Humans need to belong. We are a social species. We want to be acknowledged and loved. We seek respect and worth. So, we reach out to the world to fulfill those needs. Today technology makes reaching out to people easier than ever. We can broadcast ourselves to the world in search of human contact. We have the tool of social media.
When we present ourselves to the world our instincts tell us to promote ourselves in the best light. It seems reasonable to present the best parts of ourselves. Our best qualities. The images that make us look the best. To even go beyond our present reality. To project the self that we aspire to be. We think that telling others how great we are will bring us the attention that we want. And, we have been told that telling ourselves how great we are will make us feel good about ourselves.
But I want to share with you that this is not true. I want to show you how presenting your ideal self on social media may be bad for your self-esteem. And, that telling yourself how great you are can make you feel bad. You think this is crazy? Before you turn away, give me a few minutes to explain. Let’s start with considering the following study.
The study that I want to share with you was done by the researchers Wood, Perunovic, & Lee in 2009. And, it’s cited by the great professor Timothy D. Wilson in his book “Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By“. Here is how the experiment was made:
The experimenters tested a group of people. They gave them tests to identify which ones had high self-esteem. They also identified which ones had low self-esteem. Then they divided everyone into two groups. They assigned people to either one of the groups at random. So the groups included people with high self-esteem and people with low self-esteem.
Then, they asked the members of one group to repeat the phrase “I am a lovable person” every fifteen seconds. They called this group the “Stuart Smalley” group. They did not ask the members of the other group to say any phrases.
At this point, I would like to explain why they called one group the “Stuart Smalley” group. The following video shows Stuart Smalley:
Video: Stuart Smalley – Daily Affirmations
Stuart Smalley is a character from Saturday Night Live. This video shows Stuart Smalley doing “affirmations”. The way that he presents himself reminds me of a lot of social media profiles that I see. I don’t doubt that this is what Stuart Smalley’s social media profile would look like if he had one. Now, let’s get back to the study to see what happened when people did affirmations like Stuart Smalley.
The people with high self-esteem showed a “small benefit”. Telling themselves how great they were made their mood go up a little. But, the people that had low self-esteem felt worse after repeating the “affirmations”. The researchers explained the results. Saying “I am a lovable person” reminded people with low self-esteem of all the ways in which they are not lovable. This produced feelings of discontent. (from “Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By” by Timothy D. Wilson)
When you present yourself how you would like to be seen, you remind yourself that you are not those things. You remind yourself how you are not what you are presenting. This awareness will make you feel worse, not better about yourself.
So, when you present yourself in social media be careful. Ask yourself if you want to gamble with your feelings. Do you want to risk feeling badly in order to maybe feel better? The results will depend on the level of true self-esteem that you have now.
In a future post, I will share more about how to develop true self-esteem. For now, I will offer you the strategy that is the Royal Road to true self-esteem: be yourself. There is no downside to that strategy. But, paradoxically, is one of the most difficult things for a human being to be.
I wish you balance.
Related post about habits that help improve self-esteem.
Article: 6 Daily Habits to Improve Your Self Esteem