Through the Tempered Glass: Social Media & Self Esteem

Whenever I pick up my smartphone, I dive into one of various social media platforms, mostly Instagram, to get my quick fix on what people are up to. In one instance, I saw some gym selfies from acquaintances who hit the gym regularly and are serious about keeping fit. Instead of appreciating their achievement, my brain automatically went into comparison mode. Here’s a quick breakdown of what I was thinking:

“Damn, I wish I could be as fit as they are! Why can’t I ever get that fit? “Am I not determined enough to get to that level?” “Why aren’t my home workouts giving me the same results as them?” “Either way you can’t afford a gym membership right now, remember?” “Even if you could, you have NO idea how to use any of those crazy contraptions in the gym! Also, everyone else in the gym is in much better shape than you! How embarrassing!”

That one simple comparison I made between myself and someone else on social media led me through a whole range of negative emotions where I questioned my abilities and belief in myself as an individual. It wreaked havoc on both my self-esteem and self-confidence. That’s not the only comparison I’ve made with someone I’ve seen on social media. I’ve made comparisons on looks, education, money…. literally anything. I’m a mess, but I’m slowly learning how to work my way around this. Here’s how:

The Digital Mirror

Just to make it clear, this is not an attack on social media, which has its obvious benefits. What I’m trying to bring to our attention is how we handle social media and the effects it can have on our general well-being.

It can be the worst for overly self-critical people. We’re constantly comparing ourselves to our peers online, when really, we’re getting a filtered look into their lives.

Social media acts as our digital mirror, where we get to choose what we want the world to see, perpetuating that false sense of perfection which just feeds that vicious cycle of peer comparison. I’m not saying expose every facet of your personal life online but we should be fighting that subconscious pressure to achieve perfection and aim for something more realistic. Someone may look at my Instagram and think, oh hey, Jason eats great food and is always kicking it at the beach, when really, I don’t have my life figured out and I’m always hungry and stressed! Seriously, when am I not craving cake?

We end up looking past all the amazing things we have accomplished; the stuff that truly defines us. We’re always trying to be better at something, whether it be work, our social lives, our looks, the list is endless. Yet, we still find it hard to look at ourselves and point out our positive traits. Why the hell is that?

Perhaps it’s out of habit?

The Broken Internal Mirror

Normally, when we look into an actual mirror, we check for what may be wrong with our appearances: Is a hair out of place? Do I have any blemishes? Basically, we look for our flaws and try to correct them instantaneously. It’s what most of us do before we go about our days. While it is probably good to critique yourself occasionally, it should not be at a level that it becomes harmful!

Is it possible that this simple everyday activity has unknowingly permeated into the way we look at ourselves on an emotional and mental level? Why can’t we acknowledge all the great things about ourselves? Studies have shown that it is all too common for people with low self-esteem to focus on the things that support the negative view of themselves.

The Truth

Comparing myself to my peers, friends, coworkers, etc., is absolute nonsense when I broke it down logically. I should only compare myself to someone if they are identical to me in every single way; in that they’ve had the same opportunities and experiences as myself and have lived life in exactly the same way! Otherwise, its pointless. No one has had to go through all that I’ve been through. They haven’t experienced the same joys and frustrations nor the same surprises and pains. They are not me. I am not them.

It may also seem like they’ve got their crap together, but really and truly, I have no idea what they may be going through. I don’t know what they’ve had to do to get to this achieve their goals. Sure, some people have more money, may appear to be conventionally better looking or have more friends, but I can’t control these things about them. I’ve got control over myself and how I respond to these comparisons. Even if I keep comparing myself to someone who seems to be doing something cool, I sometimes just ask them how they do it? Where’s the harm in that? Instead of getting envious and depressed, I use it as an opportunity to learn something new about someone and how I can learn some new skills!

The Remedy

So, in this case, and likely all future instances, I will volunteer as tribute (yay random Hunger Games quote).

Recently, I was asked to list 20 positive traits about myself…. yea…TWENTY!!! Heck, I wasn’t even able to list 3 without difficulty. I’m definitely one of those people who hates talking about themselves. But why?

A couple reasons came to mind:

1). I don’t like being the centre of attention.

2). I don’t know what to say about myself that might be madly interesting to people?

3). I always confused self-confidence with being pompous and cocky, so I’ve always tried to downplay my positive traits.

This confirmed that my self-esteem and self-confidence were in the crapper. I didn’t have a high sense of value about myself and I didn’t feel secure in my capabilities and skills. Of course, this didn’t mean that I lacked skills or positive traits, I was just blind to them!

The same goes for compliments; whenever someone would say something nice about me, I would just brush it off because I thought that they felt obligated to do so and that it held no value. I was looking for outward recognition and approval from strangers, which, when you think about it, is kind of silly. I literally had people surrounding me telling me that I’m awesome and I was completely deaf to it. They’re my support system; my biggest fans. It wasn’t an easy process, but I learnt to appreciate it.

During a car ride with one of my best friends, he made a positive comment about me, about something he thought I was really good at. It hit me hard… I don’t know why…but it was just really freaking nice to hear someone say something nice about myself. I took it to heart and had to try my best not to cry.

If you just take a chance and accept the positivity in your life, its gonna make you feel damn good.

Just take note of these positive traits as you identify them. It doesn’t hurt asking your close friends and family for help identifying these traits, but its ultimately better when you figure them out on your own. When you do, you’ve proven to yourself that you are both skilled and worth something! Write them down, whether it be on your phone, a journal or a whiteboard. Write them down so you can never forget them.

As for the list of 20 positive traits, I’m currently at 25 and counting… it definitely was NOT easy. The same goes my self-esteem and self-confidence…its infinitely better but its not perfect. I’ve still got work to do. There are days when you’ll feel less than your actual worth but having at least 20 reminders about how kickass you actually are, helps.

Earth & Data Scientist 🤪 Rocks, reading & writing.

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