Don’t Fall Prey to Validation by Social Media!

Social media is a major channel of communication – over 3.2 billion people use social media on a daily basis around the world. It allows for easy connection with loved ones, friends and colleagues. It also offers entertainment, breaking news, and the latest trends from virtually anywhere around the globe.

At the same time, certain patterns are emerging from the widespread use of social media: the growing anxiety of the masses seeking the approval of others and the tracking of popularity.  

The illusion of the perfect life

Social media is primarily a vehicle to showcase ourselves to the rest of the world in the “best possible light” so that we can feel recognized by those around us. Actually, everyone strives to continuously display a perfect life and a perfect self while hiding their true feelings. Social media users often measure their self-worth by the number of "likes" they collect on their Facebook posts, the number of subscribers to their YouTube channel, or the number of retweets. This self-inflicted pressure for social acceptance and celebration is often overwhelming and can adversely affect a person’s self-worth. The constant fear of not living up to expectations only undermines self-confidence and erodes self-esteem.

Advanced research shows the extent to which our brains are wired to seek social validation/approval. According to a study conducted at Harvard in 2012, humans spend up to 40% of their time talking about themselves to others. The pleasure they derive from self-disclosure is comparable to the thrill of food, sex, money, drug addiction - the same regions of the brain are activated.

As Melody Wilding, a specialist in human behavior, points out: "Humans share an innate drive to connect with others. We’re evolutionarily wired to crave inclusion”. Social media harnesses this innate desire, and we tend to equate "likes" with validation. Thus, it is easy to fall prey to the temptation to satisfy the most basic human instinct to feel included and valued by others. In the age of social media, it is hard to escape the vicious circle of giving up this validation.

The importance of validation

The dictionary defines "validation" as the recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile. It’s reasonable for anyone to want their feelings, opinions, choices or achievements recognized and encouraged by those around them. As children, don't we look up to our parents to acknowledge/validate our actions? Validation is part of interdependence and even independent people still feel the need to be validated in some aspects of their lives; however, they do not rely exclusively on external validation – they mostly trust their own judgment. Validation is not a bad thing - it can be affirmative and positive, the problem arises when an individual values someone else's opinion, approval or recognition above his or her own. It’s not the public approval but how you feel about yourself that determines the quality of your life.

“don’t compare yourself to a collection of carefully selected self-advertisements”

This constant search for social validation to feel good about ourselves has a negative impact on our mental health. By continually focusing on how others view our work and daily routine, we lose sight of who we are and what we really care about. We are so much more than just our online persona! Remember that social media is not real life - it's a very superficial side of life! Like magazine pictures, it's only a snapshot of someone's life. So, don't compare yourself to a collection of carefully selected self-advertisements. You need to understand that behind the heavily photoshopped selfie of a smiling top-model-like person, there may very well be a tormented soul desperately craving for attention. This is nothing new, actually there’s even a name for it: the Marilyn Monroe Syndrome. The famous actress conquered large audiences with her attractive smile and arousing attitude. Yet, she suffered greatly from being only appreciated for the character she played, while no one really cared about her true personality. Today, there are millions of Monroes suffering on Instagram, Pinterest or Tik Tok, victim of their own image, of their unsatisfied craving for external validation.

Also, social media oftentimes gives the false impression that success comes easily. You may not always see the hard work and effort behind a person's accomplishments - the immense sacrifices and hardships the person might have endured to reach success.

Know yourself to escape the validation trap

We must stop seeking the approval of others and depend on them to gain the confidence we need to live our lives successfully. Instead, we need to reconnect with our true inner purpose - the meaning of our life based on our personal truth and set our own expectations to find true happiness.

An effective first step in breaking with the need for validation from others starts with understanding the type of validation you are looking for: Do you want to be recognized as a member of a group, the best at work, the ideal spouse, the greatest parent, ... ? Becoming aware of the type of recognition you seek can lead you to choose strategies that are better adapted to the reality of your problem, thus breaking the cycle and enabling you to look for validation internally.

Finally, we need to rediscover the value of real-life interactions. At the end of the day, it’s not our digital device or our social network ratings that will offer us comfort in difficult times when we most need it!

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