Social Media and Comparison Culture: Motivating or Toxic?

If you are on social media you have probably done it.  I know I have. You lay in bed scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter simultaneously and you see your Facebook friends celebrating their successes. You see new jobs, engagements, marriages, children, new homes, family moments, new businesses, exciting trips, etc, etc and you think, “What am I doing with my life?”  You might feel yourself becoming jealous or envious. You may start to feel sad or inadequate. You may ask yourself why you aren’t able to have the things they have. You may even feel like something is wrong with you in that you don’t have the things you want and everyone else seems to be happy. Welcome to comparison culture. The world of social media has ushered in another way for us to keep up with the Jones’. We have another way to measure where we rank in society, a way to determine if and how we are progressing in life. We have another way to heap shame on ourselves as if we needed anymore.  Can you identify? I hope my hand is not the only one raised. 

But have you ever been motivated by what you see on social media? (Insert hand raise). There are times when social media may be a motivator.  I have been extremely motivated by the people on my timelines and news feeds. A great example of this is a woman I went to high school with who is now a successful lawyer in Atlanta. I was in my high school band with this particular woman. We became Facebook friends and I would see her posts from time to time.  She would share aspects of her life like most of us. One day she shared an interview that she did in regards to leaving her job and starting her own law firm. She shared her progress and her excitement. I was inspired. I too had been thinking about how I wanted to go out on my own but I was scared. I was unhappy with my job at the time and I was super inspired by this lady boss who was making things happen. I was so moved by her story I messaged her and told her how inspired I was.  She responded by encouraging me. I was thankful and grateful for her kind words. In this case seeing someone on social media from my hometown successful and sharing her success encouraged me and I took it as motivation. A few years later I started my business with her words in mind. This is an example of how social media can be a motivator.

But what about when you see someone’s success and you compare it to your own life and feel like you should be in a better place than where you are?  I have also had this response. Maybe you start to feel sad or maybe it’s something you have been wanting for a long time and you feel bad that someone else is doing it and you haven’t. This is where social media contributes to comparison culture and can become toxic. I remember when I was in my doctoral program I was seeing everyone start families and buy homes.  I immediately started to think, “What in the world am I doing with my life? I have been in school all of my life and everyone else is going on with their lives?” When we start to base our worth off of what others are doing or have done it can lead to depression and anxiety. Comparison culture is based out of insecurity. Someone got engaged and you have been wanting to be engaged so you become jealous, bitter, or angry.  Someone bought a house and all of a sudden you start to find yourself putting them down “They probably had help.” “Their mother probably gave them the money.” “How can they afford a house?” Ever find yourself saying those things or something similar? Comparison culture is toxic. It can bring out the biggest insecurities and make people show their ugliest sides. More importantly, it only keeps us stuck, feeling inadequate, and less than those around us. So how do we continue to utilize social media and avoid comparing?

1. Check your insecurities

What are the things you are most insecure about? Does social media trigger your insecurities? Maybe you are insecure about not having a certain type of job or career. You get on Instagram or Facebook and you see that people are happy with their jobs and careers. Do you get discouraged or do you get encouraged and maybe reach out to see if they can offer some words of encouragement and direction. We all have insecurities.  It is what we do with them that matters the most and in turn impacts us the most.

2. Realize that behind every success is a story.

More times than not that engagement, marriage, home, career, child, etc has a story behind it. Often times we don’t disclose the struggle and the stress behind the success. Who wants to know about that stuff?!  The challenge and stress is probably something most people don’t wish to recall. Oh but how we jump to share the good, the success, the miracles because that is what we have hoped for and what we want people to know. But little do we know a heartbreak, a denied loan, a job application denied, a child difficult to conceive came before the Facebook posts and pics we see. We never know the whole story. 

3. Have gratitude for the good in your life. Resist the lies that it’s not enough. 

This. Right. Here.  While we are out here comparing ourselves, there is some good to acknowledge in our current situations. I know it can be hard.  I have been there myself. Despite how bad you might be hurting, there is good in your life somewhere. Focus on the good while simultaneously figuring out where you would like to improve and make a plan.

4. Let what you see be a motivator. 

Be encouraged by what you see.  The fact that someone else is doing it means it can be done.  Does it mean it won’t happen for you? No one knows until you try. Maybe you have been trying and it hasn’t been happening. This is super difficult and hurtful.  Despite the hardship there are still good things you can be happy about. How are you going to proceed in happiness while pursuing your desires?  

5. See a therapist.

I don’t say this because I am a therapist although I may be a little biased lol.  I say this because we are all affected by comparison culture. Sometimes we see things that trigger us and we start to feed ourselves narratives that are not true and that keep us from progressing.  Maybe we already had beliefs and feelings about ourselves based off of our past and to see things on social media only perpetuates those beliefs and feelings. To see a therapist, a third party who is unbiased, can help you to better understand those thoughts and feelings and in turn work through them so they don’t hinder your progress.

6. Take a social media break.

Who said we had to be on social media anyway?!?!  I know several people who are not on social media for the pure and simple fact that they don’t want to be.  I must admit that these people are more peaceful and present. Sometimes you just need a break. You need a break to be more focused and more present.  Maybe you take the apps off our phone or you

disconnect all together. You might be surprised at how much your screen time goes down. 

At the end of the day your life is your life.  As much as we might not want to hear it, what is for you is for you. Live YOUR life not based off of anyone else’s because your life is unique. If there are things that you want, figure out how to get them and align yourself with those things.  Lastly, in everything always strive to be well, and be happy. 

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