With the ever-growing popularity of social media and instant access to external feedback, it’s no wonder our society is wrought with invitations to like, heart, or share something about ourselves which we find valuable. But what happens if we don’t get the feedback we expected?
Research has found correlations between activity on social media and self-valuation. Utah Valley University researchers found that in a group of 425 students, the probability of “having negative feelings” about one’s self increases as the amount of time checking Facebook increases, due to assumptions of others living better lives (Chou & Edge, 2011). Another study out of the University of Michigan found that participants’ overall life satisfaction decreased over a two-week period the more they checked Facebook (Kross, Verduyn, Demiralp, Park, Lee, Lin, Shablack, et al., 2013).
How often do you find yourself comparing your life to others’ on social media? Sometimes we do this subconsciously, not even realizing that we are in the midst of judging and valuing ourselves through others’ achievements.
It’s not necessarily all bad to take a long look at ourselves and how we fit into our social groups or overall society. Some people find themselves trying a new look or making some personal changes they may otherwise not consider, simply because they find value in others doing it. The problem sets in when our identity, our internal valuation of self, depends upon others’ validation. This is called external validation.
When we begin to see ourselves from the outside in, our value is determined by others’ feedback and our perceptions of our peers’ successes. We hold ourselves to unrealistic expectations of what we should be, and drift further from appreciating who we are and what we have in the present. Of course, we have goals for which we strive, and can always find room for improvement; however, the strongest structures are built on a sturdy foundation. If we see ourselves for who we are, and find value, we create a strong foundation upon which we can grow.
How do you shift from external validation to internal validation? First, notice the difference between hope and expectation. On the surface, they seem to be the same, but they have key differences in outcome. When we hope for something, we surely want it, and have determined a benefit for having it. We are often pleased and satisfied when this hope comes to fruition. If what we hope for is not accomplished, we are disappointed, but not completely lost.
When we hold on to expectations, we limit ourselves to a rigid, specific desired outcome. Anything outside of this outcome is not what we want, and is, therefore, disappointing. Yes, achieving an expectation feels good and validating, though we often set ourselves up for unrealistic expectations, especially when we compare our needs and shoulds to others. The disappointment from not reaching expectations feels a lot more like failure, which creates space for shame, guilt, and often a diminished sense of self.
Give yourself permission to see possibilities outside of expectation. You hoped for job A, but didn’t get it. However, because of this outcome, you were offered job B that turned out to be far better. This example can be applied to many contexts.
Next, be kind to yourself. Acknowledge when you are comparing yourself to friends, colleagues or celebrities. Ask yourself if you really want what they have, and if it actually fits into your life. If the answer is yes, carefully explore how you may realistically achieve this goal, and how it specifically fits for you. If the answer is no, allow yourself to explore what you do have that brings you satisfaction.
Finally, we need to accept that social media often is used like a resume. Many people are only putting out what they want others to see. More often than not, there is far more beneath the surface than what is being presented. You may find yourself envious of others’ kids, elaborate vacations, or trophy partners, but satisfaction is in the eye of the beholder. Who cares if 200 people like your new car or that picture with your new significant other? What matters is if you like them.
One final consideration: How many people posting these envy-evoking statuses are actually trying to convince themselves what they have is valuable? Are they fishing for external validation? Again, don’t be afraid to accept your present as good enough for now. The strength to move forward will come.
Kross, E., Veruyn, P., Demiralp, E., Part, J., Lee, D., Lin, N., Shablack, H., … Ybarra, O. (2013). Facebook use predicts declines in subjective well-being in young adults. PLOS One. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0069841
Chou, H., & Edge, N. (2012). “They Are Happier and Having Better Lives than I Am”: The Impact of Using Facebook on Perceptions of Others’ Lives. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15(2), 117-121.
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