Have you ever looked at someone else – a movie star on a magazine cover, the woman in the mall, or had a thought about a coworker “why are they getting more recognition than me?” If you said ‘no’, I would challenge you. Let’s face it – we’ve all looked at someone and sized ourselves up to them. Some more than others.
Self-comparison is the ‘devil.’ It leads to a host of emotional problems which can lead to health problems, poor decisions, ineffective relationships, and a host of of other issues. Comparing yourself to someone else affects your self-esteem which leads to ineffectiveness in your daily life. Self-comparison has two sides:
- looking at someone else and thinking you’re not as good (measuring your worth)
- looking at someone and thinking you’re better than them (superiority)
Both of these options will bring you misery: the first will ultimately lead to feelings of anxiety and depression, while the second will can lead to being shunned by others who eventually feel #1. Both types of comparison are what keep people (you) from going after that promotion or starting/growing you own business. It just keeps you keeps you down.
Then the vortex comes as the next thoughts become beating yourself up for having these thoughts: “I know I shouldn’t think that Mary is prettier than me” or “I know I should have that promotion over Ted,” telling everyone you know. The more you think these thoughts, and keep saying them to yourself, the more embedded they become, now becoming your beliefs which are the hardest to change.
Why do we self-compare? Being visual creatures, we do take in the world based on our perceptions and interpretations of it, which can skew those interpretations. There is also the theory of social comparison, which states that we determine our own social and personal worth based on how we stack up against others (Psychology Today). Based on how we interpret those comparisons and how worthy we feel, this can determine if one is in envy, boastfulness, or feeling unworthy.
Another player in self-comparison goes back to somewhere in our youth and an incident we had, and the resulting stories told. Parents are usually the culprit – this is not a slam against them (heck, I’m one) but, in their quest to motivate, tend to make detrimental statements leading to comparison, i.e. “your brother behaves better than you; your sister gets good grades – why can’t you, etc. Hearing these types of statements can lead to self-reflection and a realization that you’re not ‘as good.’ That is if you interpret the situation as such.
This is why I say that self-comparison is the devil – one one hand, you compare, feeling bad about yourself, but then consciously know you shouldn’t. I say it’s like you have the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other – who do you listen to? The devil is strong but you are stronger. Didn’t Archangel Michael drive the Satan and his demons out of heaven?
Stopping self-comparison behavior wont be easy but it will be your step to emotional freedom:
- become more aware of your thoughts and feelings when you start to ‘feel’ bad/upset/anxious/sad as there are bases for them and a past event around a comparison. Understanding your feelings allows for improvement or change.
- check your thoughts – are they absolutely true? When you look at Mary and think she’s prettier than you, is that absolutely true, as you are seeing Mary from your own eye and is not reflective of every single person who looks at Mary. Challenging your thoughts gets you know looking at the situation from all sides.
- use thought-stopping – don’t even allow a comparison (or other negative) thought to proceed as this is when you begin to overthink, leading you down the ‘rabbit hole;’ say STOP or put a rubber band on your wrist, flicking it, to stop the thought but you need to…
- it’s not enough to just stop a thought, you need to replace it with a positive one so recognize your assets and accomplishments; they are there if you just acknowledge them. Every day, as you are writing your gratitude statements (you are, right?), write at least 3 accomplishments you’ve had, no matter how big or small. Include niceties that others have done for you.
- Be easy on yourself – would you tolerate your self-treatment, and self-talk, if it were your friend or a relative? I would think not so why do you think it’s ok for you? Indulge in activities that relax you or give you happiness, which could include hobbies you enjoy, creative outlets, or a bubble bath. Treating yourself well gives acknowledgement of your self-worth and raises self-esteem to some level, which is the start to overcoming this pattern.
You can use self-comparison to keep you down or you can use it as a motivator (yes, there is an upside); find something about the other person to aspire to and go after it. While you can’t change genetics to be as pretty as Mary, you can wear make-up or dress confidently so you can live in your own skin. Take control and drive out the devil ; stop self-comparison and live free.
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