After 28-year-old senior financial executive Rhea Ramani posted a selfie in a Chanel dress on Instagram last week, she became edgy. In 10 minutes, she had refreshed her feed six times, only to see how many likes she got for it. “I kept convincing myself that maybe it’s too early or my friends aren’t online. After refreshing it for another 3-4 times, I thankfully got two likes. Phew! What a relief, but then hey, just two likes in one hour? My heart kept sinking all day,” she adds.
How many times have we been in a similar situation and turned to social media for validation, wanting friends to ‘like’ us? In today’s digital world, it isn’t rare to crave for acknowledgment and appreciation to give ourselves a sense of satisfaction. Deep within, we all are emotionally shattered when the number of likes is in single digits. In Rhea’s case, which was rather extreme, she displayed signs of stress and anxiety that bordered on depression. She further admitted that it bothered her that her friends usually get 50 likes within 15 minutes, despite them not being as suave as her.
The need to be accepted
Victory coach Farzana Suri believes, “This constant, unquenchable need to be socially accepted and celebrated can be too much to handle, and has been known to have an adverse effect on the self-esteem of a majority of social media users. The desperate desire for validation makes you want it more. You find that it becomes a habit when you reach for the phone and look at your social media notifications in anticipation of a surprise — the prospect of being deluged with likes, comments and shares — the ultimate dopamine. This then makes you ‘be one up’ and better your post with wittier or more interesting posts. You get into a vicious cycle of posting, waiting for the accolades, then bettering yourself each time.”
Suri further explains that this need to be wanted online, in fact, stems from our real-life need for social acceptance — family, friends, in-laws, peers, bosses, neighbours, and acquaintances — to belong, like we’re a part of a large social group.
“This begins as human nature, right from childhood when kids want to make their parents proud or impress their friends. When we are flattered or acknowledged, the neurotransmitters in our brain release dopamine, the motivation hormone, creating a dopamine rush when you do something right or when you do things which make you feel good. As children, we were frequently lauded for good ranks, impromptu dances or singing performances for visiting relatives, and the chores we did at home. As we grew older, the opportunities to receive compliments become fewer. The only feedback mechanisms now are instant social media and annual appraisals and so, regardless of how secure and confident one actually is, they will use someone else’s yardstick to measure their own qualities and success,” she adds.
It’s your journey
Pranic healer and psychotherapist Surabhi Dand believes, “Social sanction can be good or bad, positive or negative but the real flip side of looking for others’ stamp of approval is that you are, in fact, cluttering your mind with all kinds of negative thoughts which, in turn, create an obstacle in your own journey of self-discovery. Our thoughts get influenced by how others perceive us, thereby hijacking our attention. It’s important to understand the importance of self-love and self-esteem. Seeking social sanction is lacking self-confidence, and giving the authority to others to judge our own potential. Spiritually speaking, we come alone and go alone — then why seek approval of others for our potential? People often confuse guidance with validation. Try not to mix our love for someone with their approval of our existence, or to get into detention because of them and victimise ourselves.”
Take entrepreneur, artist, fitness enthusiast Nawaz Modi Singhania, for instance, who wears many hats and is constantly under the media scanner for being Raymond chief Gautam Singhania’s wife. However, she never fails to be herself all the time in the public eye and at home. “I believe my identity doesn’t mimic anybody else’s, and it doesn’t seek any social sanction. I have a healthy sense of self-esteem and I credit that to my Parsi upbringing and my father and brother, both credible lawyers. The communication that was driven to me was to be my own person, give back to society, never seek others’ sanction and to not try and fit some more. That is what we must drill into our future generation as well,” adds Singhania.
Addressing the issue
“Acknowledge the problem,” says Suri. “Admit that you are basing your esteem on the likes and comments you receive. Next, work on accepting that you are enough and kill the negative thoughts about yourself — it’s the key to recognising your own worth,” she adds. Self-worth is knowing you are loved and worthy simply because you are, and not because of what you think, say, do, or what others think of you.
Suri suggests to make a list of all the things you are great at and remember that you are unique. “Any comparison with someone else is like comparing apples to oranges. You have your own journey that is unique. So, go forth and carve your own trail,” she adds.
Run an audit on yourself
Check how often you refresh your feed or log on to social media apps. “Make a log of it and you’ll get a real picture. Reduce your activity, close certain social media accounts; there are apps to help you with it. Withdrawing can lead to withdrawal. You will be tempted, so stay resolute. Take a walk, hang out with friends, listen to music. Change the pattern to tame your habit,” suggests Suri.
Dand too suggests to choose a substitute habit like walking, reading, listening to music, cooking, etc. Watch your monkey mind by establishing a journalling practice and indulging in self-talk to shut negative voices.
Practise deep relaxation techniques to calm your mind because if you are able to think right, you are able to act right and keep your mental health at an optimum level.
Focus on your vision
Ask yourself, where are you headed? “Be it in your career or personal life. Set your goal. On an average, people spend 4 hours 40 minutes a day on social media. That is 145 hours per month. That is 1,740 hours a year. In that much time, you can learn to become a marathoner, write a book, attend a management course, get an athletic body, and so many other things. Every hour you spend on social media, think about what goal you have set your sights on and weigh it against this,” says Suri.
Dand suggests to practise assertiveness using a different kind of positive affirmation to work on your vision and enhance self-esteem.
“Understand the need of cause. How important is the other person’s approval to you? Make sure to be with people who uplift you positively and avoid narcissists’ company; if need be, take professional help to resolve the polarity of thoughts in the brain,” she adds.
Pair up with a friend or buddy
Suri suggests, “Doing positive actions together with someone can make you accountable and keep up your motivation to reduce your hours on social media. Perseverance is key, you need to keep at it. You may fail and it’s okay. Adjust the needle and get back on track.”