Green with envy: how social media can increase jealousy
By Dr. Saliha Afridi, PsyD (US) on 23/03/2016

It’s not uncommon to get a visit from the little green-eyed monster every now and then. In fact, experts say it’s perfectly normal. It’s just that in recent years, thanks to the increasing popularity of social media, it is happening a little more than before.

“Jealousy is a very normal and instinctual feeling,” says Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist and managing director of The LightHouse Arabia. “It is a part of human nature. It is a feeling of resentment towards someone because of what they have and the attention they get.”

According to Afridi, the internet, technology, social media and globalisation have made us more connected and aware of what others are doing, and this can lead to comparative behaviour.

“The culture of consumerism also creates a void in us, making us feel that we are ‘less than’ or ‘not as whole’ if we don’t have the latest. Combine that with a plethora of images of people and events that trigger our deepest insecurities and we have a perfect recipe for pathological levels of envy and jealousy.”

Research has shown that for some people, feelings of this nature increase with the use of social media. “This is because before the popularity of social media we were comparing ourselves to our immediate social circle – our neighbours, friends, co-workers and others we came in contact with – but now, we are not only comparing ourselves to an airbrushed version of others, but also the pool of people that we can compare ourselves to is without boundaries, it’s worldwide, constant and endless,” says Afridi, who has been practising in Dubai since 2008 and holds a doctorate in clinical psychology from the Arizona School of Professional Psychology.

The explosion of smartphone technology and ever-growing number of social media offerings have made the anxiety around the so-called Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) phenomena an increasing social issue.

Studies show that this phenomenon, which is said to be most prevalent among the 18 to 33 age group, can take a negative toll on psychological health, leading to anxiety and depression.

“Feelings of jealousy can often be accompanied by feelings of deep insecurity, low self-esteem and fears of abandonment,” says Afridi, adding that it is an emotion that affects both men and women and is not a learnt behaviour or brought about by a personality trait.

A recent social-media study by researchers at the University of Michigan suggests that people tend to portray themselves in a dramatically favourable way and disclose positive life achievements on social media more often than negative information or setbacks. The study states: “Theoretically, continually exposing oneself to positive information about others should elicit envy, an emotion linked to lower well-being.”

Admiring someone and complimenting them rather than being jealous of them comes from a strong sense of self and believing in abundance rather than scarcity, says Afridi. As for its effect on relationships, apart from the obvious problem associated with checking phones constantly for social-media updates, research shows that social-media-induced jealousy in relationships is contributing to global divorce statistics.

So how do you control it? Experts say it’s best to monitor your feelings, put the social-media devices down and check yourself and the reality of life often. After all, it’s worth remembering that we don’t see the entirety of someone’s life on social media.

“Some jealousy is normal; other jealousy, which causes a strain on your life and your relationships is not,” says Afridi. “To address these high levels of jealousy, one has to first address the roots, the history and the underlying fears and, or, beliefs.”