Can life itself drive you crazy

Social media - creeping poison for the psyche?

A provocative headline, but not to be dismissed completely? Social media should not be demonized, because social networks have become an indispensable part of our lives. However, not all that glitters is gold. "Participation in social networks such as Facebook can arouse strong negative emotions in users and impair life satisfaction." Such a study by the HU Berlin and the TU Darmstadt. According to a study by the British Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), the imagery of Instagram does not leave us unaffected. "Instagram is the social network that has the most negative impact on the well-being and mental health of its users. " [2] Social media can therefore become a burden for the psyche.

Why is that and what can we do about it? Or rather: can we do anything about it?We talked to Instahelp psychologist Melanie Gramer about it.

Why are we so fooled by the pseudo-reality on social media?

Again and again we read about blogger burnout or influencers who can no longer stand the pressure of perfect self-presentation. The best-known example is perhaps Essena O'Neill. The former influencer reported, among other things, that she needed up to 100 attempts for her supposed Instagram snapshots before the perfect picture was in the can. This approach is more the rule than the exception, as the photographer Chompoo Baritone shows in a photo series. [3] So we know that we are often put on a perfect show on social networks. And yet these social media stagings don't just ricochet off us. Why not and what can we do about it?

Melanie Gramer: The problem is that we cannot prevent this mental alignment. We see a perfectly staged picture and know nothing about that person's personal conflicts or problems. The perfect impression is the only characteristic we see, which is why our brain rates the rest of that person as equally perfect. In the case of Essena O'Neill, who made her very personal story public, our impression is corrected. So far, however, these are only isolated cases. The majority of “bloggers” or “influencers” try to maintain the impression of the “perfect self” and they are very successful. This is also because we ultimately want to believe that you can be happy and successful and you just have to know the secret recipe for it.

Sure, a happy and fulfilling life is also possible in reality, only the way there usually has nothing to do with what clothes or make-up you wear, or how many “followers” ​​you have. This is where the confusion arises. Rather, true happiness has to do with the fact that we accept that things are never perfect and that not everything always corresponds to our ideas. When we learn to stop rejecting these things and see them as natural facts that are still “perfect” in their imperfect form, regardless of whether that is our appearance or our professional career, our eating habits or our relationships, then a serenity arises and a self-confidence that is no longer dependent on external comparison and that can create true success and happiness. Then we write our own life story, which may not be so perfect but it is “real”.

Is the life of others really that much more exciting?

Social media simulates a life of unprecedented intensity. There is no such thing as lukewarm or ordinary, instead it is teeming with superlatives. Which of course is also due to the fact that we are only presented with selected snacks. Sociologist Hartmut Rosa says that because of the new media, we have gotten used to scanning the world for ever more interesting options. [4] So we are option scanners that click our way through a glittering social media world. How does this affect our offline life?

Melanie Gramer: Life in our modern society is shaped by a social and personal freedom that has never existed before. We all have choices and are constantly forced to make decisions. Whereas in the past the structure of life and roles were clearly given, today you swim in a sea of ​​possibilities. This is a great opportunity, but it also entails a lot of personal responsibility. This is accompanied by the loss of security and belonging and the difficulty of orienting oneself. The big question: "How do I get happy?" is in the room and the social media shows us people who “supposedly” made it. So it is only natural that many people and especially young people try to orientate themselves towards these people. They imitate fashion trends, language and even the behavior of these "online stars".

In search of yourself, it is easy to get lost in superficialities and social media reinforces this tendency. If you have created an online identity of yourself, you are also forced to serve this image through photos or posts. This in turn leads to the search for confirmation through “likes” or comments etc. The more “likes” you get, the better you feel and if they are not or no longer there, this can trigger strong negative emotions, which lead to minor ones Contribute to self-worth. The online activities take up more and more time, which is then no longer available for the “offline world”. This may neglect relationships in the real world. Depending on the extent, Internet addiction can even develop, in which the thoughts of those affected are almost constantly focused on online activities.

Why can't we just stop comparing ourselves to others?

