How dating apps fuel low self-esteem

Technology has made it far easier to potentially meet people from diverse social backgrounds but the same technology has also made it equally easier to suffer rejections when it comes to dating. Studies into the links between dating apps and anxiety and depression struggle to establish a causal relationship. However, dating apps can damage a user’s self-esteem if they take the rejection or lack of matches personally.


The seemingly limitless choices available from dating app platforms make the possibility of rejection more likely as users search for a more perfect match. Greater time can be spent looking for love on these platforms than on deepening a potential individual connection.

But dating apps can be fun, so what is the problem? 

There is indeed no problem if there is no problem. The difference between lifestyle choices versus what might be deemed problem behaviour can, after all, be a grey area. As a general rule of thumb, problem behaviour could be defined as attempts to escape from uncomfortable feelings.

Repetitive behaviour can be used almost like a shield, in protecting against the re-experiencing of vulnerable emotions, past wounding and triggered states of mind. But such behaviour can lead to low mood, feelings of anxiety, lower self-esteem and this is what defines the behaviour as problematic. It also could be that the behaviour is causing negative consequences in other parts of your life.

Some studies have shown that about half of matches do not message back, which can potentially intensify feelings of rejection. First dates can also be a huge let down. Online profiles or chats might not be representative of the individual you actually meet up with. There can be a sense of manipulation which can fuel feelings of stress, anxiety, and even depression about the whole dating scene. 

How can counselling help?

Counselling can offer an opportunity to explore your time boundaries around dating app usage and re-evaluate your goals and expectations around dating. Is it a partner you are seeking or do you really need to stay busy with multiple online conversations and dates in order to avoid difficult feelings?

Therapy can be a safe space to explore these difficult feelings and also to examine how your survival and trauma based learning systems got trained. The clues to how you get activated and triggered, when subject to rejection or loneliness, usually reside in your early attachments and formative experiences.

How, for instance, did you feel cared for and loved and how were your emotional needs met? Were there any significant events in your early life that caused emotional wounding and which might explain how your fight/flight system developed? An over zealous need for validation and approval could reflect early emotional trauma of separation, abandonment (or fear of), being excluded or subject to ridicule. Seeking to heal these ongoing wounds through dating apps can fuel lower self-esteem as the source of the wounding is not being addressed.

Healing can, however, take place when you identify the nerve centre of the wounding. A sense of greater personal freedom could be achieved in not needing external validation from others in order to feel adequate and worthy.

Recovery from problem behaviour involves feeling your feelings, rather than escaping them by engaging in the busyness of multiple conversations on dating apps. Recovery can also mean identifying the source of projections. Psychological projection could be defined as a defence mechanism that is subconsciously activated so that difficult feelings or emotions can be avoided.

It could involve projecting undesirable feelings or emotions onto someone else, rather than addressing the unwanted feelings. When we project we might be seeking to heal a wounded part or aspect of ourselves. When we think of the possibility of dating a particular person we could be projecting the part of us that feels unworthy, not feeling good enough or appears to be lacking in some way. 

Securing a date and the possibility of romance can fuel the desire for some form of emotional fix. However, you may find that dates offer a diminishing set of returns and less and less satisfaction. Sometimes it might be better to work on the relationship with yourself first before playing the field. When the need for external validation and approval is high there might be less chance of truly meeting that emotional fix.   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London SE1 & SE26
Written by Noel Bell, MA, PG Dip Psych, UKCP
London SE1 & SE26

Noel Bell is a UKCP accredited psychotherapist in London who has spent over 20 years exploring and studying personal growth, recovery from addictions and inner transformation. Noel is an integrative therapist and draws upon the most effective tools and techniques from the psychodynamic, CBT, humanist, existential and transpersonal schools.

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