Many people have come to enjoy using social media for various reasons—to be exact, 61.4% of the global population are active social media users [*]. As social media users ourselves, we know why we like engaging on social media. However, the danger lies in the fact that social media and self-esteem are negatively linked. Why is this the case? In this article, this correlation between social media and self-esteem will be explored in detail.
The Link Between Social Media and Low Self-Esteem
Although there are many benefits to using social media, there are also drawbacks. Ironically, people generally turn to social media to ease their loneliness but end up feeling more dissatisfied with their own lives. Aside from low self-esteem, social media use also contributes to anxiety and depression, among other mental health issues [*]. But before social media and self-esteem are discussed, how do we understand self-esteem?
Self-esteem can be defined as the extent to which you perceive yourself positively or negatively. This belief or perception about yourself is affected by your past experiences and your interactions with others.
The common thread of most theories that explain the link between social media and self-esteem is that human beings have an innate need for affiliation. However, as we try to fulfill our need for belonging and connection, we end up comparing ourselves with others, and doing so often produces undesirable results. According to the social comparison model, when we compare ourselves with people whom we think are better than us in some way, we may feel threatened and anxious [*]. This theory also states that these negative feelings may depend on how social comparisons are made. Research has indicated that upward comparisons (i.e., comparing yourself with someone whom you perceive is superior to you in some way) are more detrimental to a person’s well-being than downward comparisons (i.e., comparing to someone perceived as inferior) [*].
Unfortunately, upward comparisons are more likely to occur with social media use. The more one is exposed to social media content, the more likely it is for them to think that the people in their social network have better, happier, and more fulfilling lives than them [*]. This inevitably produces feelings of inadequacy, which in turn contributes to low self-esteem.
Exposure to Idealized Images
At present, there are numerous social media accounts that are dedicated to promoting mental health, better lifestyles, and physical fitness. However, these accounts do not accurately reflect one’s true self. In addition, online content with positive messages also does not necessarily mean that it gears its audience toward self-improvement. In reality, social media users tend to feel more dissatisfied with themselves—especially in terms of body image—and evaluate themselves more negatively because of it [*]. This is due to images on social media emphasizing the “ideal” physical appearance despite focusing on physical health and fitness.
Cyberbullying and Trolling
Over the years, social media platforms have made it easier for bullies to harm others intentionally by sending threatening messages, creating malicious or untruthful posts, or uploading unflattering photos or videos of people without their consent. Altogether, these are forms of cyberbullying or trolling. Naturally, being the target of such ill-intentioned acts can significantly lower one’s self-esteem.
It is interesting to note, though, that although the point being made here is that cyberbullying contributes to low self-esteem, low self-esteem is a predictor of becoming a victim of cyberbullying [*]. In other words, if you have low self-esteem, other people may deem you an easy target for cyberbullying, and when harm is inflicted upon you, your self-esteem is lowered, thereby creating a vicious cycle. Thus, there is more or less a bidirectional relationship between low self-esteem and being cyberbullied or trolled.
Fear of Missing Out
Fear of missing out (FOMO) refers to a state of anxiety stemming from the idea that others are having a good or interesting time despite one’s absence, leading the individual with the desire to stay connected with what their friends are doing. According to researchers, social media use is linked to higher levels of FOMO and depression, which in turn lower one’s self-esteem [*].
However, despite this decrease in self-esteem levels, people experiencing FOMO can’t help engaging on social media even more to keep themselves updated with other people’s lives. Thus, experiencing FOMO and lowered self-esteem also breeds a never-ending cycle of logging onto social media to feel better, only to feel worse about oneself.
Now that the link between social media and self-esteem has been established, how can you know whether you, as a social media user, are at risk of developing low self-esteem?
It is important to note early on that just because you use social media does not, in itself, make you vulnerable to having low self-esteem. In fact, research shows that the way you use social media is a more significant predictor of self-esteem than the fact that you use social media at all [*]. With that said, exhibiting the following characteristics or behaviors may predispose you to having low self-esteem due to social media use:
- Feeling socially inadequate: Individuals with feelings of social inadequacy, especially in real-life settings, are highly likely to exhibit self-promoting behaviors through frequent social media use as a compensatory measure [*]. In doing so, though, they render themselves vulnerable to the frequent use of social media that leads to low self-esteem.
