Written by: Janine Canaday, LPC, LCPC
Suzie is a senior in high school and has a 4.2GPA, is captain of the cheerleading team, dates the school’s star basketball player and is expected to attend an Ivy League college in the fall. She genuinely has a kind heart, enjoys rescuing puppies and volunteering at the local nursing home. You think, Suzie has it made. She has everything going for her and is a far better person than you will ever be. You make B average grades, are ranked 3rd on your tennis team and are awaiting to attend one of the best schools in your state. You have a magnetic personality, are very artistic and know how to play the guitar. But, your grades are not like hers, you do not have a popular boyfriend like she does and you feel like a failure. You spend a good portion of your day thinking about all of the ways that she and other girls like her have it better than you. You have fallen into the trap of self-comparison.
This trap is big, sharp and it sucks. It pokes at you and constantly reminds you of where you think you fall short. It makes you feel deficient and inadequate. Society has strategically placed many of these traps in places or situations that you frequent such as social media, magazines, school, work, restaurants, billboards, movies, television, music, social gatherings and so on. Our minds are constantly being bombarded with images and messages on what is considered ideal, top of the line or acceptable. Anything less than that is not good enough. When you are confronted with so many opportunities to compare who you are and what you have, it is hard not to internalize the feelings of “less than” or “lack.” In the end, comparing yourself to others only validates the insecurities, self-doubt and fear that resides within.
Over time, you may start to notice that your mind looks for reasons to compare in order to prove the negative and irrational thoughts that you created about yourself. The reality is though, self-comparison is completely unfair to you. It causes you to focus on certain characteristics about a person that only paint part of the picture of who that person is. Yes, Suzie may be great in some areas, but that does not diminish the areas that you really shine in. We all have our strengths and areas of improvement which do not make us better or less than each other.
Society tries to enforce a greater than/less than model of living when we should strive towards embracing the idea that there is room for everybody at the table. We all have something to contribute, learn, teach and share. This is what makes each of us unique, valuable, purposeful and special.
Focusing on where you think other people shine blocks your ability to see your own light.
How do I stop falling in the trap of self-comparison? I’m glad you asked.
1. Become Aware. Self-awareness is half the battle. You are one step closer to overcoming this struggle when you can recognize that you are placing inaccurate judgment on yourself based on the unfair ideals of society. Pay close attention to your self-talk and inner critic. Be mindful of what you are feeding your mind and soul.
2. Look Within. Define your self-worth based on what you know to be true about who you are. Take inventory of the progress you have made, the last few chapters of your story or the season of life you just powered through. Focus on the strengths you possess, the value you add and the improvements you want to continue to make. It is only a fair comparison when it is against yourself.
3. Minimize Triggers. If you know that social media or certain magazines/shows/places trigger feelings of inferiority or inadequacy, minimize the amount of time that you spend in those areas. Replace that time with more productive ways of thinking, habits, and behaviors. Spend the time focusing on building yourself up and working towards your goals.
4. Accept Imperfection. We all have flaws. No one is perfect. Someone who appears to have it all also has her own set of challenges and struggles. It is ok. Show yourself some compassion. Embrace your challenges and celebrate your wins. They are unique to you and are what sets you apart from everyone else.
Life is not a competition. It is a journey. Define your own path.
If you or anyone that you know struggles with self-comparison, low self-esteem, depression or anxiety, please seek support from a trusted individual. If you would like more information on how I can help you to better manage the challenges in your life, please contact me!