Becoming Aware of Self Comparison: Is Comparing Yourself Hurting You?
Whenever I compare myself to others, it usually leaves me feeling bad. Rarely does it leave me feeling good.
Feeling good is when Iâ€™m comparing myself to someone I admire and respect. They have demonstrable traits that I can learn from. They are healthy examples for me. They are visual representations of whatâ€™s admirable and an aspiration. Who they are does not make me feel like Iâ€™m less or that Iâ€™m not good enough.Â
The times I feel bad are when Iâ€™m comparing myself to someone who I donâ€™t even relate to.
Here’s what I mean: Superficially, I may relate to the person. For example, say they identify as a female, like I do.Â Or say they identify as a woman and a Latina, again like I do. Or say they are a similarly aged latina woman… This could be 🤩🤩 Eva Mendes! Yeah. Iâ€™m comparing myself to the model and business woman, Eva Mendes (who’s married to Ryan Gosling).Â
I scroll through her images and think, “why canâ€™t I be as beautiful or as successful as she is?” “Hey Girl, why canâ€™t I be married to Mr. Handsome Movie Star Ryan Gosling?” “Why is my life this one and not that one?”
I soo wish I could have her life! If only…
Hold on. Alert! This is what falling into a comparison trap starts to look like and nah, nope; it doesn’t feel so good. 😵
Can you relate, Courageous One?
If Iâ€™m honest, I really donâ€™t see myself in Eva Mendes except for on the surface level. She’s a woman, sheâ€™s Latina, sheâ€™s around the same age as me and obviously a big fan of Ryan Gosling; I am too. 🥰 But know what? Thatâ€™s about it. So why am I comparing myself to her?
Why do we compare ourselves?
The science says that we compare ourselves to know how we measure up. Basically, it’s to know how weâ€™re doing.
Thereâ€™s this theory in social psychology. Itâ€™s called Social Comparison Theory and it was brought forth by this 1954 psychologist named Leon Festinger. He hypothesized that we have this basic need to evaluate ourselves because at the root of it, weâ€™re trying to manage uncertainty and weâ€™re trying to define ourselves.
The theory proposes that we canâ€™t define ourselves without being in relation to someone else. It basically says that we actually need other people to help us define who we are.
With regards to uncertainty, weâ€™re trying to reduce it, because we really donâ€™t like uncertainty. Doing the research helps us reduce the uncertainty of how weâ€™re doing and so we evaluate ourselves against others for the data.Â Â
We all have this drive; it’s an element of the brainâ€™s social cognition network and it can be traced to an evolutionary need to protect ourselves and assess threats.
Hereâ€™s the way I see it. Weâ€™re all trying to control our lives and circumstances in order to protect ourselves and stay on guard of any potential threats to our sense of safety.
In daily modern life, one way we do this is by comparing ourselves to other people in order to know where we stand.Â Can you imagine that? When you make comparisons of yourself, the root of it is that you’re attempting to protect yourself and stay on guard. How human of us!
In the areas where we feel uncertainty, we evaluate how we measure up. When we assess the “threatâ€, weâ€™re actually assessing how well weâ€™re doing compared to others. We gather the data because then weâ€™re able to define ourselves. For example, “if Eva Mendes can have a baby at 40, I can too. I’m not less fertile than she is…I’m active, I’m youthful, I’m healthy. I’m OK. I’m good to go.” See that?
- I’m gathering data through comparing myself to somebody else and now
- I’m able to define myself.
Wait, so Iâ€™m not the only one comparing myself? What a relief 😌.
I’ve been feeling bad about the social comparison that I do. Iâ€™ve considered it an embarrassing personality trait that I could never rise above. And oh how easily my mind slips into that mode! Ugh 😞. I hate the yucky feelings that come with comparing oneself. Theyâ€™re so disempowering. For example, deep down you think you don’t have what they have so because of that you feel like a failure.
How true is this? I know you know what I mean.