- Relying on others for positive feedback: Whereas some people use social media mainly to maintain interpersonal relationships in an online space, others heavily rely on social media to garner positive feedback about the content they post. You may have found yourself waiting for a phone notification that someone reacted to your post, but if you are glued to your seat with anticipation, then your social media behaviors may have led you to develop poor self-esteem.
- Having an already low self-esteem: As discussed earlier, the relationship between social media and self-esteem is not a one-way street. It can become a cycle wherein individuals with low self-esteem turn to social media to feel better, only to exacerbate their already poor self-esteem.
- Being introverted: Unlike extroverts, who are more secure with their social skills in face-to-face interactions, introverts feel the need to post self-promotional content on social media to make friends as a way to satisfy their need for affiliation [*]. Thus, the way introverted individuals use social media can contribute to low self-esteem.
- Entering freshman year: As a way to cope with adjustment to a new school environment, first-year students are more likely than upperclassmen to build relationships with others via social media and are thus more reliant on social networking sites, thereby opening themselves up to the risk of lowered self-esteem [*].
Related: How Does Social Media Affect Teens?
Coping Strategies for Low Self-Esteem Due to Social Media Use
If you are a frequent social media user who developed low self-esteem because of it, there are still ways to manage this, or even remedy it. The next sections highlight some ways to cope with low self-esteem due to social media use.
Recognizing Low Self-Esteem
Just like in other aspects of your life, it is important to develop some self-awareness. One way to exercise self-awareness with regard to your self-esteem is to recognize the signs of poor self-esteem. Signs of low self-esteem due to social media use include the following [*]:
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Body dissatisfaction
- Negative self-perception and self-talk
- Social withdrawal
- Engaging in risky behavior or reckless activities
- Poor physical and emotional well-being
If you are unsure whether these signs resonate with you, you can purchase our self-esteem review worksheet, which can assist you in identifying whether or not you have positive self-esteem. Alternatively, you can also reflect on how your past and present experiences have impacted how you perceive yourself. Understanding the factors contributing to poor self-esteem is a stepping stone toward improving self-esteem.
Promoting Self-Acceptance and Self-Worth
So you might be suffering from low self-esteem—what do you do now?
Fortunately, there are many ways to bolster your self-esteem. Mainly, though, the best ways to cope with low self-esteem due to social media use are to know your worth and accept yourself in terms of both your strengths and limitations. To facilitate this, the following are some ideas that you can try out for yourself in your journey toward improved self-esteem:
- Think about the things you appreciate, like, and value about yourself, and then list them down. (You can use our self-esteem journal worksheet for this exercise.)
- Ask someone you trust the same thing: What do they appreciate and like about you?
- When you catch yourself engaging in negative self-talk, imagine that you are talking to someone whom you care deeply about in place of yourself.
- Take into account your past successes and achievements.
- Affirm yourself with self-esteem coping statements, using this worksheet as a supplementary tool.
If all else fails, you can also join a support group or seek professional help. In addition, you can purchase our self-esteem coping skills worksheets—which include self-care exercises and self-esteem coping strategies—either to enrich your therapy sessions or to use as standalone tools. Alternatively, you can check out this list of self-esteem worksheets to help you decide which ones will likely benefit you the most.
Encouraging Healthy Social Media Use
Finally, the following are just some of the things that you can do with regard to your social media use to prevent from lowering your self-esteem even further:
- Be mindful when using social media; for example, you can filter what you see on social media, as well as whom you follow online.
- Focus less on winning over your acquaintances and strangers and more on strengthening your bonds with your real-life friends.
- Set a limit to how much time you spend on social media daily.
- Curate your social media feed in such that the content you see makes you feel better about yourself.
- Refrain from logging onto social media right before you sleep.
- Avoid using social media when you’re out with friends, and live in the here and now.
- Take a break from social media once in a while.
The Bottom Line
There are many factors that come into play in the link between social media and self-esteem, but fortunately, there are also a multitude of ways to counteract poor self-esteem stemming from social media use, such as realizing your self-worth with the help of these self-esteem worksheets. Although using social media can be beneficial in many ways, keep in mind its associated drawbacks as well. More importantly, remember to make self-care a priority always, even if it means staying away from social media every now and then!
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