The habit of comparing ourselves unfavourably with other people damages our self-esteem and wellbeing even during the best of times. When we experience more challenging times, it can take very little to make ourselves and our lives feel really rubbish.
It wasn’t quite so bad in the olden days when there was only limited exposure to the lives of others, seemingly so much more successful and interesting than our own. At the present time it is hard to escape the bombardment of words and pictures and images which suggest that all the people we know (and some we don’t) are having a brighter, better existence than us.
Remind yourself of your personal values
If you’re clear about the principles that matter to you and the concepts that guide your behaviour, you have a bedrock of beliefs to draw on when you feel your personal worth and significance is being undermined.
What matters is how you are living your life, not how someone else is living theirs.
Express your own values more strongly
You might feel envy, or other uncomfortable emotions, because someone’s self-presentation on social media suggests they are representing values you share with them more vibrantly or attractively or authentically than you do.
Your perception may be right, it may be wrong. But rather than dwell on other people, channel your feelings into action by thinking of ways in which you can express your values more strongly in your own life.
Identify what is missing from your life
Your emotional response to a post is telling you something about your state of mind and your own life. Only you know what that is.
It is likely that you don’t want precisely what the image presents — you may not want to be with that exact group of people, or in that exact holiday spot, or to be doing cute things with those particular children, but it could be that you are feeling lonely, or that your social life is lacklustre, or you need a break away, or you would like to make some changes in your family life.
Tell a different story
We all know that social media posts present a selective picture, a version of a story. Make up your story which puts the image in a less appealing context.
If doing this with your ‘friends’ feels too much like defacing their photos or writing in funny, debunking speech bubbles, you could practice with images of people less close to you.
All you do is imagine what is the reality behind this moment in time. What might have gone on before the snapshot, and what might be going on after it? Don’t wish misery on the subjects (karma, people), but have a little fun. How many attempts were made and how much mess was created before that perfect chocolate cake emerged? What do the people in the zany hen-do shot really think about each other? What is the reality behind the happy couple /family pose?
Keep ‘celebrity’ in perspective
We’re all familiar with celebrity culture. We’re part of it. We have absorbed the word into our lives, accepting that it confers a special kind of status and prestige on those who are designated thus.
The concept of celebrity encompasses far more than the basic meaning of the word, which describes people who are famous or well-known, often in the field of entertainment or sport.
The conflation in recent years of fame, personality and social influence, often linked to commercial interests, has expanded the idea of ‘celebrity’ and altered our perception of what fame is, and what it means to be famous.
It’s fun to engage with larger-than life personalities and to be entertained by good-looking, personable characters (even when we know they are trying to get us to buy something or buy into something).
It must also be said that it’s disconcerting to feel completely out of the current loop when we come across references to the tragic break-up of a couple we’ve never heard of, or we tune in to a ‘celebrity special’ and find that not a single well-known personality is familiar to us. Must keep up! (Er, why?)
But applying a little dose of reality to these attractively designed and curated constructs can help to keep our response in perspective, and protect us from being influenced more than we choose to be.
Ask yourself what the celebrated person actually does, or has done? It’s great to admire and enjoy someone’s talent, or to feel in awe of their achievements. If their achievements resonate with your own ambitions or desires, you may see them as something of a role model in that field.
However, they may or may not claim the same status in other areas. The popular television presenter’s views on family life or relationships may well be no more valid than yours. You can enjoy an entertainer’s performance and artistry without being influenced by their take on life.
Focus on the people you know
That is, real people. Respond to their actual presence and your real-life experience of them rather than their online personae.
When you have a fuller sense of a whole person, your view of them is more balanced. They may have the kind of home you dream of, or the job you would love, or a look you could never pull off, or more money than they know what to do with (ha! I could show them), but you also know that is not the whole story, and everyone’s life is more complex than a snapshot image suggests.
Make it matter less
Even though we know that the images which are getting to us are artificial, our emotions can still quash our intellectual awareness. You can probably live with odd pangs of envy. Wanting what someone else has, or what you believe someone else has, is an inbuilt characteristic, ignoble maybe, but human.
There are mechanical things you can do to protect yourself from the kind of exposure to others’ lives which distresses you, or upsets or unsettles you. You could limit your engagement with whatever platforms you use. You could cut off altogether, or try doing so for a period of time.
The best way to combat social media envy is to feel fulfilled in your own life, and satisfied that the way you live reflects the things that matter to you.