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Self-Esteem: Social Media and Mental Health Connection

Self-Esteem: Social Media and Mental Health Connection 

Sherri Gordon

Low self-esteem refers to a person having an overall poor sense of self-value. It essentially means having a poor opinion of yourself. Low self-esteem can encompass a range of factors, such as your sense of identity, self-confidence, feelings of competence, and feelings of belonging.

Self-esteem is about more than just generally liking yourself it also means believing that you deserve love and valuing your own thoughts, feelings, opinions, interests, and goals. It can also play a role in how you allow others to treat you.

Having self-esteem not only impacts how you feel about and treat yourself, but it can even affect your motivation to go after the things you want in life and your ability to develop healthy, supportive relationships. It plays an important role in a variety of areas in life, which is why having low self-esteem can be such a serious problem.

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in social media use. According to the Pew Research Center, 72% of Americans in the U.S. use social media. People use social networking tools to stay in touch with family and friends, get their news, and share their political views. This has some researchers wondering about the long-term effects of social media use.

Because social media use is still relatively new, there are no long-term studies documenting its effects. But several studies indicate that social media impacts mental health in a number of ways. The increasing reliance on and use of social media puts a large number of Americans at an increased risk for feeling anxious, depressed, lonely, envious, and even ill over social media use.

Social Media Makes People Feel Good

Social media has a tendency to reinforce use. People quickly become hooked on checking their statuses for comments and likes, as well as perusing other people’s posts. Using social media sometimes activates the brain’s reward center by releasing dopamine, also known as the feel-good chemical. This dopamine release, in turn, keeps people coming back because they want to repeat those feel-good experiences.

Social Media Boosts Self-Esteem

Social media also can boost self-esteem, especially if a person is viewed favorably online or gets a number of likes or interactions on their content. And social media allows some people to share parts of their identity that may be challenging to communicate in person. Social media can be particularly helpful for people with social anxiety who struggle to interact with people in person.

Social Media and Mental Health Concerns

Despite the above benefits, researchers are discovering that there are some downsides to social media, particularly with regard to mental health.

a. Social Media Use May Contribute to Depression

For a technology that’s supposed to bring people closer together, it can have the opposite effect—especially when disagreements erupt online. Social media has been linked to depression, anxiety, and loneliness. It can make people feel isolated and alone. One 2017 study found that young people who use social media more than two hours per day are much more likely to categorize their mental health as fair or poor compared to occasional social media users.

b. Social Media May Hurt Your Self-Esteem

While social media can sometimes be a self-esteem booster, it can also cause you to experience feelings of inadequacy about your life and your appearance. Even if you know that the images you see online are manipulated or represent someone else’s highlight reel, they can still cause feelings of insecurity, envy, and dissatisfaction.

c. Fear of Missing Out

Another mental health phenomenon associated with social media is what is known as FOMO, or the “fear of missing out.” Social media sites like Facebook and Instagram exacerbate the fear that you’re missing something or that other people are living a better life than you are. In extreme cases, FOMO can cause you to become tethered to your phone where you are constantly checking for updates or responding to every single alert.

d. Social Media Can Lead to Self-Absorption

Sharing endless selfies as well as your innermost thoughts on social media can create an unhealthy self-centeredness that causes you to focus on crafting your online image rather than making memories with your friends and family members in real life.

In fact, strenuous efforts to engage in impression management or get external validation can have psychological costs, especially if the approval you’re seeking is never received. Ultimately, the lack of positive feedback online can lead to self-doubt and self-hatred.

e. Impulse Control Issues

Excessive social media use can lead to impulse control issues, especially if you access your social networks using a smartphone. This means that you have round-the-clock access to your accounts, which not only makes it easy for you always to be connected, but can affect your concentration and focus. It can even disturb your sleep and compromise your in-person relationships.

f. Social Media May Be Used As an Unhealthy Coping Mechanism

Social media can become an unhealthy way of coping with uncomfortable feelings or emotions. For instance, if you turn to social media when you’re feeling down, lonely, or bored, you’re potentially using it as a way to distract you from unpleasant feelings.

Ultimately, social media is a poor way to self-soothe, especially because perusing social media can often make you feel worse instead of better.

Some common signs or symptoms of low self-esteem

Signs of Low Self-Esteem

While not a mental illness, poor self-esteem can still affect a person’s thoughts, emotions, and patterns of behavior. Sometimes its signs can be fairly apparent. Other times, low self-esteem symptoms are much more subtle. For example, some people with low self-esteem talk negatively about themselves, while others go out of their way to make sure other people are pleased with them. In either case, a lack of personal worth and value can have a negative impact on life and wellness. common signs of low-self esteem includes:

  • Lack of confidence
  • External locus of control
  • Negative social comparisons
  • Trouble asking for help
  • Worry and doubt
  • Difficulty accepting compliments
  • Negative self-talk
  • Fear of failure
  • Poor outlook of the future
  • Lack of boundaries
  • Being a people-pleaser
You can also find online self-esteem tests to help determine whether your self-worth may be low. For instance, the Open-Source Psychometrics Projects offers free access to a version of the Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale, which is a test used to measure self-esteem in research.

