Q. I feel embarrassed even asking this, but I tend to feel bad about myself and my life after looking at Facebook. Why can’t I feel happy for others and the great things they are enjoying without feeling resentful, or that my life isn’t good enough?
A. This is a question that many of us may find ourselves thinking, but then quickly feeling bad for doing so. Facebook was intended to be used as a fun way to share our lives with family and friends, but it has also turned into a marketing tool used by many of us to communicate to the masses about what is going on in our lives.
Like any great marketing director would tell you, the goal is to minimize the bad and maximize the good. Some people are really good at maximizing the good, possibly too good. Many of us find ourselves sorting through pictures trying to find just the right one to post, with just the right background, or shows off our children with the cutest of smiles. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to show off our best, except we can forget that for every “perfect” moment in our lives, there are 10 more that involve screaming children, a sink full of dishes, a husband who forgot our birthday, and a family vacation that we couldn’t wait to be over.
For those of us less skilled at marketing our lives, when we see the beautiful, joyous photos of friends and family sharing their happy times, we often wish our lives were that wonderful, too. It is natural to compare ourselves with others. However, it is not helpful because it can lead to thinking distortions and even depression.
If you are like most people, your brain is full of expectations, goals, dreams, and self-criticism, in addition to many other thoughts. If you have expectations that you should achieve certain financial or career goals by a certain age, regardless of what obstacle(s) got in the way, you might tell yourself you are not good enough because you did not succeed.
We see pictures all over social media of people “succeeding.” Naturally, we compare our lives to theirs and are reminded of how our lives do not measure up. Or do they?
Years ago, I remember hearing a wise suggestion, “Don’t compare your insides to another person’s outsides.”
Your thoughts and feelings go with you wherever you go. Only you know exactly how you are feeling and thinking at any given moment. You could be that person in the picture who is smiling on the beach, sipping a cool drink, next to a great group of friends, and still be worrying about how you look in your bathing suit, or if your friends are irritated with you, or if your credit card has enough purchasing power to cover the rest of your expenses.
The habit of comparing oneself to others and the resulting feeling of not measuring up are often a result of thought distortions, which can also stem from depression. This essentially means thoughts that get twisted so that they are more negative and hopeless than reality.
Viewing social media without tools to manage thought distortions can be problematic. Here are some tips to help you feel good about yourself while viewing social media:
- Remember, the pictures you are viewing are only snapshots. They represent single moments in time and do not mean someone’s life is better than anyone else’s life.
- A little healthy self-talk goes along way when you notice you are feeling sad about your life or your current circumstances. Tell yourself that you are good enough, smart enough, and have people in your life who care about you.
- “Like” pages on Facebook that are inspirational and have positive messages.
- Take a deep breath, hold it in for five counts, and then exhale slowly. Repeat this eight times. If needed, continue until you feel better.
- Get up and go for a walk around the block or even longer if you can. Physical exercise can change ones mood from negative to positive.
- Drink a cold glass of water.
If none of these suggestions help, take a break from social media for a while. If you or someone you care about is struggling with feelings of low self-esteem or depression, please consider contacting Catholic Charities for support. Our experienced counselors are trained to treat symptoms of depression and issues of self-esteem. Please continue to send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This response was written by Julie Elbert, LISW, clinical director at Catholic Charities.