The Approval and Comparison Trap

A Common Social Media Pitfall

When was the last time you posted on social media? If I had to guess, it’s somewhat recent. According to a recent Forbes article I read, a whopping 4.9 million people worldwide use social media. In the U.S. the average person has 7.1 accounts and spends an average of 145 minutes a day on various social media platforms. So, chances are, it’s not been too long since you’ve scrolled your newsfeed and posted your last family picture that represents your version of perfection.  

That may sound a little condescending, but it’s not… it’s just the truth. I’m as guilty as the next person. I fall into the social media trap just like everyone else. On any given day I too can be caught mindlessly scrolling, becoming zombie-like as I read and examine people’s lives I am “friends” with, but really don’t know at all. In fact, if I’m “friends” with you on social media, I may intrinsically know the details of your last beach vacation, but not necessarily know you if I see you in public. At times, we can be "connected" yet completely disconnected. To prove my point, walk down the street and see how many people you actually make eye contact with. The most eye contact we often make is with our screen, not with each other.  

I’ve thought about social media a good deal over the past couple of years, especially given the fact that it is one of the primary marketing tools my husband Lindsey and I use for our combined three businesses. It may seem as if I am knocking social media a bit here, but in all reality, it has its perks and advantages and I understand that fully. What I want to point out is not the fact that we have marketing tools and techniques at our fingertips and within the comfort of our homes, or that it helps us stay connected with people we might not otherwise. What I’d like to propose is that for some of us, social media might suggest something we ought to be aware of- the need for approval and the tendency to compare.  

Approval is not a bad thing, when used in moderation. Yes, that sounds like I’m talking about a favorite dessert, but that’s the best way I can put it. By this I mean, we need to raise our awareness of how important the approval of others, especially those we don’t truly know, is to us.  

For example, do you often find yourself monitoring likes, hearts, and comments when you make a post? Again, guilty as charged here. I do it too. We all post, and then periodically check to see how our post is performing. The latest selfie, family collage, or thoughtful reflection we share… we like to see how it’s being received. When we see the likes increasing, we immediately get a little high. There is actual science behind this temporary high- it’s called a dopamine surge. In this case, our brain produces dopamine (a feel-good hormone) because seeing more likes gives us that happy, high little feeling. Things other than social media can of course trigger a dopamine surge, such as eating our favorite meal, winning something, or having a pleasant experience of any kind. The thing to note about a dopamine surge is while it gives us a great inner feeling, it can be something we begin to crave and even become addicted to, meaning we are drawn more and more to whatever activity is causing it.  

Okay, fine. You might be thinking, “What’s wrong with that?”. What is wrong with feeling a little happy and high? Well, not really anything, again, if done in moderation, but herein lies the problem. The approval seeking through our posts can often become a bit addictive because again, the approval is the trigger for the dopamine. We can become wrapped up in a newsfeed world and disconnected from the people around us- the ones whose approval really matters. Moderation can often go right out the window.  

If you think back, from a very young age we all seek approval. As young children we naturally want to feel approved of and loved by our parents. This innate desire is embedded in our DNA. This is often why children immediately say, “Look what I can do!” when they learn something new… they are seeking approval.  

While this desire is completely natural, I feel it’s something we must be aware of, especially given the world we live in.  

Why? Because constant approval seeking can move us farther and farther away from our authentic selves. It can also drive us into a deep comparison mindset. If you think about it, everyone posts their best on social media. Their best selfies, their best kid pictures, their best house pictures, and their best vacation pictures. Logically we know and understand that this is not an accurate representation of their full life, but emotions and feelings can dilute logic. If we are unaware, we can quickly become someone who is always comparing ourselves and our life to everyone else who we perceive “has it better.” This is an extremely unhealthy mindset that can lead to many other problematic issues.  

I’ll give you a personal example. When my kids were little, probably around the age of eight and four years old, I found myself being sucked into this trap. I was “friends” with a woman on Facebook who had children similar in age to mine. At first, I found her posts cute and likeable, but as time went on, they began to really sabotage my mindset. For every holiday, like even the small ones (Valentines’ Day, St. Patrick’s Day) she would do elaborate, holiday themed breakfasts for her children. She would post pictures of the décor, the color coordinated snacks and treats, and even the perfectly matched outfits her entire family would wear, at like 8 in the morning! It was a lot to say the least.  

Now, she wasn’t hurting anyone, and certainly wasn’t setting out to make anyone feel inadequate, but that’s exactly what happened in my mind after about two months of observing her frequent “Family Circle” like posts. I felt completely inadequate as a mother of two young children in the moments I was examining every detail of her posts. I remember feeling guilty that I had not done something like this for my kids, that I needed to put forth more effort, that her family looked perfect, which automatically made me begin to find the flaws within my own.  

Again, feelings and emotions often dilute logic.  

And this all highlights my point. The element of approval and comparison is often embedded in our social media engagement. Sometimes we realize this, and sometimes we don't. Approval and comparison can disrupt the mind in a big way if we don’t self-monitor. If we don’t recognize and then reframe when our mind begins to spiral down the rabbit trail that social media can sometimes activate.  

So, what’s the take-away? Get off all social media! Haha, no… for most of us that’s an unrealistic option, and again, social media is not all bad… there are many benefits to it like again, being able to stay in touch with people you might not be able to otherwise. For example, I have a private Facebook prayer group of nearly 1,000 people that I connect with and pray with often. If it weren’t for social media, this would not be possible.  The take-away for me is to realize that social media is something I enjoy, find useful, and can produce much benefit; the key is to use this technology in a beneficial, productive, and positive way, and to raise our awareness of the possible pitfalls. If I login and allow myself to mindlessly scroll and then start feeling that approval, comparison or even judgement mindset come in, I need to be mindful enough to say, “I need a break from this. This is not helping me.” and then go do something else. This is mind-discipline, and we need to use it.  

Lastly, the point of all points I want to make here is the ultimate approval we should consistently seek is God’s. No matter what you are doing, good or bad, there will always be nay-sayers. There will always be critics. There will always be someone who is better than you. This is simply a fact. If you chase the approval of others all your life and constantly compare, you will only end up with one thing, and this is complete discontentment. We live in a people-pleasing, approval-hungry society, and this is simply an empty pursuit.  

Galatians 1:10 says, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” In this verse, Paul clearly points out that it is the approval of God we should chase after, not that of people.  

Clearly, this is all easier said than done. Again, I too fall into this common mind trap!! We all do, but this is not about perfection, and this is not about never desiring the approval of others. We are human and this is all natural. The point is to raise our awareness and work to avoid the pitfalls, if we find ourselves falling into them. 

So, then next time you’re scrolling, and you find yourself seeking approval and/or comparing, remind yourself of a few things. 

  • First, the approval of a random Facebook friend at the end of the day, is not necessarily the most important thing. Put your phone down and reconnect with those important people around you. Don’t get sucked into the newsfeed vacuum. 
  • Secondly, use social media and technology but again, do so in moderation. Take breaks from the screen. 
  • Lastly, above all else, remember that the best “friend” you can ever have, and one who will supply you with all you need, doesn’t care about the lighting in your selfie or about the color coordinated outfits in your family photo. He only cares about winning your heart. There is no judgment or comparison with Him and when you seek Him in all you do, the approval is instant and endless.
The Essence of Life