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Why do we compare ourselves to others?

Do you ever find yourself making comparisons with others in life? Do you find yourself scrolling through social media and comparing your life to others and have you ever wondered how those comparisons can affect us all?

Life comparisons

Social media can sometimes present a view of life that we all know is unrealistic and curated but it doesn’t stop us from comparing our real lives to the virtual lives we see on social media.

It’s widely accepted that each and every one of us will compare ourselves to others at some point in our lives and experience the feelings that accompany those comparisons. Comparing ourselves to others can be a constant dialogue in our minds that can cause us real distress and we very rarely know everything we need to know about other peoples lives, so it's usually impossible to make accurate comparisons.

Comparisons aren’t always negative for us all.

Comparisons can be a self-protective force and can help us to judge if perhaps we could do something better. Looking at other people’s situations can help us to realise that there’s something we want to do in our own lives, and it can drive us forward and motivate us all to go after that for ourselves, if it’s something positive. Comparisons can help us all feel safe and give us a benchmark for our own lives, something to achieve.

Comparing ourselves to others can be about assessing ability and realising how strong we actually are. These are all positive aspects of comparing ourselves to others

Thinking about comparisons in this way could certainly help us to question why we are comparing ourselves, what we’re taking away from the act, and why it’s necessary for us in that moment. Curiosity around why a particular person’s situation makes us reflect upon our own life could lead to some insights as to how we’re coping, where we might feel stuck, want to grow, or indeed need help from others.

Analysing comparisons

So, how do we determine when comparisons are leading us to think about where we are and want to be, and when it’s simply become a stick to beat ourselves with?

Comparisons can become difficult when we use differences between our own lives and someone else’s life to make a statement about ourselves. For example, if we are feeling a bit low about our career and we see one of our friends celebrating a promotion at work, our automatic response might be to label ourselves as a failure because we are not where we want to be, and our friends success makes us feel like a failure. These types of comparisons are incredibly harmful for us all to make about ourselves and incredibly unhelpful.

In a split second, we’ve made a huge judgement about ourselves which is that we are a failure because our friend has been promoted. When we feel like this about ourselves, self-compassion and being kind to ourselves can be a great help. Each time we call ourselves a failure, whether internally or externally, we are chipping away at our self-confidence and self-esteem which makes us gradually feel more negatively about ourselves over time.

Each time we see an image or a post on social media it’s really important tell ourselves that it’s just a snapshot of someone’s life, it’s not a statement about who you are. When we see an image that affects us, we need to use our inner voice to dial down the noise and criticism that is created from the negative side of comparison and bring self-compassion to the front of our minds. This takes practice and an ability to able to question what we see.

Using our inner voice to be kind to ourselves can be hard sometimes, especially if we already feel vulnerable or tired, this is where friends and loved ones can help. If you are making negative comparisons about yourself then try turning to loved ones to ask them what they think. You could find that their positive view about you and your abilities could help you to feel more positively about yourself.

What can we do about comparisons?

Giving ourselves and others a break from self and societally imposed pressure, and acknowledging our humanity, are all positive steps towards feeling better about ourselves and moving away from making negative comparisons about ourselves. It’s true that, whatever stage of life we’re at and whoever we are, there will be times when we are all just finding our own way and struggling but if you try to choose self-compassion over negative comparison, every time then it can help us all to live a kinder life.

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