compare dispair

Social Media Part 4: Compare Despair

When I was growing up my mother would buy magazines. I remember looking at the images and wishing I looked like the women in the photos. Of course I didn’t realize how much it affected me at the time. It wasn’t until later I truly understood how those images contributed to how I felt about myself. They dictated how I should look and even told me how to get there with all the latest diet craze. It took a toll on how I viewed myself. It really impacted my eating, exercising regime, and dictated the voice in my head that continued to push for something I was not. It wreaked havoc on my self esteem and exploded my insecurities. I promised myself that if I had a daughter I would never buy magazines. I never wanted my daughter to think she had to look like someone else. I didn’t want her to think she had to be something other than herself. AND then the internet happened. It’s one big magazine plus so much more.

Now it’s not just an image or two that we are comparing ourselves to. It’s an endless stream of images. A door that is always open for you to see someone that doesn’t look like you.

And it’s not just an image, it’s more. Social media allows us to peer into other people’s lives. We aren’t just comparing how we look. We now compare our whole lives to someone else’s–in fact, lots of other people! Or so we think it is their whole life. It can leave us with feeling like our life is deficient in some way, that we are deficient… not good enough. The lens we use when we scroll through social media is that of “what I am not”. I don’t look like that, I don’t have that, I am not doing that, I am not doing enough. Questioning every part of ourselves, leaving us feeling we are doing life wrong.

Social media creates an illusion that everyone is living a perfect life: successful, seems to have it all together, has no struggles, and is an expert at life. This leaves the surfer feeling that something must be wrong with them. Not only do they not look the right way, but now it’s, ‘I don’t seem to know how to live life the right way. I must have it all wrong.’ And if we’ve got it all wrong, if our life isn’t following some sort of trajectory that social media dictates, we can feel we aren’t enough in some way. It’s a trap.

It’s hard to see that it isn’t reality. We are seeing a snapshot of someone. How do we know someone’s life from a series of photos? We don’t but for some reason we still believe we know them and how they are living life. And of course it must be better than how we are doing life. Perfect, of course.

I want to call Wikipedia and ask them to change the definition of perfect. Here is what I propose: Perfect: for humans, an impossibility, an unachievable state. An illusion some feel others have achieved. Trying to achieve it or holding belief that it is possible will cause pain and likely create another issue or multiple issues. The remedy: transparency by all to distill the illusion and squash the feelings of vulnerability in disclosing non perfectiness.

If there are other areas in your life where you feel you are being compared to others, it can compound these ideals making it difficult to withstand the comparison trap.

Comparison robs us of our joy, taking us to a place where we feel less than. I know comparing is hard not to do. One thing to keep in mind that might be helpful: isn’t a person’s character what’s fundamentally important? And how do we know someone’s character from a series of photos? We don’t. So when you’re scrolling, remember you really don’t know their life. No one is posting the difficult moments they experience. No one is posting the mistakes they make.

A good mantra to remember is: I have enough, I do enough, I am enough. Remembering this while scrolling through social media is a good way to keep yourself grounded and less likely to compare yourself to others.

Please read the other blogs in this series:

need for belonging

Social Media Part 3: Need for Belonging

Along with connection, we have an innate need to belong. It’s a basic human need and is, infact, necessary for our well being. The Belong Theory, according to Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary, states “humans have a fundamental motivation to be accepted into relationships with others and to be a part of social groups. The fact that belongingness is a need means that human beings must establish and maintain a minimum quantity of enduring relationships.”

I’m sure you’ve heard the commercials from the beginning of the pandemic: “We’re all in this together.” No one wants to feel they are going through life alone. The feeling of belonging can be translated to: am I accepted? Do I matter? Am I not alone in this world?

How does this need relate to social media?

Social media is a place we go to feel like we belong and feel we are important to others. It’s where we share news, stories, funny memes, or Tik Toks. It’s where we cultivate friendships. It’s our community.

This all sounds good! So, what’s the problem?

Social media can help us feel like we belong but it also shows us when we don’t belong. And we can’t escape seeing it.

When we weren’t invited to a party before social media, it felt bad. We would sit home, knowing they were having fun without us. We’d know we weren’t included. Maybe we’d even hear about the event the next day. It was painful.

But now, we not only aren’t included, we see first hand that we aren’t included. We can watch the fun going on without us. It’s like a mirror showing us we don’t belong and the fun is happening without us.

Social media makes it obvious to others too, when we don’t belong–causing embarrassment and sometimes shame for us. I see I don’t belong but now everyone else sees it too.

Social media opens the door to show when we aren’t included and threatens our feelings of belonging which leaves us feeling rejected. It stirs the pot of our insecurities. UGH! It can be so painful!

We hear a lot about FOMO (fear of missing out). But, it’s not just FOMO. It’s fear of not belonging. When we aren’t accepted by our peers, it can feel like we don’t matter.

It’s really important to name what we feel. Understanding the thoughts and feelings that come up with social media can help. We can all tend to scroll mindlessly and not realize how what we see impacts how we feel. Ask yourself if your sense of belonging is taking a hit when engaging with social media. If the answer is yes, make a conscious effort to change your use. If you know you weren’t invited to an event then don’t watch it happening. I know this can be soooo hard. But would you rather satisfy your curiosity or save your mental wellbeing?

Please read the other blogs in this series:

need for connection

Social Media Part 2: Need for Connection

Humans have a biological need to connect with others. In fact, it’s a large part of our survival. Social media feeds this basic need to connect with others. And it let’s us do it with ease and immediacy. We can find someone to chat with in an instant. We can see what’s going on with our friends in seconds. When we get good news or bad news, someone is always there to share it with. In fact, there are great things about social media.

So, what’s the problem?

Our drive to connect with others drives our use. And when we reach out and don’t get a connection, it can leave our mind to jump to conclusions and cause painful feelings.

For instance, how about when we send something that goes ‘unread’ or ‘read’ but with no response. Oh, the pain and anguish over this! We’ve all been there. We send a text or a snap and there’s no response on the other end. It can leave us wondering. Are you going to connect with me or not? Why did you read my note and then not respond? Is it something I said? Are you mad at me? Am I not important to you? Is our friendship/relationship in trouble? What should I do?

You may think this is an overreaction for just being unread or not responded to, but this happens. Teens (and really, anyone!) can get into these head spaces. It’s a minefield of anxiety and pain for some. We tend to read into the meaning behind someone not paying attention to us. We reach out and they aren’t there. What does that mean about me and our relationship? It can be like quicksand… a sinking feeling. And one that can last for a while if they don’t respond. WHY AM I BEING REJECTED?

Then we are left with: should I or shouldn’t I take another stab at reaching out again? Would that be a good thing or will I seem too needy? Will they be annoyed with me? How long should I wait to try again? How long before I know I’ve been ghosted? So many questions are left swirling around in our heads.

What seemed like a simple outreach to another for connection, just got stressful. And life is already stressful! This can just add another layer on top sending us to a dark place. It leaves us feeling unsure about ourselves. It leaves us feeling anxiety and sadness about the possibilities of our friendships being in jeopardy.

I know it’s hard to avoid the ‘question game’ with yourself. BUT the questioning only elevates your anxious feelings. Think about how much weight you are giving a text or Snapchat response. Ask yourself: Am I really just afraid that my friendship is in jeopardy? Is my worry warranted? Is my relationship really in danger of ending just because they haven’t responded yet?

Please read the other blogs in this series: