Social media is now rooted at the center of both our personal and professional lives. Apps like Instagram, LinkedIn, and X are all tools used to pass the time and keep up with friends as well as build our professional brands. Being able to navigate social media effectively is a key part of attracting new business and securing personal opportunities. However, this powerful capacity comes with some well documented downsides. It’s no secret that too much time spent on social media is a bad thing, and unregulated access can be damaging to our mental health. At OKA, we are passionate about Emotional Intelligence and how we can use it to become the best versions of ourselves. Social media can be a valuable tool, but it can have some potentially negative effects on our Emotional Intelligence if we are not careful. Here are 4 key ways that social media can strain our Emotional Intelligence, and how to set healthy boundaries for scrolling online.
“Emotional Intelligence,” has become a buzzword or phrase these days that can mean whatever the speaker wants it to mean. When we at OKA discuss Emotional Intelligence, we are typically referring to the model beneath the well-researched and validated EQ-i2.0. The EQ-i is a self-assessment which measures our engagement level and consistency with 16 separate behaviors. In this article, I’ve picked 4 of these EQ behaviors which social media most directly influences: Self-Regard, Assertiveness, Empathy, and Reality Testing. I will quickly mention what each of these elements means and how each appears in our daily lives – and the ways in which social media interacts and twists these behaviors.
Self-Regard is the tendency and willingness to respect and like yourself. It is about accepting your strengths and weaknesses while still fundamentally believing you are a good, likeable person. It is associated with feelings of inner-strength and self-confidence.
Social media, across all different networks and sites, is a known threat to Self-Regard. Facebook, one of the most significant and well-known social media platforms, began – shallowly – as a tool used to rank and compare the
physical attractiveness of female students on Harvard’s campus. If you’ve used social media in the past 10 years, there’s a good chance that you’ve compared yourself to others at least a handful of times. It’s hard not to! People tend to post only the highlights of their life – the best pictures of their family’s vacation, a post about successfully losing weight, someone securing a new job, or publishing a new book. Even when people post their “failures,” they typically only mention failure and how it directly led to a success. “I had my book rejected by publishers a dozen times,” says someone who finally got their book published.
Active and healthy Self-Regard can be a valuable skill while using social media. Low Self-Regard allows us to sit in jealousy and self-consciousness, drained of our self-esteem. Healthy Self-Regard helps us recognize that other peoples’ wins are not our losses! Everyone’s journey is unique, and focusing on your own situation helps grow a basis for self-confidence. High Self-Regard doesn’t allow room for comparison to others, because you’re already likeable and worthwhile on your own. Being able to view others’ wins without comparing yourself to them makes social media (and the world) a more comfortable place. Self-Regard is a foundational element of Emotional Intelligence and an absolute requirement for positive, healthy social media usage.
Assertiveness is the tendency and willingness to communicate your thoughts and beliefs openly. It also involves defending personal rights and values. That can be something as simple as dinner plans, or as serious as large political movements. It is a measurement of how likely we are to communicate our thoughts on something.
In the lens of Emotional Intelligence, high engagement with an element is generally seen as a good thing. However, there are consequences to too much engagement. Social media is almost entirely founded on the idea of more Assertiveness. The core of social media is to post – to share with others. Share thoughts, share perspectives, share your “hot takes,” share pictures – just share. There are never any limits or warnings about sharing too much. Once algorithms became commonplace on social media platforms, it practically became necessary to post on a regular schedule. Consistent quantity rules over quality on most sites. Using social media without intentional boundaries can make Assertiveness a habit for us. It makes us more likely to share than to listen, and those habits creep into our normal day-to-day interactions. Having a healthy openness and honesty online is fine, but sometimes the quest for social media engagement can cause us to engage Assertiveness more than is healthy.
