Comparing yourself on social media (and why it makes you feel rubbish)

January 17, 2018

I recently saw a tweet where someone announced how much money they had made in the last year. I sneered about how they were just showing off and social media isn’t the place for such disclosures. But really I didn’t care about any of those things; I sneered because I was jealous. It was because I felt I would never be able to earn that kind of money. I’m not capable of having such good ideas. I’m not creative enough and I would never have the confidence to go it alone.

I’ve experienced that pit in my stomach before but really never analysed where it came from. It made me think more deeply about all the other times I’d felt jealous after comparing myself to others on social media. Everyone seemed to be prettier, younger, running successful businesses and having amazing lives. Essentially I was using this to reinforce my sense of not feeling good enough.

Comparison is the thief of joy

I don’t think I’m the first person to experience negative feelings from comparing myself to someone else on social media. Sometimes those feelings are right: people can be tone deaf and don’t really understand how they’re coming across. Most of the time though, we’re projecting because we’re comparing ourselves to someone on social media and it’s making us feel rubbish. So why do we do it? Why do we compare ourselves to an image on an App?

Social comparison theory

Social comparison theory was developed in 1954 by social psychologist Leon Festinger and focused on the belief that there is a drive within individuals to gain accurate self-evaluations. More specifically, the theory explains how we evaluate our opinions of ourselves by comparing ourselves to others.

Businesses undertake competitor analysis and benchmarking exercises all the time. It helps define strengths and weaknesses, design a strategy, identify unique selling points and set targets for the future.

It stands to reason that we can learn by looking at what others are doing. However, I like to think most businesses compare themselves on much more impactful measures than just social media. So why aren’t we doing that ourselves? Why are we using social media to put ourselves down?

A social media feed is a highlight reel

Social media doesn’t show the hours someone has put in to create a successful business, it doesn’t show the hundreds of images rejected before the perfect selfie is put up and the editing it went through.

Social media is a curated version of a life / business / interest which the publisher wants to share – it’s not reality in any shape or form. It doesn’t show the hours and hard graft someone’s put in to create a successful business. Social media shows you a perfect partnership and not the ups and downs most couples navigate through. It doesn’t show the hundreds of images rejected before the perfect selfie is put up and all the editing it went through. It’s a curated image of what someone wants to show you – not their real life.

A more honest approach to social media

There has been a backlash against the pursuit of perfection on social media and people are using their platforms to speak more honestly. I’ve found this immensely helpful on occasions, particularly around parenting. I’m learning to realise most people are winging it on a daily basis too.

I’m also recognising the benefits of taking a break from my phone. I put it in another room so I’m not tempted by it and switch it off.

We’re all entitled to show our best selves and often the humdrum of daily life is not worth documenting. We just need to remember not to compare the whole of our lives with one element someone chooses to share from theirs.

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