You’ve probably heard the term “comparing yourself to others” at some point. But what does it mean? It can be tempting to compare yourself to others because you want to be like them, or you are jealous of their life. But comparing yourself to other people is a really bad idea—and it’s not just because it’s not helpful, but also because it can make you feel worse about yourself.
There is a theory that was first proposed by psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954, and it suggests that people have a natural tendency to compare themselves to others in order to determine their own social standing and to feel better about themselves. Social comparison theory is a psychological theory that explains how people evaluate their own abilities and opinions by comparing themselves to others.
According to social comparison theory, people engage in social comparison for a variety of reasons, including to:
Determine their own abilities and characteristics: People may compare themselves to others in order to gauge their own progress and determine if they are keeping up with their peers.
Seek validation: People may compare themselves to others in order to seek validation and confirmation of their own abilities and opinions.
Reduce uncertainty: People may compare themselves to others in order to reduce uncertainty and gain a clearer understanding of their own abilities and opinions.
Enhance self-esteem: People may compare themselves to others in order to feel better about themselves and enhance their self-esteem.
Additionally, comparisons with others can be driven by a desire for social comparison, which is the tendency to evaluate our own opinions and abilities by comparing ourselves with others. Social comparison can be motivated by a desire for information, a need to feel good about ourselves, or a desire to improve our own abilities.
There can be some positive sides to comparing oneself to other people. Some potential benefits of comparison include:
Setting goals. Comparison can be a way for people to set goals for themselves and identify areas where they can improve. For example, if someone compares themselves to a colleague who is more successful in their career, they may be motivated to work harder and set goals for themselves in order to achieve similar levels of success.
Seeking inspiration. Comparison can be a way for people to find inspiration and motivation from others. For example, if someone compares themselves to a friend who is in good shape, they may be motivated to start exercising and eating healthier in order to achieve similar results.
Evaluating progress. Comparison can be a way for people to evaluate their own progress and determine if they are making progress towards their goals. This can be especially helpful when people are trying to make changes in their lives or improve certain aspects of themselves.
After we talk about the positive sides, for sure there will be some negative sides to comparing yourself to other people. Some potential drawbacks of comparison include:
Decreased self-esteem. Comparison can lead to negative emotions such as jealousy or inadequacy if people feel that they are not measuring up to others. This can lead to decreased self-esteem and a negative view of oneself.
Unhealthy competition. Comparison can lead to unhealthy competition and a focus on outdoing others rather than personal growth and development. This can create a negative or toxic environment and may lead to feelings of resentment or bitterness.
Distorted reality. Comparison can lead to a distorted view of reality and an exaggeration of the differences between oneself and others. This can lead to unrealistic expectations and feelings of disappointment when those expectations are not met.
Inability to appreciate oneself. Comparison can lead to a focus on others and a lack of appreciation for one’s own strengths and abilities. This can lead to a lack of self-confidence and a negative view of oneself.
Here are a few strategies that may help you stop comparing yourself to other people:
Focus on your own goals and progress. Instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on your own goals and progress. Celebrate your own achievements and progress, no matter how small they may seem.
Practice gratitude. Shift your focus to the things you are grateful for in your life. This can help you appreciate what you have and reduce the temptation to compare yourself to others.
Remember that everyone is unique. Remind yourself that everyone has their own unique strengths and abilities, and that it is not productive or healthy to constantly compare yourself to others.
Recognise that social media can be misleading: It is important to recognize that social media often presents a distorted view of reality, as people often only present their best selves and may not show their struggles or challenges. Try to limit your time on social media and remember that it is not an accurate representation of everyone’s lives.
Seek support: If you find that you are struggling with comparison and it is affecting your self-esteem or well-being, consider seeking support from a mental health professional. They can help you develop coping strategies and work through any underlying issues that may be contributing to your tendency to compare yourself to others.
It’s important to note that while comparisons with others can be useful in certain contexts, they can also lead to negative outcomes if we place too much emphasis on them. It’s important to remember that everyone is unique and that it’s not healthy to constantly compare ourselves with others.