-Poor Confidence

People with low self-confidence tend to have low self-esteem, and vice versa.1 Low self-esteem can play a role in causing a lack of confidence, but poor confidence can also contribute to or worsen poor self-esteem.

Being confident in yourself and your abilities allows you to know that you can rely on yourself to manage different situations. This self-trust means that you feel comfortable and confident navigating many different things you might encounter in life, which can play an important role in your overall well-being.

Finding ways to gain confidence in yourself and your abilities can be helpful. Acquiring and practicing new skills is one tactic you might try. This may even help reduce feelings of anxiousness as research connects a lack of confidence with higher anxiety levels, especially when under stress.2

-Lack of Control

People who have low self-esteem often feel that they have little control over their lives or what happens to them. This can be due to the feeling that they have little ability to create changes in themselves or in the world. Because they have an external locus of control, they feel powerless to do anything to fix their problems.

Research has found that in situations where people have little control over what happens, having higher self-esteem can help relieve some of the negative effects of this loss of control, which ultimately benefits mental health.

-Negative Social Comparison

Social comparison can sometimes serve a positive function and enhance a person’s sense of self. But comparing yourself to others can also damage self-esteem. People with low self-esteem may be more likely to engage in what is known as upward social comparison, or comparing themselves to people who they think are better than themselves.

Upward social comparison isn’t always bad. For instance, these comparisons can be a source of information and inspiration for improvement. When people are left with feelings of inadequacy or hopelessness, however, it can inhibit self-esteem. Social media can also play a role in such comparisons, contributing to low self-esteem. If you often compare yourself unfavorably to people on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram, your self-esteem may take a hit.

-Problems Asking for What You Need

When a person has low self-esteem, they may struggle to ask for what they need. Trouble asking for what you need can be caused by feeling embarrassed. Or you may feel that a need for assistance and support is a sign that you are incompetent. Because their self-regard is low, someone with low self-esteem might also feel that they don’t deserve help. They don’t prioritize their own desires, so they struggle to assert themselves when they are in need.

-Worry and Self-Doubt

Even after making a decision, people who have low self-worth often worry that they’ve made the wrong choice. They doubt their own opinions and may defer to what others think instead of sticking to their choices.

This can lead to a great deal of second-guessing and self-doubt. This makes it harder for people with low self-esteem to make decisions about their lives.

-Trouble Accepting Positive Feedback

A 2017 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that low self-esteem is directly correlated to not being able to accept or capitalize on compliments from others. Positive feedback is often met with suspicion and distrust. Complimentary words do not align with their beliefs about themselves, so people with self-esteem issues may feel that the other person is being flippant or even cruel.

Negative Self-Talk

Low self-esteem causes people to focus on their flaws rather than their strengths. Rather than build themselves up with positive self-talk, they always seem to have something negative to say about themselves, engaging in negative self-talk instead. When things go wrong, people with low self-esteem often blame themselves. They find fault with some aspect of themselves, whether it is their appearance, their personality, or their abilities.

-Fear of Failure

Because they lack confidence in their abilities, people with low self-esteem doubt their ability to achieve success. Because they fear failure, they tend to either avoid challenges or give up quickly without really trying.

This fear of failure can be seen in behaviors such as acting out when things go wrong or looking for ways to hide feelings of inadequacy. People with low self-esteem might also make excuses, blame external factors, or try to downplay the importance of the task.

-Poor Outlook

Low self-worth can cause people to feel that there is little chance that the future will be any better than the present. These feelings of hopelessness can make it hard for people with low self-esteem to engage in behaviors that will bring about positive changes in their lives.  Self-sabotage is a common way of coping with such feelings. By finding obstacles to prevent success, people with low self-esteem are able to find something else to blame for not achieving their goals or finding greater levels of happiness in their lives.

-Lack of Boundaries

The ability to set boundaries is often established early in life. Children with caregivers who show them that they are respected and valued are better able to create good boundaries in adult relationships. They are also more likely to have a more positive view of themselves in general.

A lack of healthy boundaries can create problems when others don’t respect a person’s space and time. The lack of respect not only adds to the person’s stress levels but may also make them feel less valued.

Trying to Please Others

People-pleasing is another common symptom of low self-esteem. In order to gain external validation, people who don’t feel good about themselves may go above and beyond to make sure that others are comfortable and happy.

Pleasing others often involves neglecting their own needs. The person with low self-esteem winds up saying yes to things they may not want to do and feeling guilty about saying no.

Causes of Low Self-Esteem

What causes lower self-esteem in some individuals? Several factors could be at play, some of which include:

  • Brooding, or being pre-occupied with dark or sad memories or thoughts
  • Engaging in negative self-talk or self-criticism
  • Having a mental health disorder
  • Low levels of resilience
  • Maladaptive coping skills
  • Rumination, or obsessively thinking about one thing.

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