Social media - a negative impact on self-esteem and self-image?

I made the choice several years ago to stay off social media. I made that choice with positivity. I didn't feel I needed what I deemed the stress of putting myself out there to be judged.


However, the time came for me to set up in private practice, so I took a deep breath and dove into the vast world of social media. For now, it has been a very positive experience, but I am always on alert and keep everything locked down.

As a mum and a counsellor, I have heard and witnessed the negative side of social media; bullying, ridicule, anger, and hatred are all words I have listened to.

The destructive cycle of reading about perfection, and the need to emulate this in our personal lives, creates huge stress and anxiety. We open ourselves up to the world through selfies, posts, and tweets without a second’s hesitation of what the reactions and consequences might be. Will my post get lots of likes? What if no one clicks like? Feelings of rejection, humiliation, and isolation might start festering in our minds.

These negative feelings can quickly turn into something more destructive, such as depression and anxiety, and in some cases self-harm or worse.

We look at these posts and pictures in between our busy day and think "wow - they look amazing!", "I wish I looked that good", or "I wish my life was as fulfilled as theirs". I doubt many of us sit there and weigh up how unrealistic a photo or story might be, consider whether it's a sensationalised bit of marketing PR, or just how much the photo has been digitally altered so much so that the real person is barely recognisable.

Dependant on how good we feel about ourselves will depend on how we process our cognitions. For someone happy with their looks and body image, the impact of the article/picture will leave no lasting thoughts or impact on their day.

For someone struggling with low self-esteem and body image, then the article/picture can imprint on cognitions with such a negative and aggressive force. We might start to feel all kinds of emotions such as panic, fear, or anger. It might trigger a panic attack or even reduce us to tears. This may sound extreme to some, but to others, this is a daily occurrence. When we are calm, we can rationalise, but when fear takes over panic sets in.

I've learnt that social media can be hugely rewarding, building connections with friends, family, and peers. However, it can become the bane of people's lives when it starts to take over and control a person’s reality.

When we meet people in the street, we are not airbrushed, digitally enhanced, or have any other visual aid to show of perfection; we are human beings going about life, and yet when we pick up our phone or tablet we don't think twice about applying a filter to portray a 'better' version of ourselves.

It could be suggested that, as a society, we are creating self-doubt when we could be celebrating who we are and what we have achieved; for some that might be just showing up. Our inner strength and beauty aren’t visible on the outside; no one sees the struggle behind someone's eyes as they smile and pass by. We don't wear placards stating our vulnerability. Others have no idea what's happening in our real lives - only the virtual ones we post for others to see and read about.

You may know the smiley person on the third floor at work, the one that has hundreds of followers and is incredibly popular and interesting; after all, you see their story every day! Do you also know that at night they can't sleep, that they sit in their flat feeling fed up and lonely, or that they are being bullied and have terrible self-doubt?

Not everything is visible. Many people are being affected by the negative side of social media. You are not alone.

Through counselling, you can regain your identity and reconnect with the beautiful 'you', inside and out.

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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Runcorn, Cheshire, WA7
Written by Julie Howard, MBACP (Accred), BSc (Hons), FdSc, Life’s Journey Counselling
Runcorn, Cheshire, WA7

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