By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
If you struggle with low self-esteem, you might be inclined to turn to social media outlets, like Facebook, as a way to work on feeling better about yourself. It could be a great place to share, connect with others, and tend to your friendships, all with the safe distance that technology provides. However, just like with face-to-face interactions, your insecurity and your negative perceptions of yourself are likely to get in your way.
Researchers Amanda Forrest and Joanne Wood thought that Facebook would be a great place for those with low self-esteem to strengthen their relationships because face-to-face interactions can feel so much more threatening. And according to their study, scheduled to be published soon in Psychological Science, they did find that those with low self-esteem feel safer sharing on Facebook. However, the study also found that those with low self-esteem frequently post updates that work against them. They tend to blast their friends with the negative details of their lives, making them less likable.
The authors found another interesting result that had to do with which posts Facebook friends responded to. Those with high self-esteem (who tended to post more positive updates) received more responses to their negative updates. In contrast, those with low self-esteem received more responses to their positive updates. In either case, when there is an increase in responses, it suggests that the ‘friends’ are being supportive of this kind of sharing; that they are encouraging those who are generally positive to share more of their struggles and those who are more negative (with low self-esteem) to share more positive information.
People with low self-esteem might learn something helpful from the lack of feedback to their frequent negative updates along with the increased feedback for their more positive ones. However, the authors of the study suggest that this is not as helpful as the kinds of responses they would likely get in face-to-face interactions. With these situations, friends are more likely to immediately let them know in some way that they are tired of hearing all the negativity.
In reading about this study, it occurs to me that those who struggle with low self-esteem need acceptance, and lots of it. They are best helped by being accepted for who they are, including their strengths and weaknesses. They also need to learn that their value as a person is not based in any particular success. In this context of full acceptance, friends can then help them understand that it is more enjoyable for all if they can focus on more positive things; but that this does not affect their value as a human being. It can be a difficult message to deliver and to truly take in, especially when the recipients are predisposed to see themselves as being rejected.
That said, I honestly don’t know how good of a medium Facebook is for those who struggle with self-esteem. I can imagine it being helpful, as well as just adding to insecurities. Have you, as someone who struggles with self-esteem, had experiences that speak to this? Has it been helpful? Hurtful? Or, have you, as someone who has struggled with how to respond to a negative person, had experiences on Facebook that reflect this issue? Share your thoughts in the comments below or in our Relationships and Coping Community.