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.

Author Bio:

Anthony Silard, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Leadership and the Director of the Center for Sustainable Leadership at Luiss Business School in Rome and the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Leadership at Tecnológico de Monterrey. He has provided leadership development coaching and training to thousands of CEOs and senior executives of Fortune 100 companies, small businesses, and the world’s largest nonprofits, including GE, Disney, Nokia, Bank of America, IBM, CARE, Save the Children, and the American Red Cross. He has also coached political leaders, including G-20 cabinet ministers.

Anthony has taught leadership at various universities around the world, including IESE Business School, Claremont McKenna College, California State University San Bernardino, the Monterrey Institute of Technology, INCAE Business School, and the International University of Catalonia and has lectured on leadership at Harvard, Stanford, Georgetown, the University of California at Berkeley, George Washington University, Cal Poly Pomona, and ESADE Business School. He has received numerous awards for his work, including Harvard’s Robert F. Kennedy Public Service Award, was named Visionary of the Year by the PBS series The Visionaries, and was featured at the Presidential Summit for America’s Future and America’s Promise.

Anthony holds a PhD in leadership from IESE Business School, which he received with First-Class/Excellent Distinction, a Master’s in Public Policy focused on leadership from Harvard University, and a BA from the University of California at Berkeley. He also served in the Peace Corps in Kenya for two years. Anthony is CEO of the Global Leadership Institute and President of the Center for Social Leadership. He lives with his wife and two children in California.

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