Written by: Rebecca Hirsch, AMFT
Symmetry Counseling

Many people use multiple social media platforms on a daily basis, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. People turn to social media to learn about world and national news, learn about big life transitions for their social networks (such as engagements and having children), as well as to share information about what is going on their own lives. Got a promotion at work or a new job? Make a Facebook status. Your partner proposed to you?Take a picture to post on Instagram. On vacation? Post a video of your beautiful surroundings.We are consistently exposed to what our friends, family, and networks are doing. However, what social media often fails to truly capture is regular life, difficult times, and times of significant stress and hardship. Social media has created a false image that some people’s lives or relationships are “perfect”. We often compare ourselves to the lives of the people we see on social media, and think we are not as successful, attractive, wealthy, well-traveled, and so forth.

Over the past several years, more and more research is being done on how social media is impacting our mental health, and more specifically, our self-esteem. A recent study conducted at Penn State linked feelings of lower self-esteem to frequent viewing of selfies on social media. Participants who viewed more selfies and groupies (even their own selfies) reported lower self-esteem and lower life-satisfaction. Researcher Ruoxu Wang explains, “People usually post selfies when they’re happy or having fun. This makes it easy for someone else to look at these pictures and think your his or her life is not as great as theirs.”

The results from this study reminds us that social media is not real life, and we must find other ways to improve our self-esteem and life satisfaction. Social media is often a curated image of what someone wants their life to appear like, or is “on brand”. Our culture places a lot of value on keeping up with appearances and always seeming like we have it all together and all figured out. However, that is not realistic and puts unnecessary pressure on us to be, act, and look a certain way to be successful or accepted.

I often hear clients in individual or couples therapy discussing other couples on social media. Single clients will report feeling lonely and ashamed being single, since so many of their Facebook friends seem to be in happy and healthy relationships (simply based on looking at their pictures and statuses). Couples also compare themselves to other couples they see on social media, and internalize other couple’s timelines (such as when they get engaged, married, and have children) as well as other couple couple’s successes and accomplishments (such as buying a home, getting promotions at work, and so forth). Just being exposed to important life changes and beautiful pictures creates an image that these couples on social media must have it all figured out or that their lives must be so much better than your own.

Another study published in the Personality and Psychology Bulletin examined the psychological mechanisms behind what they call “relationship visibility” and how that manifests on Facebook. The authors of the study proposed that based on the attachment style of the individual in the relationship (avoidant or anxious), the couple may post more or less about their relationship on Facebook. The research found that those who had an anxious attachment to their partner desired higher relationship visibility, or posting more pictures or status about the relationship on Facebook. The authors explain, “On a daily basis, when people felt more insecure about their partner’s feelings, they tended to make their relationships visible (Study 3).These studies highlight the role of relationships in how people portray themselves to others.” The findings from this study show us what a lot of us have already thought; the more people post about their relationship (and probably how happy and perfect it is), the more likely they are to actually feel very anxious about the relationship as well as how their partner feels about them.

assumptions about other people’s lives and relationships based on what we see on their social media pages. Most people who use social media are not going to post about regular stressors, such as having a fight with your partner, not being able to pay your credit card bill, or feeling lonely on a Saturday night. When people do post about disappointing occurrences in their lives, they often get ridiculed.

When looking at other’s social medias pages, it is important to take it with a grain of salt.Social media has allowed us to keep in touch with old friends and family members, share valuable information with each other, and learn about other people’s views and perspectives. Without social media, you may not have been able to see a picture of your friend who lives across the country’s newborn baby, or find a friend from middle school who you wished that you kept in touch with. However, it is important to keep in mind that social media is not reality and does not accurately portray how people’s day to day life is, and more importantly, does not portray people’s general happiness and life satisfaction, even if their pictures make it seem otherwise.

If you are having trouble with self-esteem or relationship satisfaction, it may be useful to talk to a therapist about it. Contact Symmetry Counseling to find a therapist to help you navigate these life hurdles.

Learn more about the studies here:
http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0146167214549944
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0736585315301350