There is not much debate over the claim that social media has a negative impact on mental health and particularly self-esteem. Sure, there are positive aspects to social media, we are more connected than ever before, and many have used it as a vehicle for social or political good. But in my life coaching practice, I have had many clients tell me they believe their lives are not as interesting or happy as those of others based on the stories and photos they see on social media.
Listening to a radio discussion about social media and its negative impact, I couldn’t help but think of the old adage “The grass is always greener on the other side.” With Instagram, Facebook, and other platforms, we don’t simply have our imaginings of the greener grass but actual visual proof right in front of our eyes that someone else looks better, is happier, has more money or success…in other words, has a perfect life. By comparison, we deem ourselves to be not good enough or lacking.
Compare and despair
The compare and despair phenomenon is nothing new. Previous decades offered us the opportunity to compare ourselves through magazines, television, film, and advertising. In modern times we have always been able to see others living the “perfect” technicolor life while we are left believing our own is lackluster by comparison.
If there are signs all around us that confirm our lack, how do we build a sense of self that is immune to this infringement on our sense of self-worth? We go within.
The connection that truly matters
We often look outside ourselves for confirmation of our worth. Other people and their reactions to us (how many likes did my post get?) inform and directly impact how we feel about ourselves. There must be a fundamental shift in the measurement we use to assess how we are doing. A shift from external to internal, from outside to inside. What does that mean? It means that we must get more deeply connected to ourselves and understand that we are each here because we are uniquely special and needed – just as we are. We each have something to contribute to the world and when we can stop, look within, and connect with that deeper purpose, the lure and trap of superficial perfection subsides.
There must also be an understanding that living in integrity with ourselves is one of the surest routes to well-being. Personal integrity means acting in alignment with our truths as opposed to all the “shoulds” we succumb to and believe will make us better people, appreciated, admired, liked, and more. When we behave in ways that are not in alignment with who we truly are, what we believe, or our vision for the world and our lives, we are not in integrity with ourselves. Conforming in order to receive validation from others results in a lack of confidence, self-worth, feelings of depression or even addiction or dis-ease.
When we no longer need to compare ourselves to others as a way to measure our worth but rather honor ourselves by living our truth and taking measure of our level of personal integrity, we finally cut the chords of dependence on the empty validation of others and how many impressive selfies we can show our “friends.”