Like any EQ-i element, too much Assertiveness can have negative consequences. It can mean interjecting yourself into situations that have nothing to do with you, or constantly making your thoughts and values the topic of discussion. Social media is a necessary and useful tool to build your professional brand – but be wary of the times where you are sharing without having something substantive to say! Watching our Assertiveness is key to responsible and healthy social media usage.
Empathy is recognizing, understanding, and appreciating how other people feel. Empathy involves being able to articulate your own understanding of someone else’s perspective – to genuinely prove that you understand and care about where someone else is coming from.
Social media and Empathy have a contentious relationship—mainly because it is so easy to dismiss someone’s perspective online, where human connection and real interaction hardly ever happen. Social media is how many people stay informed and get their news. It’s common to have people read headlines and not look any further than that. We’ve all done this at some point. However, social media has become how so many of us learn new things, which has created so much room for miscommunication and active misinformation. It’s impossible to treat every social media interaction we have like a real conversation with another person. If you don’t agree with what someone is saying, it is easy to assume the worst in them, argue back, or to ignore them altogether. When so many people stay informed using social media, it’s very easy to stop actively searching for others’ opinions and trying to learn alternative perspectives.
Most social media platforms do not incentivize Empathy. Empathy is an active and intentional curiosity about someone else’s perspective. Social media interactions make it very easy to turn human beings into words on a screen, and easier to objectify or ignore. I am not suggesting people who use social media have low Empathy; rather that social media trains people to interact without Empathy. Other people online may still be acting unreasonably, rudely, or ignorantly – but that is not a reason to let your Empathy atrophy. Maintaining healthy relationships requires Empathy, and too much social media can make you jaded and forget how to connect authentically. Healthy Empathy on social media does not mean considering every single perspective you see, but it does mean understanding when your social media habits are creeping into your real-life relationships.
Reality Testing is the tendency and willingness to remain objective and see things as they really are. This means actively questioning your own personal biases, emotions, and perspectives—and doing objective research to find the truth.
This is the key—and probably most lacking—Emotional Intelligence element that interacts with social media. All the other elements we’ve discussed – Self-Regard, Assertiveness, and Empathy – are heavily influenced by how strong our Reality Testing is when faced with social media. The internet makes it easier to access information than any time in human history. It also makes it virtually impossible to avoid misinformation, partial truths, and blatant lies. It is so easy to fall into an echo chamber. Powerful advertising agencies and organizations are constantly vying for your attention, your vote, and your money! Even normal, well-meaning people can create false narratives and be manipulated. It can be as simple as seeing your friends out on the town together and thinking, “They purposefully didn’t invite me. They must not like me.” Social media also makes large-scale political events more accessible, but harder to stay truly informed on. Maintaining a critical perspective, and never taking information for granted is more important than ever. We’ve all been taught not to believe everything we see on the Internet – but sometimes we can forget to hold the magnifying glass to ourselves and our own beliefs and biases.
Reality Testing enables us to use social media to its fullest, while avoiding its pitfalls. It is about actively questioning our own perspectives and avoiding the creation of personal narratives and assumptions. “Those people agree with me; we must be right! Those people disagree with me; they must be idiots!” This thinking may sound silly when said out loud, but unless we actively question ourselves, we are all capable of that level of thinking. Sticking to tangible facts, doing research, questioning your own narrative and points of view are keys to avoiding the pitfalls of social media.
Social media is hard to avoid, and there aren’t necessarily benefits to completely shutting it out. People can plugged into and informed about their areas of interest. Relationships with friends and family can be maintained over great distances. Career opportunities are enabled through positive social media engagement. However, using social media without proper guidelines or boundaries causes bad habits that are toxic to our Emotional Intelligence. By recognizing behaviors in others and ourselves, we can act intentionally and work to bring our best selves to our lives online. If you are interested in learning more about Emotional Intelligence, please reach out! OKA has been an expert in the Emotional Intelligence field for over 20 years and would love to help you or your organization develop better habits. Learn more about OKA at www.oka-online.com, or contact our Vice President directly at firstname.lastname@example.org