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Disconnected from reality, online or alone?

✍ By Subhash Chandra Sharma, 17th March, 2023

Individuals do not have the ownership of their own content while using social media.
Individuals do not have the ownership of their own content while using social media.

Disconnected from reality, online or alone?

With social media, there are no boundaries and no limits.  Social media has created a mythic world where everyone exists solely within the boundaries of their digital persona. There is no way one can verify what the other person’s real motive, intention and personality is. Validation has become a need which keeps most our youths alive in today’s world. Parenting styles, competitive society, insecurity, childhood trauma all together turn an individual so dependent on external validation that they start feeling that life is not worth if they are not constantly validated. The burdensome dependency on external validation and a lack of it many times leads to severe anxiety and decrease in self-worth. This need for unprecedented desire for validation also comes from the idea that one can control what others think of us using social media. The likes, dislikes, comments and praise that one receives through social media many times play pathological level of nostalgia. Validation is not entirely an unhealthy human need. The need for validation is something we all struggle with. But to depend on it and seek it all the time externally and then losing the ability to self-validate and feel content with oneself leads to suffering. Disconnected from reality, we spend most of our time trying to get someone else to acknowledge our existence, and this desire then becomes a basis for us to feel safe and secure in our own skin keeping us so engaged that we sometimes lose the real goal of our life to become a self-reliant, content, and self-dependent happy individuals. But how is this possible to live in a world consumed by virtual reality and the constant bombarding of images of self-worth through social media?

Fear of missing out (FoMO) is a unique term introduced in 2004 to describe a phenomenon observed on social networking sites. FoMO includes two processes; firstly, perception of missing out, followed up with a compulsive behavior to maintain these social connections. It is associated with a range of negative life experiences and feelings, due to it being considered a problematic attachment to social media. We have provided a general review of the literature and have summarized the findings in relation to mental health, social functioning, sleep, academic performance and productivity, neuro-developmental disorders, and physical well-being1.  Due to the fear of missing out (FoMO), we tend to feel anxious, viewing others have a rewarding experience believing that other people are living better, more satisfying lives or that important opportunities are being missed. FOMO is usually exclusively caused due to social media and the unrealistic standards social media has set upon adolescents and teenagers in recent times which makes it hard for us to believe that we are accepted by others. We all strongly desire to be accepted by our friends, family members, and even strangers on the internet. But why do we need validation and a feeling of acceptance from other people when we have already accepted ourselves? Why do we crave approval from others when we know that we are accepted and seen as an individual? Well, there are many reasons for this craving for validation from others such as feeling special or being acknowledged for our efforts or accomplishments. The need for others to see you as competent, useful, and worthy of respect and love is universal. We want to be validated by our peers in order to feel like we belong somewhere. We want to feel accepted by other people so that we can feel like we are not alone in the world. We seek approval from others because it makes us feel good about ourselves. We expect to be validated by our peers so that we can feel good about ourselves and believe that we have value within the community. 

Studies have shown that social media use is associated with an increased risk of low self-esteem problems. This is due in part to the unrealistic beauty standards perpetuated on social media, as well as the constant comparison and “grass is always greener” mentality that it can foster. Social comparison theory suggests that people value their own personal and social worth by assessing how they compare to others. This theory has shown that people who regularly compare themselves to others may experience feelings of deep dissatisfaction, guilt, or remorse, and engage in destructive behaviours like self-harm or disordered eating.  Filters and editing tools can also contribute to a distorted perception of self, negative comments or cyberbullying, which can have a devastating impact on self-esteem. According to a survey taken in 2021, teen users who use beauty filters are more likely to desire plastic surgery. These filters are rooted in western beauty standards: some lighten our skin, make our noses smaller, and even change our body shape. The use of filters reinforces narrow beauty standards and creates false personas on social media platforms. It’s because of this that teenagers feel more confident on social media than in real life due to the use of filters. Research has also shown that social media use is associated with decreased levels of empathy and increased levels of depression and anxiety. This is due in part to the way that social media encourages us to compare ourselves to others, leading to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. In addition, the constant stream of negativity and drama that is often present on social media can take a toll on our mental health and well-being.

Social media is a sneaky little medium that hurts. The girl at the lunch table doesn’t yet know she’s the target of criticism from the other kids at the same table. She doesn’t know that her face is being flashed around the world in a moment of hate and judgment, for no reason other than for “fun”. The girl at the lunch table has never heard of a “reputation killer,” “reputation shaper” or “reputation pruner.” She doesn’t know what all these words mean, because she hasn’t been taught to think about herself in this way.

But now, when she goes home from school and turns on her phone, there is a snapshot of her face and body, taken by an aggressive stranger with an iPhone who has no right to be doing this to anyone—much less a child. Growing up in a society that constantly made her feel that she’s not enough, it’s no wonder that the little girl now has difficulty accepting herself. She hates herself because she knows that she’s never good enough. She can’t stand the way she looks in the mirror, and she’s disgusted with herself for even thinking that she might be attractive. She has a feeling that this will last for years to come, and it’s hard to be happy when she knows she will be feeling like this all the time. 

 One of the key ways that social media can impact emotional well-being and self-esteem is through feelings of loneliness and social isolation. While social media is meant to connect us with others, it can also have the opposite effect by encouraging us to retreat into our own virtual worlds. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and disconnection from others, especially when we spend more time interacting with screens than with real people. It’s tough to be told that our worth as human being is always in question, that we’re not good enough to be loved and valued, or that we need to improve on something about ourselves. It’s even more complicated when we’re constantly bombarded with images of beauty and perfection, which can make us feel like there’s always something “wrong” about who we are.

Despite the fact that everyone is aware of the brutal reality of this Virtual world, the number of victims is bound to rise.  And hence, the cycle will continue to live on. 


  1. Gupta M, Sharma A. Fear of missing out: A brief overview of origin, theoretical underpinnings and relationship with mental health. World J Clin Cases. 2021;9(19):4881-4889. doi:10.12998/wjcc.v9.i19.4881
  • Subhash Chandra Sharma

    Centre for Mental Health and Counseling Service – Nepal (CMCS-Nepal) is founded by a multidisciplinary team of psychologist, psychiatrist, management & development experts with their extensive hands-on-experiences, nationally and internationally.

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