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Ashley Solomon, Psy.D is a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and serious mental illness.

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Social networking and your self-esteem

September 29, 2010 34 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

Facebook_icon We’ve all heard about the apparent privacy risks we’re taking by putting our personal and even professional information on social media sites like Facebook, but have you ever considered the threat of these sits to your self-esteem? When we share our latest exploits, our contact information, and photos from last summer’s European backpacking adventure, we’re exposing ourselves to host of threats, according to media experts. But today I’m going to suggest that the most threatening players in the Facebook game may be… ourselves.

I started thinking about this idea about a few months ago, when I found myself glued to sites like LinkedIn and Facebook during a couple of particularly stressful weeks. I was feeling down on myself, overwhelmed at work with no vacation in sight, and frustrated with important people in my life. Facebook provided an easy escape, transporting me away from the realities of my own situation and allowing me to immerse myself in snippets about my “friends.”

I use the term “friends” loosely because, honestly, can I really include the sister of the girl who used to date my husband’s high school buddy among my nearest and dearest? But still, I found myself intensely interested in Hillary’s (name has been changed, obviously…) plans for the long weekend (she was going to a house in the Hamptons, while I was going to paint my toenails, in case you were interested). I was also fascinated by Rebecca’s fancy new camera, Eric’s six-week trip to Thailand, and the most recent over-the-top sweet thing that Katherine’s new boyfriend did while she was at work.

Now, my career and livelihood do in fact depend on my intense interest in people. At least that’s the justification I gave my husband for the hours I would dwindle away escaping into the lives of people I knew – and those I didn’t really. However, once I stepped away from the laptop and back into my own reality, I discovered something profound.

Facebook was making me feel like crap.

And twitter wasn’t helping either. Apparently 140 characters was in fact enough to make me feel bad that I hadn’t spent hours baking heavenly brownies that were not only gooey and delicious, but cure cancer as well. Or that I hadn’t run an ultra-marathon that morning. Sorry, I was too busy on LinkedIn.

As such sites become increasingly popular (okay, they are popular – my grandmother who cannot operate a cell phone properly has an active facebook presence!), more research is emerging about the effects of social networking sites on our mental health.

What researchers are beginning to find is that social network usage and psychological concepts like narcissism and self-esteem are in fact related. According to Soraya Mehdizadeh from York University, people with lower self-esteem or narcissism spent more time on Facebook.

Despite being the forum for digitally enhanced photos and status updates that make us green with envy, social networking sites are not themselves to solely to blame. Just as with other forms of media like magazines and music, we make choices every day about our consumption. And even when we cannot, we can educate ourselves with tools like media literacy to become more critical consumers and allow the content to have a lesser impact.

And when it comes to finding yourself making comparisons with “friends” and negative judgments about yourself, it’s important to reframe those thoughts by, for example, considering the reality of the situation. Of course Susanna’s life seems perfect and her children beautiful and well-behaved. You read approximately one one-billionth of a snippet (that’s very scientific, trust me) of her daily life. She’s posting photos of their one week of family vacation to Disney – not the way she looks in the morning after a night of being up with children screaming and her husband being completely aloof.

And if these sites continue to wear you down instead of lift you up, it may be time to close twitter and go spend time in (gasp!) real world.

This seems an appropriate (or completely inappropriate) time to remind you to follow NTS on twitter at @nourishthesoul or become a fan of the NTS facebook page. But don’t worry, there will be no updates about perfect families, trans-global vacations, or cancer-fighting brownies. At least not until I perfect the recipe while swimming across the English Channel.

Do you find your own self-esteem impacted by social media? How do you know when it’s time to log off?

NTS-Medium

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34 Comments

  1. Jules - Big Girl Bombshell
    4 years ago

    Oh yes! I have been waiting for a post like this! I know its time to log off when I start to feel *lonely* in the crowd!
    Jules – Big Girl Bombshell recently posted..Sassy Senorita Bombshell

    Reply

  2. kathryn
    4 years ago

    I’m the opposite – I used to think other people lead much more exciting lives than I did but with fb etc I realise that they are all just sitting at home on a Saturday night playing farmville!
    kathryn recently posted..Discardigan!

    Reply

    • Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul
      4 years ago

      Haha… that’s a good point, Kathryn!

