People with anxiety and low self-esteem using Facebook as an 'emotional crutch'
Adults using Facebook may be exacerbating relationship insecurities and heightening intimacy issues.
People with low self-esteem or experiencing high levels of anxiety, stress or depression can become dependent on the social media platform when they face relationship difficulties, a new study shows.
This can result in individuals using Facebook in problematic ways such as compulsively looking at others' photos, over-sharing personal information and posting heavily filtered selfies.
Researchers at NUI Galway found people with "attachment anxiety" and "attachment avoidance" may rely on Facebook as an emotional crutch.
Attachment anxiety is a fear of rejection and can result in people becoming overly dependent or needy in personal relationships.
Facebook users living with attachment anxiety were more likely to engage in social comparison - trawling through other people's pages and comparing their online persona to that of their peers.
They also had a tendency to post highly emotional status updates and disclose personal information on Facebook when in a heightened emotional state.
Attachment avoidance refers to those who wish to avoid intimacy and closeness in personal relationships. Using Facebook allows these individuals to connect and establish relationships but in a controlled environment.
Those with attachment avoidance were more likely to engage in "impression management". This could involve photo-shopping pictures to create a positive self-image, while concealing aspects of themselves they fear may not be acceptable to others.
The creation of an idealised online identity that is likely to be validated in the form of "likes" may bolster confidence.
However, Dr Sally Flynn, lead author of the study which is published in the 'BMC Psychology' journal, said this was a short-term gain.
"People have a moment of connect and that can feel fulfilling," Dr Flynn said. "But it may not truly satisfy an individual's fundamental attachment needs and could exacerbate insecurities."
Individuals with attachment avoidance were also more likely to use the site intrusively, so that it had a detrimental impact on their offline relationships.
Dr Flynn said she did not want to demonise Facebook use or pathologise users.
"The site can be hugely helpful to people but we want people to think about how they use the site and reflect on how they feel after using it," she said.
"If they feel anxious or the way they use it exacerbates insecurities they need to adapt."
According to the authors of the study - which surveyed 700 adults - it may be important for mental health professionals to take their clients' social media habits into consideration.