Because the use of social media has become such a global social phenomenon, researchers have become more interested in exploring how it defines us socially and how interacting with social media websites influences how we feel about ourselves.
Study results are mixed, but the emerging landscape suggests that how social media affects your personal well-being may largely depend on your natural level of self-esteem.
Does viewing your own Facebook profile boost self-esteem?
Facebook profiles tend to represent ideal versions of self… various awards and recognitions, smiling photos and posts curated for the eyes of family, friends, work colleagues and acquaintances. So does engaging with your own Facebook profile affect your self-esteem?
One study found that exposure to this “ideal version of self” may offer beneficial psychological effects and influence behavior. This form of self-affirmation — a mere five-minute exposure to one’s own Facebook profile — was shown to boost state self-esteem (Toma, 2013).
The experiment measured how quickly participants associate positive or negative adjectives with words such as “me,” “my,” “I,” and “myself.” People who had high self-esteem could very quickly associate self-related pronouns with positive evaluations, but had a difficult time associating self-related pronouns with negative evaluations. But for those with low self-esteem, the opposite was true.
Interestingly, interaction with the participant’s own Facebook profile actually decreased performance in a subsequent cognitive task. Why? Because the self-esteem boost decreased their motivation to perform well.
This study suggests that, while performing a task well can boost feelings of self-worth, if you’re already feeling good about yourself after viewing your Facebook profile, you have no psychological need to increase your self-worth by subsequently performing a task well.
No self-esteem boosts for Facebookers with low self-esteem
In theory, you could see how social media, such as Facebook, could enrich the interpersonal lives of people with low self-esteem who may struggle to make social connections. After all, sharing is important for strengthening relationships, thus social media websites might be especially beneficial to people with low self-esteem, who may normally be hesitant to self-disclose and may have difficulty maintaining satisfying face-to-face relationships. The remoteness of social media might reduce the perceived riskiness of self-disclosure and potentially awkward social situations, thus encouraging them to view the platform as a safe place where they can express themselves more openly.
But in practice, it may be a different story. One study found that people with low self-esteem actually seem to engage counterproductively; for example, by bombarding their friends with negative tidbits about their lives and ultimately making themselves less likable (Forest & Wood, 2012).
In other words, while Facebook was an appealing venue for self-disclosure to participant with low self-esteem, high negativity (and low positivity) of their disclosures evoked undesirable responses from those who read them. So while they may feel safe making personal disclosures on Facebook, they may not be doing themselves any favors.
The study also showed that people with low self-esteem get more responses from their real Facebook friends when they post highly positive updates. (Hopefully, over time, they’ll take the hint!)
People with high self-esteem, on the other hand, get more responses when they post negative items, perhaps because such posts are rarer for them.
Does Facebook influence our sense of social belonging?
Two recent studies explored how Facebook communication impacts feelings of social belonging, which, in turn, affects our outlook on life, loneliness, and self-worth.
Researchers found that active Facebook participation was key in producing a sense of belonging among social media users and that a lack of participation caused some people to feel less meaningful. The studies particularly focused on “lurking” or passive Facebook participation and ostracism, analyzing how participants felt when deliberately “snubbed” (Tobin et al, 2014).
The first study evaluated frequent Facebook posters — half the participants actively posted while the other half passively observed their friends’ ongoing status updates. Results showed that not posting for two days had a negative impact on the passive participants’ sense of belonging.
In the second study, participants used anonymous bespoke (made-to-order) accounts in a controlled space and were urged to post and comment on others’ Facebook posts. Half were unwittingly set up to receive no feedback. Researchers measured their feelings of belonging, meaningful existence, self-esteem and control. Both passive and “shunned” users experienced feelings of exclusion and felt “invisible” and less important as individuals. Shunned users also experienced lower self-esteem and control.
Do social media “likes” really make you feel better?
Perhaps we overestimate the importance (and effect) of receiving “likes” on social media. Turns out, “likes” don’t really make people feel better about themselves or boost their mood when they’re down, according to one recent study (Graff, 2017) .
In a study of 340 Facebook and Twitter participants, researchers evaluated the degree to which participants’ appreciated being valued on social media through questions such as: “The attention I get from social media makes me feel good” or “I consider someone popular based on the amount of likes I get.”
Researchers found that participants who were less trusting and had low self-esteem:
- went out of their way to get more likes (such as asking others or paying)
- admitted deleting posts or choosing a profile picture based on the number of likes it received
Purposeful people’s self-esteem is immune to Facebook “Likes”
For many, getting a thumbs-up or receiving “likes” on Facebook and other social media is accompanied by a little rush of self-esteem. But two studies of active Facebook users found that one group is immune to that rush: people with a sense of purpose (Burrow & Rainone, 2016). Having a sense of purpose limited how reactive they were to positive feedback on social media.
Researchers defined sense of purpose as: “ongoing motivation that is self-directed, oriented toward the future and beneficial to others.”
The study found that getting a high number of likes only boosted self-esteem for people who were less purposeful. Participants with a greater sense of purpose weren’t so vulnerable to the number of likes they received. They noticed the positive feedback, but didn’t need to rely on it to feel good about themselves.
Researchers speculated that because purposeful people have the ability to visualize the future and act in ways that move them closer to achieving their goals, they’re able to inhibit impulsive responses to perceived rewards. Their eye is focused on the prize: They prefer big-picture, future rewards over smaller immediate ones.
Should the use of social media affect our self-esteem?
While it’s always nice to receive compliments, online or off, it’s not healthy to base one’s sense of self-worth on them. A better strategy for improving self-esteem is to focus on making wise choices.
Secure, high self-esteem emanates from within and it hinges on self-respect. Self-esteem is how you feel about yourself — who you are at your core — and it doesn’t depend on how you believe others see you, or what they say or think about you. We respect ourselves because of who we are at the core, not because of someone else’s perception of us.
If we have secure, high self-esteem, our self-respect does not rise or fall with each success or failure, or with the positive or negative opinions of others. If our self-esteem is dependent upon the approval or acceptance of others, it becomes very difficult to maintain healthy, high self-esteem over the longer term. Our reservoir of self-esteem can only be replenished with self-respect. And self-respect comes from making wise choices.
Ultimately, we must seek healthy ways to interact with others while avoiding the urge to seek proof of our self-worth from them, both online and offline. Living a purposeful life and setting a course of meaningful growth insulates us from the slings and arrows of the social media world that might otherwise shake our emotional foundation.
Practitioners of Sahaja meditation know how it can really help build healthy self-esteem over time. So, it’s highly likely that most of us use social media merely as a means to network with people and strengthen our relationships with them.
And that’s the key – being able to control the use of social media the way we want. Far from any allowing any social media application to influence your self-esteem or other aspects of self-improvement, Sahaja meditation gives you the self-control and self-directedness to balance and enjoy your life the way you want – online and offline.
For a more in-depth read, see How Sahaja meditation Builds Healthy Self-Esteem and 7 Popular Myths about Self-Esteem.