There has been a lot of attention recently on the relationship between social media and mental health.
Many individuals of all ages frequently talk about the detrimental impact that other people’s postings have on their mental well-being.
When others’ posts make them feel socially excluded, many individuals feel rejected.
Alternatively, seeing events to which they weren’t invited might elicit unfavorably comparisons to other people. Sometimes posts are deemed simply “annoying.”
And because social media postings are relatively uncontrollable, individuals often feel powerless when they desire to have more control over what they experience on these platforms.
But why do people create content in the first place?
Social media may be a fantastic means to stay connected with people and spread knowledge. It can, however, contribute to compulsive assurance-seeking and harmful attempts at validation from others.
People frequently use the views of others to make themselves feel good about themselves, in other words, to self-validate. They might seek evidence that they are attractive, intelligent or popular.
While validation-seeking is a universal human trait, it often becomes problematic when it’s driven by the need for reassurance about one’s worthiness and desirability.
Social media can act as an “easy” means to validate oneself because others are readily accessible, and it’s easy to get caught up in the moment of receiving attention.
This may be especially true for individuals with low self-worth who are looking to compensate for their feelings of insecurity. When used as a strategy for validation, social media can become problematic.
What is Reassurance Seeking, and how does it work?
Reassurance seeking is the act of using third-party information to affirm one’s own opinions, either about oneself or others.
This might include asking for feedback, advice or validation from others.
Sometimes individuals will seek reassurance in order to feel good about themselves, while other times they are looking for answers in order to make decisions or form an opinion.
Individuals may seek reassurance when they are lonely, unsure or uncertain.
It’s important to understand that people’s motives for seeking reassurance can vary substantially. An individual might desire self-validation, while another person might be looking for guidance on a big decision.
Seeking out validation about one’s physical appearance is common, as is asking others for advice about how to deal with difficult people.
Some individuals ask lots of questions or become preoccupied with other people’s responses.
What Makes Social Media So Risky?
When it comes to reassurance-seeking, social media can present a significant challenge in many ways.
For starters, there are typically more opportunities on social media to seek reassurance because there are so many ways to communicate.
Individuals can post or tweet pictures, send private messages, write on people’s walls, etc. They are also likely to be tagged in photos posted by others, thus helping them validate themselves.
Some platforms even allow users to seek out validation from specific individuals, which may lead to problems if that individual has ulterior motives or is unreliable.
Reassurance seeking on social media often begins innocently, but it can quickly become problematic because of the ease with which people can access information about others (if someone posts personal information) and the lack of limitations to what an individual might ask others to validate.
People are able to post anonymously via some platforms and need not worry about whether they will be judged for their questions or messages.
Because of the number and variety of posts, people can make on social media, individuals often experience an increase in the frequency and intensity of their reassurance-seeking—in other words, it turns into a compulsion.
When is Reassurance Seeking becomes a Problem?
Reassurance seeking can become problematic when it begins to interfere with an individual’s daily life.
For example, someone might spend an excessive amount of time online in order to post updates, read messages or check for responses to their comments.
Some individuals may become preoccupied with checking their social media accounts and feel as though they can’t stop scrolling through their newsfeed.
Sometimes reassurance seeking might get in the way of an individual’s schoolwork or other important aspects of life.
It is also a problem if individuals begin to feel distressed, guilty or ashamed about their online behavior and try to cut back but find themselves still looking for reassurance (e.g., feeling like they can’t stop checking their social media accounts or feeling like they need to delete certain people from their profile).
Why Does it Matter?
Social media can be a great tool for making connections with family and friends. But, when used compulsively, it is associated with feelings of isolation and loneliness, as well as depression. There are various reasons why reassurance seeking can turn into a compulsion and lead to problems, including:
- Individuals make themselves vulnerable by disclosing personal information online. They risk rejection and the possibility that their questions will be met with negative responses (e.g., sarcasm or insults).
- Sometimes individuals ask for reassurance when they don’t really want it; they just want someone to acknowledge their feelings or validate their emotions.
- Reassurance seeking can be a way to reduce anxiety caused by comparison, especially on social media. By gaining reassurance from others about themselves, individuals feel the need to compare less and become more confident in who they are. However, this does not always occur and it can lead to a cycle of more comparison and reassurance seeking.
- When individuals receive responses that they find to be negative, it can cause feelings of hurt and rejection, which lead to more reassurance seeking or avoidance of social media.
- Individuals may not actually get the support they need from others and this can compound their problems. For example, someone might ask for reassurance about being attractive or smart, but the people they ask might just say that everything is fine without offering any specific feedback.
- Reassurance seekers may become dependent on one person for their self-esteem and self-confidence. If that person were to leave them, it could have a significant negative impact on their life.
The key to preventing reassurance seeking from becoming problematic is learning how to manage it.
People can change the way they interact online by taking steps such as using privacy settings, appropriately setting limits with individuals who are excessively reassuring, and avoiding social media when they are feeling vulnerable.
Other strategies that may help include learning how not to internalize other people’s responses, as well as identifying other ways to reduce anxiety caused by comparison.
In addition, it is important for individuals to identify their reasons for asking for reassurance and strengthen their self-esteem outside of social media.
If these strategies are not effective in reducing this type of online behavior, professional treatment may be needed.