The Social Media Comparison Trap: Strategies for Combatting the Negative Effects of Social Media

Many of us have been there before—scrolling through our social media feeds on our commute, or while waiting in line at the local coffee shop—getting lost in the news of a colleague’s latest promotion, or a friend’s picturesque vacation photos. Suddenly, we find ourselves comparing our own career paths, relationship statuses and financial circumstances to those displayed by our friends online.

The idea of social comparison is nothing new – but social media has heightened our awareness. It used to be that you had to pick up the phone, or drive to someone’s house, to find out how they’re doing; now, you can stay in touch with a simple double tap on their latest Instagram post.
Of course, what we see on social media rarely reflects what is truly going on in someone else’s life. And when we find ourselves comparing our real life stories to their perceived happiness, we always come up short. As Dave Ramsey says, “Never compare someone else’s highlight reel with your behind-the-scenes footage.”

Still, this is easier said than done. Negative social comparison has led to issues with low self-esteem and even depression, especially amongst the younger generations. “The mental health of those prone to negative comparison can be seriously compromised,” author Rebecca Webber writes in Psychology Today.

The question is: how can we combat these habits of negative comparison that lead to feelings of inadequacy? Better yet, how do we teach our children—those who are coming of age in the social media era—to use these online platforms in a healthy and rewarding manner?

Aim for More Emulation and Less Comparison

It’s natural for us to seek reference in the experiences of others – but what if we adjust the way we observe them? What would happen if instead of constantly comparing our struggles to the achievements of our peers, we aimed to emulate their successes instead? “Decades of research suggest that upward comparison can provoke motivation and effort,” writes Webber. “Children who compare themselves to peers who slightly outperform them have produced higher grades, for instance.”

Look to flip the coin on negative comparison by using social media as a tool where we can learn from the experiences of others and apply this knowledge to your own situation. Perhaps a colleague’s posts about working while travelling the world will inspire you to quit that job you hate and invest in a career you enjoy.


Embrace the Situation You’re In

Human beings live extremely varied lives. Still, we constantly feel pressured to upgrade to the next phase in life. When we see our friends hitting milestones in their relationships, lives and careers, we feel like our own situation doesn’t measure up.

It’s important that we practice self-focus, and that we value our capacity to be introspective and self-aware. As we’re discovering who we are and why we do what we do, we look for opportunities to improve our lives and enhance our well-being. But we must remember to embrace our individual priorities and to appreciate our differences. Just because the timing is right for someone else, doesn’t mean it’s right for us.


Share For Real

Somewhere along the way, we started exploiting the act of “sharing” on social media and using it as an opportunity for “humble bragging” instead. We began cropping and filtering photos and posts to share only an idealized version of our lives, rather than the real deal.

The next time you go to post, ask yourself: what am I looking to achieve by sharing this? If the answer is more likes or follows, perhaps it’s time to re-think your approach. Instead, consider sharing experiences, advice, words of support and even empathy. It will not only make you feel better, but it will also benefit the people around you.


Seek Genuine Connection

Social media presents an opportunity to connect in a way no other communication tool has achieved before – but only if we use it effectively. It can be helpful to set boundaries – not only limiting our time on social media (programs like Moment or Stay Focused will track how much time you spend on certain sites and encourage or force you to log off), but also limiting how that time is used.

Rather than wasting minutes—and even hours—scrolling mindlessly through your feed, look for opportunities to comment on posts, send private messages, and seek genuine emotional connection by talking about shared experiences. This is how we foster the kind of relationships that enhance our well-being and provide value both online and off.

Charlotte Ottaway is the founder of Newmarket-based content marketing company, Web of Words ( She helps small business owners create real human connections online through blogging, website copywriting and social media marketing.


by Charlotte Ottaway

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