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The True Reason We All Compare Ourselves on Social Media

“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel,” says Steven Furtick.

Our lives on social media are full of comparison and according to Teddy Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

This past weekend, I caught myself in an all-too-familiar pattern of comparisons while scrolling my social media feeds. During this state of self-deprecation, I felt inadequate, as if I haven’t lived up to my dreams. I kept questioning if I was doing something wrong with my life. Then it hit me: none of those feelings are based in truth, but they became temporary truths due to the subconscious comparisons I made.

It’s no surprise that we suffer from feelings of inadequacy. Our inherent human nature that causes us to compare ourselves to one another. It’s how we build our identities, though too much comparison is often the source of our doubts and insecurities. This double-edged sword is termed the ‘social comparison theory.’

Psychologist Leon Festinger coined The social comparison theory in 1954. He concluded that people are continually seeking truthful self-evaluations. Thus, they compare themselves to those around them to gain more clarity.

We are always comparing, but it is our emotional reaction, along with our relationship to those comparisons that make the difference between despair and self-discovery.

When we make comparisons, we tend to use it as a measuring stick. It indicates that we aren’t worthy, aren’t good enough, aren’t pretty enough, or aren’t smart enough. This measuring stick is false because none of those things in actuality are true. How others view you, and how you view yourself in comparison to others is based on a false premise. You are worthy, you are enough, and you are intelligent because you are authentically yourself.

Authenticity should be the cornerstone of our social media behavior. We shouldn’t have to pretend to be a marketable persona or a false version of ourselves online. Instead, we should feel comfortable and empowered to share our true authentic selves no matter what.

The correlation that we’ve placed between likes and self-worth has lead to a decline in self-esteem and rise in seeking self-validation. This social-induced stress is why we have a difficult time separating ourselves from the content we post, since we have placed our self-value on engagement metrics.

The negative perception of ourselves occurs when we compare reality  to the idealized versions of others. This has created a vicious cycle of self-validation.

The cycle goes a little something like this: we portray our “best selves” online, which others consume. They make a comparison using our false identity to their lives. Ultimately, this drives them to portray their own best version of their lives online to overcome any potential insecurity, which then makes us feel terrible about ourselves. So we overcompensate by posting more inauthentic content.

I’ve certainly been a participant in this toxic cycle. The sequence is continuous and spirals into unpleasant disdain, topped with an “I’m not good enough” attitude.

“Inevitably, we relate information about others to ourselves,” says Thomas Mussweiler, a professor at the London Business School. It’s natural human behavior to compare ourselves to others in order to place meaning on who we are. While we will always be comparing to some degree, we can take steps to gain the necessary perspective, so that we can instead utilize the comparisons for genuine inspiration instead of envy and despair.

Self-improvement happens when we make upward comparisons that inspire us to make a difference in our lives by aspiring to be better people.

Yes, social media can be a form of entertainment, but it can also serve as a tool for a spiritual experience. We are what we consume. The company we choose to keep influences us the most. Be mindful of social media. It is our diet and our environment. There is a possibility to forge new, meaningful connections and better yourself if you embrace your authenticity and vulnerability.  

Photo by Erik Lucatero on Unsplash

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