      Reply

  3. Tina
    4 years ago

    I can definitely see this. I know I always try to remember though that people are going to share the most exciting and best stuff they can. Everyone wants to seem like they are living this exciting and wonderful life, so that is what they will share. But we all have issues, struggles, difficult times.
    Tina recently posted..it has never felt so good to sit

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  4. Emergefit
    4 years ago

    In a break even world, social networking offers me as much good as it does bad, and I filter both sides of it in the same way I filter my “analog” social life. I lend credence to information which my instincts (wink wink, nod nod) tell me is good information, and I flush the crap down my mental toilet. The negative side of SN neither picks my pocket, nor breaks my thigh. I think Thomas Jefferson said that :-)

    Forgive me for poaching a link, but…. http://contemplativefitness.wordpress.com/2010/04/02/type-and-be-heard/ but it seems appropriate :-)
    Emergefit recently posted..Kike On A Bike- Me Like…

    Reply

    • Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul
      4 years ago

      Don’t ask for forgiveness… I love when people share relevant posts! I really enjoyed reading this, particularly the line, “{Social media} just might be a bridge to anyone and to everywhere.” Good stuff!

      Reply

  5. Kristan
    4 years ago

    Yup, as with all things, I think moderation is the key here. Any tool can be useful, but if you over-do it, you’re still OVER-DOING IT. :P

    Of course, easier to say than to realize and not do… But awareness is the first step. And as we all become even more accustomed to having these kinds of tools available to us, we’re going to have to help ourselves and our families understand what moderation looks like. I know I can get wrapped up in the internet — DAILY — but I also know that I LOVE being unplugged. Sometimes it takes a step away to reset/refresh yourself for more appropriate use, you know?
    Kristan recently posted..Bite your tongue

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    • Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul
      4 years ago

      Great point about moderation! And I definitely feel more inspired to write once I’ve spent some time in the “real” world.

      Reply

  6. Lindsay @ The Ketchup Diaries
    4 years ago

    You always have to unplug, which I try to do every night after dinner and on the weekends. Fortunately, these sites do not impact me negatively. I have grown to have a self-esteem of steel, which I am so thankful for. But, I think I’m in the minority. I very rarely let outside forces affect me anymore.

    Reply

    • Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul
      4 years ago

      I’d love to hear more on your self-esteem of steel. We could all use some of that!

      Reply

  7. Katie @ Health for the Whole Self
    4 years ago

    I find this absolutely fascinating!

    I have definitely allowed myself to fall into the comparison trap that social networking sites make all-too-easy. I have found that I feel more stressed and anxious the more time I spend on those kinds of sites…and not just b/c of the onslaught of information. They certainly make me feel like there’s a standard I have to live up to. Maybe the problem is with me, and I need to learn to let go of that belief, but either way I think it’s a good idea to limit time on the web. Because you’re right – there’s something wrong when we spend more time online than in reality!

    Reply

  8. Jayna @ Healthy Living Bites
    4 years ago

    Wow, I never thought of using social media as an avenue to compare. . . unless you count salivating over some of my friend’s vacations to Disney- but that is just pure, unadulterated jealousy. Actually I use it to “stalk” my friends, especially those that live far away or are from a time long ago- I love seeing their new pictures and especially if they post frequent status updates so I know what they are up to.

    Then again- I do get follower envy on twitter-but I’m new to twitter and still figuring it all out.
    Jayna @ Healthy Living Bites recently posted..Apple-Fest

    Reply

    • Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul
      4 years ago

      I find myself with follower envy as well… a whole other dimension of this issue ;-)

      Reply

  9. Margarita Tartakovsky
    4 years ago

    Ashley, thank you so much for your honesty! I can absolutely, 100 percent relate. :) I think I’m the last person on the planet who doesn’t have a Facebook account (too much of a time suck for me) but I can totally see myself getting pulled into the comparison trap. I remember doing it with other social media sites. Everyone seems like they’re more successful and having way more fun. It’s definitely something to work on in general because this comes from insecurity – but like you and Katie said, either way, spending time outside the computer is so key!
    Margarita Tartakovsky recently posted..Cancer and Body Image- Part 2 with Michelle Cororve Fingeret

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  10. Kate @ Walking in the Rain
    4 years ago

    I can see where spending a lot of time on Facebook and other social media sites could be a draw to individuals with low self esteem (like me) and narcissists. I’ve found the less depressed I am and the more happy I am with myself, the less I want to spend on Facebook and online in general. I’ll log in a few times a day to check on people’s statuses out of habit but that is about it. I also weeded about 50 of my “friends” so the only people on my list are family, friends who don’t live near me, and people who I see multiple times a week. (All people who I would give a kidney to or let sleep in my guest room).

    It took about two years, but I’ve found I like interacting with people in real life than online. I think Facebook could be a good supplement to face to face interactions, but shouldn’t be used as the only method for interacting with other people.

