So many of us engage in harmful behavior every day without thinking about it or even realizing we are doing it. I call it “comparison scrolling.” We open up Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Snapchat, or dozens of other sites geared primarily toward facilitating communication among “friends” and often get to work breaking down our self-esteem.
So what’s the big deal with scrolling? How could that possibly be bad for me? The problem with our obsession with social media is that we are socially and biologically programmed to compare ourselves with others. This is useful from an evolutionary perspective in that we find out what we need to know about the “best” person in our circles. Knowledge like this can help motivate us to go to college, make more sales, update our wardrobe, get to know the latest fad that will grab attention at a party, and ultimately upgrade our social status. This can certainly be useful if you’re on the lookout for a new job, new romantic partner, etc.
Unfortunately, we tend to engage in this comparison behavior even when it’s not immediately useful. The problem is not always in the comparison itself, but in what is being compared. I heard someone recently describe social media scrolling as “comparing our everyday struggles to everyone else’s highlight reel.” There is so much opportunity to compare the mundane, boring, sometimes downright depressing reality of our everyday experiences, to the wonderful, delicious, fun, exciting, adventurous, and rare experiences of our “friends.”
Compounding this problem is the fact that it’s not possible to be intimately involved with each of the people you consider friends, followers, or connections across various digital platforms. If you were, you would know that while they are excited to share their amazing sushi lunch (while you eat a PB&J), trip to the baseball game (while you’re stuck working on a spreadsheet at the office), and first steps from their smiling toddler (while your kid just threw up on you and won’t stop screaming), that’s not the whole picture.
For the people you REALLY KNOW, you can get excited about the highlights on Facebook and not feel jealous or compare yourself because you know that going out for sushi with a friend means they will be staying up late writing a report. Their trip to the baseball game was for work and they spent the time there worrying about whether they were making a good impression. Their toddler usually cries more than your child and has a hard time sleeping through the night.
All said, nobody has it all together. Everyone has struggles. Keep this in mind when scrolling your feeds. Your life isn’t perfect. But neither is theirs. Social media doesn’t need to be about comparison. With the right perspective it can be about sharing in the joys, triumphs, milestones, and yes, sometimes the setbacks of everyone we call our friends.
You may find that you’re having a difficult time comparing yourself to others, finding that you always come up short. It may be hard to take that broader perspective and see both the good and the bad in others. Heck, you may tend to only see the good in others and only the bad in yourself. If this is you, scrolling through your feed is probably not your main problem.
If this is you, I’d recommend that you get some support. Talk to someone who can help sort out how and why you feel the way you do about you. If you need some help with this process, give me a call or find me at the website below. In the meantime, scroll with caution, and remember that it’s not about being perfect. That’s not even possible, so it’s time to get a new goal!
Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist practicing in Orange County, California. If you’d like to set up a consultation at the Orange County office call 657-200-8080 or visit www.californiaalturavista.org.