I must say though, learning that we all compare ourselves to others and that itâ€™s pretty much something built into us has been useful to me in creating more awareness around when I do it. That awareness tells me that although it may be something built in, I donâ€™t need to feed it.Â Especially if it doesn’t serve me.
Think about it for just a sec. When was the last time you became aware that you were comparing yourself? What if …
It may have been only yesterday that you checked out someone else’s craft work and thought, “If only I could have fill- in-the-blank, then I would be so awesome.â€ (As though you arenâ€™t now) Or…
Another time, you look at someoneâ€™s social media post about how amazing their career is right when youâ€™re smack dab in the trenches of questioning your own career path. (But everyoneâ€™s path is unique)
Maybe recently you learn that a friend of yours is so excited about their newly purchased Tesla â€¦ and youâ€™re still driving a fossil fueled car thatâ€™s more than 5 years old. (Maybe itâ€™s not a Tesla, but itâ€™s good to have wheels when you need them)
How great do you feel in those moments?
Chances are you feel reduced in some way. It can be a subtle feeling, too. You start out genuinely interested in how someone is doing. You check in or reach out. You feel good about the spark of connection. Weâ€™re social beings, right? Youâ€™re being social.
Then as you listen to, read or watch their latest updates, it’s a bunch of â€œSooo great! Soooo fun! Sooo amazing!â€ stuff from them. And youâ€™re left with this kind of starry-eyed but punched in the chest feeling.Â How can everyone else’s life be so perfect and not yours?
That wholesome feeling you started out with quickly sinks down into another sensation –a less vibrant one. 🥴 You may not even notice because it’s so subtle, but there’s a shift in your energy. You feel a bit low and you end up wishing you hadnâ€™t bothered to reach out or check in.
Try to answer this honestly: Has comparing yourself ever thrown you off balance? I mean like where you start to feel unhappy with your life, your journey or your self? Has it ever made you feel like you were not enough?Â Â
With the rise of social media, social comparison is rampant. Itâ€™s important to our wellness to be aware that social media actually facilitates the comparing of ourselves. It makes it easier and even addictive to do. It can get to the point of being toxic.Â When you compare yourself to others, youâ€™re not being kind to yourself.Â When you’re doing it A LOT, it’s toxic.
Comparing yourself is harmful to your well-being.
Iyanla Vanzant says, â€œComparison is an act of violence against the selfâ€. The comparison trap makes you feel bad about who you are and where you are on your path. It makes you feel like youâ€™re not measuring up and therefore, youâ€™re not good enough. This is damaging to your self-esteem. It leads to self doubt and feeling insecure. Your self-confidence diminishes and you start to resent the person youâ€™re comparing yourself to.Â
â€œComparison is the death of joyâ€ – Mark Twain
Yes, we all do it. We all compare ourselves. Still, we need to understand that falling into the comparison trap stands in the way of our spiritual well-being. It holds us back from being able to experience the joy that’s there for us in the present moment, wherever we find ourselves.
Your spiritual wellness is your fountain of life force, Courageous One. You must look after it. You don’t need to feel bad about yourself. With this perspective, if youâ€™re serious about feeling good and being well, there can be a healing space created.
The healing space that’s created is between You, the one making the comparisons and You, the observer of that behavior. Space is important because you can give yourself a chance to slow down whatâ€™s happening. You can observe that youâ€™re engaging in comparisons and you can check in with how itâ€™s making you feel.
You can slow down even more and create healthy options for yourself, such as: Being actively aware youâ€™re comparing yourself and see it for what it is. Thereâ€™s no judging or hooking into it. You simply move on like clouds passing in the sky. Or you can ask yourself, “can making this comparison be something positive for me? How so?”
â€œA flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just bloomsâ€ – Zen Shin
In other words, Courageous One, you have everything you need within yourself to walk the path thatâ€™s uniquely yours. Like flowers that just bloom, you can too. God made you enough. Itâ€™s not necessary to compare yourself to find out how to define and measure yourself.