    Reply

  11. maria
    4 years ago

    I agree with Kate, I as well go through frequently and delete everyone whom I wouldn’t visit if I was in town for a few days. My other personal rule is to limit facebook interactions with people whom I see on weekly or bi-weekly basis – co-workers and close friends. But otherwise I do love facebook to death, I get to catch up on cute baby photos and vacation photos, and if I do get a little envious, it’s more like “oh, I should go visit China/Egypt/whatever too” and not “my life sucks” kind of way. I have friends all over US, and it’s just been wonderful to stay in touch and share little funny or interesting bits with each other.

    And I also use the “hide” function for over-shares! I’m sure we all know people who update their status every 5 minutes. There’s not enough hours in the day as is, and I really don’t need to know if someone’s headache is finally gone.

    Reply

    • maria
      4 years ago

      also wanted to add that if you limit your facebook to real friends instead of “friends”, then all the updates about perfect families and vacation would just make you happy and proud for your friends! and maybe inspire you to get moving, or baking.

      Reply

      • Andrea
        4 years ago

        I so agree. My “friends” on facebook are actually truly my friends and family. I don’t accept friend requests from people I don’t know, etc, When I go on facebook, I enjoy hearing about what they are up too, but I also realize that most of it is surface information. There is not a lot of deepness posted, that is forsure.
        Andrea recently posted..Your Full Potential

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  12. Chase @ The Chase Project
    4 years ago

    I recently started a new job where facebook and twitter are completely blocked at work (as is wordpress, my blog host!) so I have a period of anywhere from 4-8 hours each day where I’m not connected to social media. Here’s what I learned in the one month I’ve had this job: I’m not actually missing much. I am glad to keep up with cousins and close friends out west and see pictures of their family’s antics, but as far as a lot of the other content you see on fb and twitter? Total fluff. I did a big purge of fb friends recently and my feed is much happier for it. I don’t let myself linger too long on these sites because… well… there’s so much more to life! (Same goes for my g-reader. Big purge of blogs I don’t actually like. Imagine that! Not reading things I don’t like! ha!) =)

    Reply

  13. Dinneen @ Eat Without Guilt
    4 years ago

    Very interesting post! I enjoyTwitter and Facebook, and as someone who loves to connect with people and build relationships, these social sites make that easy. And I’ve built amazing relationships with people there.

    But I do keep limits on the time I spend on them. And I take time and days ‘off’ from them — I find it’s so important to be connected to the real world so I need to disconnect from social media from time to time.

    It’s so important to stay connected with the physical people in our life, and not just the online ones. And getting outside and enjoying life itself…..well, let’s just say that being on social media just doesn’t compare.

    That said — I’ve also met “in real life” people I’ve met on social media and created nice friendships with them. Like most things in life, it’s all about balance.

    Thanks for reminding us of that!
    Dinneen @ Eat Without Guilt recently posted..Stop ‘Weighting’ and Start Living

    Reply

  14. charlotte
    4 years ago

    Oh wow. I’d never thought of it this way before but you are 100% right. This “Apparently 140 characters was in fact enough to make me feel bad that I hadn’t spent hours baking heavenly brownies that were not only gooey and delicious, but cure cancer as well.” made me laugh out loud and then weep a little because i have CHRONIC Twitter guilt. I know, it sounds so ridiculous when I type it out. Thanks for the revelation! Will be thinking on this one for a while.
    charlotte recently posted..True Lemon Contest Winners

    Reply

  15. The Binge Diary
    4 years ago

    Amen!! You should write a book on this. So true. It really hinders my self esteem!!
    The Binge Diary recently posted..The Pros and Cons of Bingeing

    Reply

    • Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul
      4 years ago

      Hmmm, a book… not a bad idea! ;-)

      Reply

  16. bryanb @ Thalassoline
    4 years ago

    Well, using Facebook doesn’t make me feel like crap. I used to be a shy guy IRL and went to FB to find a hypothethical remedy for a broken friendship. Now, sure I did not find that remedy, I found other people like myself and then some others. Sure I always see an endless flow of xxxx is engaged to yyy, aaa is married to ccc, ddd broke up with zzz and zzz has the hots for yyy but sometimes being able to help some people has been beneficial to me as well. sure there are people on FB who are depressed put what they seek and what I try to give is those few good words that each and everyone of us needs once in a while. And it helps.

