Social networking and your self-esteem
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?