How Envy Became the Roadblock to Genuine Friendship

This is Part Three of a three-part series. 

If the emotion people experience on Facebook is primarily envy, it would be helpful to understand what motivates Facebook users that provokes this emotion in others. A number of psychologists set out to do exactly that. 

The psychiatrist Ashwini Nadkarni of the Boston Medical Center reviewed forty-two evidence-based studies on the motives of Facebook users and discovered they are motivated by two primary needs: the need to belong and the need for self-presentation.  

Further, Nadkarni found that the need of Facebook users to present themselves favorably to others is driven by narcissism, low self-esteem and emotional instability. 

Defined from Outside 

The experience of Nancy, a marketing director who attended one of my leadership conferences in Mexico City, is illustrative of how the users of Facebook and other social media apps stoke envy in others. 

This envy becomes especially acute after a tragedy that causes someone to believe that the complex emotions they are experiencing no longer enable them to authentically present themselves online without incurring the dreaded downward social comparison: 

Eight months ago, my father died unexpectedly. Following his death, I felt separated from the rest of my social connections by my complicated feelings of grief. I seemed to become disconnected from a world where life had not stopped for everyone else, while I was stuck on the loss of someone with whom I had always had a difficult relationship. I felt isolated by my extreme emotions, which was further compounded by a desire for social support while feeling incapable of reaching out for help or human connection. Additionally, I felt overwhelmed by the presence of social media. While I tried to avoid social media websites, occasional visits left me discouraged, as everyone else appeared to be posting life events and experiences that were so much more fulfilling than my own. 

Feel Bad, Check Social Media, Feel Worse 

All three of the motivations described above that are associated with low self-esteem—proving our worth to others, proving our worth to ourselves, and desiring positive (upward) social comparisons with others—converge to induce one cardinal time-consuming behavior: checking a phone or laptop or tablet for social media or email or text messages over, and over, and over again.  

The less an individual has constructed a sense of self, the more frequently they are likely to crane their neck to glance at a digital screen in their quest for self-assurance. 

In other words, the less we rise to the lifelong, arduous challenge of developing substance within, the more we seek it from without. 

What Can You Change Now? 

Ask yourself how you would experience your life if you were to develop meaningful ways to provide yourself with the daily reassurance you need rather than seek it from other people who are also camouflaging their deeper feelings of insecurity behind their screens.  

What would you be able to create if you stopped posting on social media in the hopes of gaining the approval of others? What would be possible in your life if you were to instead devote your creative energies to developing projects less for short-term recognition and more for long-term impact?  

Imagine how your feelings about yourself would grow and propel you toward other long-term projects, such as creating a book, a new business or a meaningful relationship.