    Reply

    • bryanb @ Thalassoline
      4 years ago

      Love your blog by the way
      bryanb @ Thalassoline recently posted..Le Mas dHuston 4

      Reply

    • Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul
      4 years ago

      I agree that social networking can have some really positive benefits as well. It’s definitely one way people can reach out for support and feel that the world is listening (though I think it’s important to also do it too in “real life” with people who are able to more directly intervene). But it’s nice to be able to give someone words of encouragement or say hi. Thanks for bringing up a great point!

      Reply

  17. South American Slimmer
    3 years ago

    I have to say that I LOVE Facebook. Mostly because I have very dear friends who live on three different continents. Being able to read and comment on each others’ posts and photos and send emails back and forth makes me feel connected to them and their daily lives. Yes, it’s nicer to have a long phone call, but time differences and busy schedules can make that difficult to do very often. And writing long, formal emails through gmail can feel like too much of an effort to make frequently. Face to face contact is obviously the nicest thing, but I would much rather communicate with my distant friends on Facebook than perhaps have very infrequent contact or even fall out of touch altogether. I love to visit and have friends visit, but long-haul flights are expensive. Facebook is free.

    Facebook also keeps me connected to a lot of events that I want to go to (I am a dancer) which are not advertised anwhere else, only as postings on group sites and on people’s walls.

    And there are some people who I like to feel are still part of my life, but who I realistically would be unlikely to email often — such as ex-boyfriends and old teachers. I like to keep the door of friendship ajar even when I am physically far away and unlikely to see them anytime soon.

    Reply

  18. Nancy
    3 years ago

    From a social standpoint, I can really appreciate what you’re saying. I will add that I have always been
    the academic in my family and real life social circle, and as such, I’ve felt like a black sheep. Social networking has made it possible for me to reach out to others who value my opinions, because invariably somebody somewhere will appreciate my perspective. As such, I frequently escape to Twitter, blogs, and message boards when I feel deprived of political or philosophical discussion, and this has definitely provided a tiny online community that gas boosted my self-esteem. I’m not feeling at all unloved at home, mind you, but I suppose my interests differ so much from my family and friends that I’m not always understood. This is where social networking has been a great blessing in my life. I will, however, take the advice of others here and designate “unplugged” time throughout the day.

    Reply

    • Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul
      3 years ago

      I very much agree that for some of us who struggle to find like-minded people in the offline world, due to geography, social anxiety, or other issues, social networking can be an amazing tool. I’m glad you’ve found it to be a blessing in your life. It has also been in mine!

      Reply

  19. Alicia
    3 years ago

    Very interesting!!!

    Reply

  20. NayLahKnee
    3 years ago

    It’s 430am, I’m in the hospital and I got this link because I was looking up twitter updates on my cell. I can’t even remember why I started perusing those updates so often and for so long. I am like that windows moobile phone commercial – sittin on my blackberry immersed in nothingness….completely tuning out my daughter and ignoring my husband because he’s doing what he does best – facebook MMA games, xbox, watching tv. Yeah – twitter and facebook, mainly twitter recently have become a means of escape from my own life that I’m really confused about right now and really have no iea why the hell I’m still here but trying desperately to find purpose. I’m not a kick ass blogger. I am just a mother of one, married to a man that I have forgiven for infidelity 2 years into our marriage (which is MUCH harder then I thought), trying to survive back 2 back miscarriages and just found out my doc had to remove one of my fallopian tubes last week. So yeah, I need to step away from the twitter and the facebook. Neither one seems to be providing that happy “hobby” medium that they are supposed to be. I am ONLY thankul for articles like this that make me open my eyes and really see and I don’t even need twitter to follow these aticles.

    Reply

  21. Dina
    3 years ago

    Hi, i would like to thank you for your blog post. I’ve been on facebook and twitter for some time, more friends in facebook than twitter. I broke up with a long term boyfriend a few months ago, he was not on any of these networking sites. Before i was able to cope with my grief, ive met this guy from twitter, and got into a non exclusive dating with him. What hurt the most was knowing (or suspecting) mostly about the girls he sleeps with from twitter, because him and his circle of friends always post pics whenever theyre together. I was devastated in heightened jealously and was going downhill on the self esteem part.

    I decided to stop seeing this twitter guy and trying to limit myself on twitter, because i dont want to continue to feel bad about myself. it really is destructive when we have some sort of unresolved issues.

    thanks again for your post, im very interested to read more research on this subject.

    best,
    Dina

    Reply

    • Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul
      3 years ago

      I’m glad that you found this post helpful, Dina. This wasn’t even an aspect I was thinking about, but you make an excellent point about how all of this “over-exposure” can influence relationships and our feelings about others. Thanks for commenting!

      Reply

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    11 months ago

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