Facebook, Social Media and the Psychology of Validation

“Do you crave Facebook likes?” asks Martin Graff, Ph.D., in a recent article and study.

‘The attention I get from social media is important to me’, ‘I consider someone to be popular based on the amount of likes they get in social media’. As a user of social media, do you consider these statements to be accurate descriptions of you, or are you not concerned or influenced by such things?

It’s not really about social media. Psychology and self-esteem were relevant before social media, and they will still be relevant when and if social media eventually passes away and is replaced by some other format or technology we do not yet conceive.

People use social media in different ways because people are different from each other. It isn’t possible to prove that someone has lower or higher self-esteem because they participate on social media, or not. The real issue is internal. And to know someone internally, you have to know how they think and feel, as well as how they act in countless small ways in daily life. With the possible exception of a spouse or romantic partner, nobody is as well acquainted with ourselves as … ourselves.

If you lack or need validation for yourself, then you will likely depend more on social media for that validation than you otherwise would. Social media does not cause your lack of self-validation; it can, however, serve as an excuse, delay or distraction — kind of like a drug — from the fact that you don’t validate yourself in the first place.

What does it mean to validate yourself? It’s more of an emotionally held conviction than anything deliberate and conscious. Validation is closely related to self-esteem. Self-esteem is basically a sense that you are fundamentally fit for life and existence, and that you deserve the honestly earned fruits of your labor. Validation refers more to the method by which you know things, combined with your personal confidence in use of that method. If you have self-esteem, then you feel confident about knowing reality through the reasoning, thinking and sensory processes of your mind. “My observations have merit. My reasoning process is plausible and trustworthy.” You don’t necessarily say this to yourself, but you feel it on a very deep level.

It’s not only a matter of trusting your own reasoning. It’s a matter of trusting reasoning as such. “Reason is man’s tool of survival. It’s how people know things. Every invention I value or admire — my clothing, my computer, my running water, my car — came about because of someone’s reasoning and thinking, applied to productive action.” When you trust reasoning as such, the stage is set — psychologically — to trust your own reasoning.

Children who are not taught the value and power of reason, nor provided with the skills to reason themselves, will not develop a strong sense of self-esteem as adults, not unless they find other ways to acquire it on their own (which happens). As a result, they will tend to look elsewhere for validation of reality. They might be prone to cults, in extreme cases. Or substance abuse. Or, less extreme though on the same faulty principle, they will be prone to what significant others say is true or right. They might care first and foremost about the opinions of their peers, their town, the culture or “society” as they perceive it, a supernatural entity, secular or entertainment authorities. Whatever combinations of “others” it involves, it has little or nothing to do with the self’s validation/evaluation of truth and reality.

Social media, in such a context, can become a crutch. It can become a way to replace or compensate for the authentic, confident self-validation one lacks. “Oh, look,” is the unexpressed feeling. “I have lots of friends on Facebook. Lots of people like my picture, or what I’m doing. I must be on the right track.” To someone with authentic self-esteem, it would never occur to them to think or feel this way.

Psychologically sovereign, intellectually self-sufficient individuals do not need this kind of validation. They might enjoy some of it, or they might eschew it altogether; but they do not require it in order to feel good about themselves. Why? Because they have full confidence in their own reasoning, judging, evaluating, critically thinking minds to know what’s OK, or true, with or without the approval of others. At most, social media is simply a way of connecting with other people, rather than something one psychologically craves to be validated.

I’m not suggesting that involvement with Facebook, Twitter or other social media is indicative of a self-esteem problem. It all depends on how you view these formats and technologies. Are they there to serve and promote your already existing self-esteem; or do you need this validation in order to feel good about yourself? Do you use social media as one more form of expression and information to advance your life’s interests, or do you need it in order to feel good about yourself?

Your relationship with social media is a reflection of your relationship with actual, real live people you encounter outside the Internet. Ultimately, your relationship with other people — what you need them for, and don’t need them for — says something about your own self-esteem. Self-esteem means confidence in the efficacy and use of your mind. If you possess this confidence, you have nothing to fear from technology.

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