By: Rachel Goldsmith, AMFT, MS
For most of us, from a young age we are taught – either directly or indirectly – that we know we are good, right, or valuable if our actions or personal characteristics are in line with those around us. We compare ourselves against classmates and co-workers, social and cultural norms, what is portrayed in the media, and based on what our family legacies tell us we ought to do or who we should be. Sometimes, these comparisons are helpful in the sense that they create some limits and goalposts for us to orient ourselves toward, but when we consistently feel inadequate or as though we are not good enough, comparisons are debilitating.
Most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, can recognize when we are judging ourselves against others. We are all guilty of it. We strive to “keep up with the Jones’” and punish ourselves when we do not measure up. This becomes a game of sorts – letting other people and other people’s values define our self-worth and happiness for us. We scramble to become something we think we should be, push against ourselves, and when we fall short we tell ourselves we have lost. We say harsh and critical things to ourselves. We all have the ability to expend a great deal of time and energy playing this comparison game.
What would it be like to find some freedom from the constant comparisons? Although it may seem daunting – perhaps impossible! – to limit how much you compare yourself to others, it is possible to be more self-guided and less self-judgmental. Here are a few steps you can take right now to help you get out of the comparison game.
- Be mindful of “should”. For one week, keep track of how often you say to yourself, either out loud or in your head, “I should be/be able…” or “I should have…” These kinds of statements reveal how we compare ourselves to something else, be that a person, an ideal, a cultural standard, etc. Are you saying “should” a lot? What does it feel like after you think or say it? If you end up feeling anxious, worthless, or guilty, it is a good sign that you could benefit from backing off from the comparisons.
- Explore your values. Sometimes when we lose track of what matters most to us, like our values and core beliefs, we are more vulnerable to comparing ourselves with others. Take some time to clarify your beliefs and values. Doing this will help you develop your own compass that will guide your direction in life, hopefully replacing the urge to find meaning in your life by measuring yourself against what you see around you.
- Practice mindfulness. Sit quietly for a few moments, focusing only on your breathing. Turning inward like this, attending only to the sound and feeling of your breath, can cultivate more love and appreciation for yourself just as you are – no comparisons needed.
- Redirect comparison to appreciation. Appreciate that you are different or that others are different you. Celebrate diversity and change. When you can subtract judgment from your comparison of yourself to others, you will be able to find more love for yourself (and others!).
- Focus on the positives. Comparison often brings with it self-criticism and judgment, the net effect of which is that we feel negative about ourselves and focus on what we perceive to be our downfalls. Take time each and every day to focus on what is positive and good in your life. Write these things down, update the list every day, and put it somewhere of prominence in your home.
- Limit your judgment of others. In a paradoxical way, when we judge others, we in some ways give ourselves permission to judge ourselves as well. It sends a message to ourselves that it is okay to be critical and evaluative rather than accepting and tolerant.
- Remind yourself that you only know half of the story. It is easy to assume that someone else has the perfect job, the perfect body, or the perfect relationship. But think about it: Do you reveal every aspect of your life to people around you? No. Just as you (rightly) conceal the parts of your life that you are not proud of or put on your best face when at work, so do others around you. Given that this is the case, remind yourself that you probably are not seeing the whole picture when you compare yourself to someone else.
If you would like to learn more about how you can break free from the often debilitating comparison game, contact us today to see how we can help.