We know comparisons are poison. The more we compare ourselves to others, the more dissatisfied and unhappy we become. No wonder, because there are always people who are ahead in terms of careers, money, relationships or upbringing. Now comparisons may not be an issue when we live on a desert island. But as soon as we get into the social media world, all the theory is dead. How do we manage to make fewer comparisons - also and especially in social networks?

Melanie Gramer: We make comparisons as long as we think that our self-worth depends on what we do or what we have. When we begin to understand that true self-confidence only depends on who we are and that we really know and understand ourselves and thereby accept ourselves, we stop comparing ourselves to others. We recognize that everyone is unique and that you can only ever compare yourself to yourself. Then we no longer look for role models to emulate, because we don't want to be anyone other than the person we are. We then use role models to get to know each other better, to see in which direction we want to move, but then to implement it in our very own way.

Unfortunately, we have not learned how to define our self-worth in this way. That is why we constantly compare ourselves and define ourselves based on the results of these comparisons. These comparisons also take place in real life, but are of course extreme in the social networks because we are confronted with a very large number of people who all present a “positive” image of themselves. If you do not want to reduce the consumption of social media, it is crucial to work on your own self-worth and to shape a diverse life so that your own definition and self-worth does not come solely from the comparative situations of social media.

What are the benefits of digital detox?

The more social media becomes a topic, the more often the call for digital detox sounds. Is digital detox just a drop in the bucket or is it actually a solution?

Melanie Gramer: Taking a step back from social media for a while can make a lot of sense. There is more time for real meetings with friends or other hobbies. Because ultimately we all want to be socially, athletically, professionally successful, etc. The more time you spend on social media, the less you can invest in your own wellbeing and in your career and leisure time, and the more negative the comparisons. A good balance is important.

What can parents teach their children to use social media?

The adolescents are exposed to a constant fireworks of self-optimization and the pseudo-reality on social media, which (see studies) does not leave them without a trace. What can parents do? Bans are rarely a solution. And the advice to control everything that the children “do” online is a little bit out of touch with reality. What would you advise your children to do?

Melanie Gramer: I would explain to my children that they can find valuable information and tips on the Internet and on social media and that they are excellent tools for connecting, exchanging and communicating with other people. But I would also show them that everyone has their own talents and that they are unique, that what they see on social media is always only a part of reality or sometimes even pursues certain intentions far from reality (advertising, etc. ) and that you should therefore view this content critically. I would also explain to them that it is important to limit the amount of time you spend online so that there is enough time for other activities.

6. Is social media a "burden on the psyche"?

What do you think of calling social media in general, as well as Instagram and Facebook specifically, a “stress on the psyche”?

Melanie Gramer: I think it is difficult to generalize and one should always consider why and to what extent someone is using social media. There are always users who focus on self-expression, while others see the network more as a social exchange of opinions and contacts. Both Instagram and Facebook can fulfill both functions, while with Facebook communication is of crucial importance, with Instagram the focus is clearly on the visual content. The more visual a content is, the more likely it is to have an emotional impact on the observer. A text makes a clear statement, but an image always has to be interpreted.

Our mind interprets what we see and it is filtered and compared with our own situation depending on the social environment, culture, personal experience and life situation. In our culture, for example, good looks are associated with success and status. That means, when I see a young, good-looking, laughing woman, then my brain tells me that she is also successful and has money etc. Since many people strive for these qualities, the desire to want to be like that arises and the mind leads then carry out a comparison. Since we let ourselves be fooled by the “perfect” images and our interpretation, regardless of whether from strangers or people we know personally, is largely self-developed, the comparison with our self or our life is very negative and triggers thoughts such as: “I am not beautiful enough ”,“ I am not sufficiently successful ”,“ I am not thin enough ”etc.

The thoughts and feelings are individually different and usually reflect low self-esteem in the area that appears to be personally important to us. In order not to evoke these thoughts, we really only have two options. Either we avoid social media or media in general, which seems almost impossible in our day and age, or we improve our self-acceptance. That means we work on our image of ourselves and learn to love ourselves for who we are. The help of an expert can often be of crucial importance.


Photo credits: iStock / syther5

[1] HU Berlin, (08.08.18)
[2] Royal Society For Public Health: (08.08.18 )
[3] Photographer zooms out to show the falsity of Instagram photos (08/09/18)
[4] (08.08.18)