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Self-esteem. Photo: Kiran Foster/Flickr
Self-esteem. Photo: Kiran Foster/Flickr

Can self-esteem be influenced by Facebook?

For many, Facebook (or any other social network) is an extension of their real-world personality. How we decide to pose in our photos, what photos get the nod to get published, the posts we share and like, the arguments we enter into, are all process of us reinforcing an image of ourselves. We have discussed about how the need for reinforcements forces us to take extreme steps and even lead to addiction, but there’s another concept that we haven’t touched upon: self-esteem or self-worth.

What is self-esteem?

To answer that, let us take a small quiz. Please be as honest as possible to get the most out of this exercise.

Self-esteem is a subjective measure of we see ourselves. We develop an image of ourselves based our experiences with different people and activities. It reflects in our thought process, our confidence and motivation levels. Here are things that people with self-esteem generally do:

  • They don’t blame others for the circumstances

People with high self-esteem have, what many psychologists call, high locus of control. People with high locus of control believe that they influence the happenings around them and never resort to finding faults, excuses that lie outside of them. They take responsibility for the consequences and never try to ‘point fingers’ at others.

  • They are content, strive to better their performance

People with high self-esteem do not look for gratification through external means, that is to say, they do not depend on others for their happiness or satisfaction. They prefer to take stock of the situation, depending on the resources available at their disposal and move ahead.

  • They do not gossip,  complain

In a continuation to the last point,  people with high self-esteem do not find easy escape routes or rationalize, defend their understanding.

  • They maintain healthy relationships

The absence of blame game, overt dependence make people with high self-esteem get into more rewarding and motivating relationships. And any relationship that has individuals who are confident and own up to their actions, will last longer and be mutually beneficial.

  • They are not insecure about their position in any social setup

A person with high self-esteem doesn’t seek the approval of others and his/her actions are internally motivated, meaning its consequences are not used to measure against a standard set by others.

  • Maintain their mental equipoise

Clarity in thought process and their needs also help such people appear to be confident.  They don’t get flustered or perturbed by opposing opinions as they believe everything is relative and subjective.

  • They are open to criticism

Such people also tend to take even the harshest of criticisms lightly. They know that ‘to err is human’ and use them to better their output. Complaints against them are taken as another blank that they need to fill to make their product even better.

Now, coming back to Facebook and its influence on self-esteem. Our idea of ourselves is largely based on how others react to our actions and highly influenced by our social setting. What we speak, how we speak, the words we use, the kinds of dresses we wear, the phones we use, the habits we cultivate depend on our social circle. So, in a way, what we think about ourselves is based on how others think about us. And social networking websites provide us with a great opportunity to test, create or reinforce an identity. It allows selective self-representation.  A level playing field where everyone’s given the liberty to create an identity of their choice. And in the process, boost their self-esteem.

Facebook and Selective self-representation

Ever wondered why your Facebook wall is mostly flooded with happy news of your friends or posts that make you go jealous of their activities? A group of students from Cornell University were interested in the same issue and did a study on that. The study, titled ”Effects of Exposure to Facebook on Self-Esteem”, aimed at “understanding how selective self-presentation processes…may also influence impressions of the self” and “designed to test the effects of exposure to Facebook on self-esteem relative to traditional self-awareness enhancing stimuli, such as a mirror or photo of oneself”, found that selective self-presentation, afforded by digitally mediated environments can have a positive influence on self-esteem.

What they meant is we are more prone to project our ideal version of ourselves than our real versions in a bid to improve our self-esteem. We project an identity that we’d like to others to see, which in turn would reflect in the way we think about ourselves. The study notes, “recent research in computer-mediated communication (CMC) suggests that online self-presentations can become integrated into how we view ourselves, especially when the presentations take place in a public, digital space. This phenomenon, known as identity shift, demonstrates that self-presentations enacted in online space can impact users’ self-concepts.”

The other side of social media

While there’s no denying the fact that Facebook usage increases self-esteem, perceived social support and helps countering depression and loneliness, it also raises the likelihood of people developing a fake idea of themselves, or a fake Facebook-self. This study points to showed that “individuals who were lonely or did not have good social skills could develop strong compulsive Internet use behaviors resulting in negative life outcomes (e.g., harming other significant activities such as work, school, or significant relationships) instead of relieving their original problems. Such augmented negative outcomes were expected to isolate individuals from healthy social activities and lead them into more loneliness.”

And that can lead to various other anti-social activities like harassment and cyberbullying, given the sense of anonymity the medium provides.. It  can make him/her believe that “if there’s no person in real, then there’s no consequence.” While this proves beneficial for introverted kids and teens, it also gives the more aggressive and assertive ones the power to abuse their position, given the relatively delayed or no immediate effect of consequence. If the dependency is higher, such social networks can also amplify latent frustrations, and lead to narcissistic and anxiety-related behaviors.  Like any tool, the outcome is dependent on the reason for which we use them. And Facebook seems no different.

So, next time you post a photo or update your status, think why you are doing it. Delve deeper into your actions and try to link them to your offline world. Check if there are any changes in your personality on the virtual medium. If there are, ask yourself if you’re conscious of these representations. Do you feel better after socializing on virtual network? If so, what makes you feel better? Tell us in the comments section.

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