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Using Social Media for Reassurance and Validation

Find emotional health in the digital world.

Key points

  • Some people post on social media in order to get reassurance about their insecurities.
  • Excessive reassurance-seeking does not effectively address problems.
  • Be mindful about your posts on social media and think of more constructive ways to address problems in your life.
G. Lombardo/Adobe Stock
Source: G. Lombardo/Adobe Stock

There has been a lot in the news lately about mental health problems associated with social media. As a psychologist, my clients of all ages commonly talk about the negative impact of other people’s posts on their mental well-being. Many feel socially rejected when they see an event to which they weren’t invited. Or, other people’s posts might trigger unfavorable comparisons that make them feel bad: “Everyone else seems to have ______ than I do.” [Insert: more fun, more friends, more money, a better body, etc.]

But what about why people post in the first place? Social media can be a great way to keep in touch with people and share information. However, it can also feed into excessive reassurance-seeking behaviors and unhealthy attempts at getting validation from others. In other words, people often use the opinions of others to feel good about themselves.

What is Reassurance Seeking?

From time to time, we all need a little reassurance that everything is okay. You might check in with a friend to make sure you didn’t upset them with something you said, double-check to make sure you locked the door, or ask your roommate or partner how you look in a new outfit. It is fine to do these things once in a while.

When It’s a Problem

Reassurance seeking becomes a problem when it is more frequent and when a person becomes more dependent on it. Consider the following scenarios:

  • A person who suffers from body image concerns frequently posts a body-revealing picture on Instagram when she is feeling insecure about herself. They tend to get a lot of likes and comments about how good they look. As a result, it bolsters her self-esteem, causing her to think, “maybe I do look good.”
  • A person who frequently feels lonely and thinks that people don’t care about him. Instead of seeing friends and family, his solution to this problem is to regularly post on Twitter, oversharing about his mental suffering. He feels better when he gets positive comments from people about how great a person he is and, "to hang in there, things will get better."
  • Another person is having a lot of conflict with her partner and her children. She frequently creates Facebook posts showing pictures of her happy family. With every comment and like, she temporarily feels better about the situation in her home.

With all three of these scenarios, the people get reassurance and validation from others to make themselves feel better. For some, frequent reassurance seeking is addictive, almost like a drug. The likes and comments are a temporary fix. While they might feel better at the moment, the positive effects are usually short-lived because they come from others and not from within themselves. However, they might be inclined to post again the next time they feel low because they get that burst of reassurance.

They continue to use social media to seek external validation and reassurance, setting themselves up for a vicious cycle. They do not learn to tolerate and effectively deal with their problems. The reinforcement-seeking perpetuates the problem and also doesn’t get to the root of the issue. It can even lead to an increased negative mood if there is not a lot of feedback from others.

How to Break the Cycle

1) Engage in mindful posting.

Before you post something on social media, examine your motivations.

  • Ask yourself, “why am I posting this?”
  • Consider if you are seeking approval or reassurance from your friends/followers in an unhealthy way.
  • Also, consider the consequences and ask yourself if you will be upset if you don’t get a certain number of likes and comments.
  • If it turns out you are posting for these reasons or will feel a lot of distress about the potential consequences of the post, consider not posting.

2) Do things that will effectively address your issues.

If, every time you go on Instagram, you see pictures of people that trigger your body image concerns, either delete the app, unfollow accounts that trigger you, or at least limit your use of the app. If you are feeling lonely, call a friend or family member. Or do some problem solving about how to meet more people or build more meaningful relationships. If you have relationship difficulties, talk to your partner about your concerns, or consider seeking help with a couples therapist.

3) Find ways to grow

Think about how you could validate yourself instead of looking for it on social media. There are a lot of resources on self-compassion as a place to start. Beginning a mindfulness practice is another starting point and can help address destructive thought patterns. Keep a gratitude journal of things you are thankful for in your life. Finally, working with a therapist can help you effectively manage your issues without looking for it from others on social media.

In sum, not all interactions with social media are harmful. It can be a great way to keep in touch with people and can be an appropriate avenue for support. For others, it might be an excellent resource for information, and many use social media to build their small businesses. It can ultimately benefit your mental well-being if you're able to ask yourself what your motivations are before you post.

References

Diefenbach, S., & Anders, L. (2021). The psychology of likes: Relevance of feedback on Instagram and relationship to self-esteem and social status. Psychology of Popular Media.

Elhai, J. D., Rozgonjuk, D., Alghraibeh, A. M., Levine, J. C., Alafnan, A. A., Aldraiweesh, A. A., Aljomaa, S. S., & Hall, B. J. (2020). Excessive reassurance seeking mediates relations between rumination and problematic smartphone use. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 84(2), 137–155.

Nesi, J., & Prinstein, M. J. (2015). Using social media for social comparison and feedback-seeking: Gender and popularity moderate associations with depressive symptoms. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 43(8), 1427–1438.

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