obsessed with following dates on social media really do lack the skills to communicate effectively in person. This lack of security and communication skills most definitely increases anxiety and depression. I see so much anxiety related to dating and how to navigate texting & communication that I have started to use Social Fitness training to teach assertiveness skills with my clients”.

Posting dinners, selfies and vacay photos over human interaction for some is interaction. That IS their interaction. Natalia Lusinski, Sex, Dating, and Relationships writer for Bustle, says “I feel couples forget how to talk in real life, with all the texting and social media-updating that they do. They seem to know everything about each other and each other’s days already, so they don’t feel the need to talk much in person.”

The paradox effect in dating is creating the illusion of having more social engagement, social capital, and popularity, but masking one’s true persona. Since some are interfacing digitally more than physically it is much easier to emotionally manipulate others because they are reliant on what I call “Vanity Validation”. The one you portray on your networks and the true you, for some creates a double consciousness. Your lauded self on social media is constantly seeking more validation through electronic likes, not life. Lusinski describes this best, “I feel many people convey all the positive pics, updates, etc. — but then, once you date them, you realize there are several other layers to them, not just the positive façade they convey online.” For some, projecting what they want people to see and getting likes, plusses, re-tweets, and shares helps them feel better about themselves and connected to others.

Self-Esteem and “Vanity Validation”

In the latest Match Singles in America study’s findings on how social media has impacted people’s dating lives, they found that 57% of singles say social media has generated a Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). Dr. Suzana Flores, author of Facehooked: How Facebook Affects our Emotions, Relationships and Lives explains “when someone interacts over social media for prolonged periods of time, inevitably they feel compelled to continue to check for updates. I call this the “Slot Machine Effect” in that when we receive a like or a comment to a post, or when we come across an interesting new post from someone else, we experience what psychologists refer to as intermittent reinforcement—sometimes we get “rewarded” with an interesting post, and sometimes we are not, but the rewards through external validation of our posts, cause us to remain digitally connected.”

The “Slot Machine Effect” and comparing ourselves to others is just one side of FOMO. Match reported 51% say social media has made them feel more self-conscious about their appearance. Flores further explains “research has also shown that Facebook users are becoming increasingly depressed from comparing themselves to their own profile. Meaning that if a person’s reality does not match the digital illusion they post on their profiles, emotionally, one may feel they are not living up to the “best” form of themselves.”

“Emotionally secure people do not struggle as much with these issues. However, a large portion of our population has emotional insecurities and these folks are the ones that would benefit from a dating consultation to provide them with the tools and support to learn how to more effectively communicate their needs and desires. Social media and texting have made it all too easy to default to one’s own perception rather than remain curious about what may actually be going on.” cautions Rhodes.

This is just an aspect of what is occurring in today’s rapidly evolving digital world. For us to accept these behaviors with disregard for how it impacts us emotionally is what the core of what I call, The Millennial Virus, is. What is it doing to our sense of self? Are we becoming more narcissistic? Are we becoming more insecure? Is technology driving dating, sex and emotion? Are dating patterns just an extension of how we behave on social networks?

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