I hear this similar sentiment from friends, colleagues and patients almost every single day. Individuals from every walk of life and particularly women want to know why everyone around them seems to be living a perfect life free of stress and unsettling life difficulties. You are probably one of these individuals. Very few of us are immune from the impact of the carefully selected images that are presented for audiences on social media. And, why you might be wondering, is it that women tend to be particularly susceptible to these social comparisons that tend to result in seeing their lives as less than and certainly not measuring up to those of their social media “friends”? Well, it is women who are heavier users of the types of social media where carefully crafted presentations of lives well-lived are uploaded with a set of pictures as evidence for what appears to be a perfect life. Men, too, are using social media but by all accounts it appears to be women who are more likely to be scrutinizing images on social media, making comparisons and then walking away from their screens with their heads in their hands and with their self-esteem in a much lower place than it was prior to the hour or two spent on Facebook.
Why, you may be wondering do we continue to look at these posts if they upset us, bring up feelings of envy and cause us to question the significance and relevance of our own lives? It is because it is part of the human condition to compare ourselves to others who we know from many areas of life including school, work and our communities and who seem to be similar to us in so many ways except in our perception that these others have perfect lives. And, let me tell you, that these same individuals who you may be envying for their “perfect” relationships, jobs and vacations may simultaneously be envying you for the “perfect” children that you proudly post photos of. So, we have a real mess here. People are making all kinds of erroneous assumptions about the lives of others. In an attempt to calm things down and bring everyone back to reality I am going to highlight five points for you to be aware of before you spend another hour on social media and decide that you live an inferior life.
1. Keep in mind that it is very unlikely that anyone in any of your circles is living a blissful life devoid of stressors and hardships. In life, we all have struggles. On social media, however, the main concern is to manage impressions and toward that end most of us are presenting the highlights of our lives not the conflicts with partners, the financial stress or even problems with that smiling college graduate. Believe me when I tell you that if you scratch the surface of anyone’s life, there are difficulties and challenges that exist immediately adjacent to the beautiful photos on social media.
2. Most of us are trying our best to feel good about ourselves. Perhaps, we are attempting to feel better about ourselves by posting items that will get approval and/or interest. Most of us want to connect and engage and we do that on social media by mostly presenting the sunnier sides of our lives.
3. Remember, that for every picture posted on Facebook there are probably several that were also taken but not posted. The goal is to literally present one’s best face, right? No one posts pictures of themselves when they are pale and sickly and fighting a cold. Well, I have seen some posts about sick relatives but cannot recall seeing a post of someone in the throes of the flu. This would be an odd post these days and seem somewhat out of place, yes?
4. People tend to post when they have something to celebrate. Keep that in mind when you are assuming that merely because someone is in celebratory mode that that means that their life is devoid of the challenging moments and tough to share private difficulties.
5. Try very hard not to make assumptions. Think about your own posts. Aren’t you more likely to try to engage others with upbeat moments? This doesn’t mean that you are carefree and living a perfect life. So, project this thought on to the posts of your friends. They, too, are living lives that have ups and downs. We run into trouble when we make assumptions.
Dr. Barbara Greenberg, PhD is an adolescent, child and family psychologist who practices in Fairfield County, Connecticut, after 21 years of running an inpatient adolescent unit at a private psychiatric hospital in New York. She also blogs as “The Teen Doctor” for Psychology Today and is a consultant for other magazines on a variety of mental health and relationship issues, as well as frequently sharing her expertise on television news programs. You can find her at drbarbaragreenberg.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.