The Consequences of Comparison

I love a good competition and would consider myself to be a very competitive person. My younger brother and I used to make everything a competition growing up, even who could make the most foam when we brushed our teeth in the morning! It is in my DNA. This drive keeps me learning and growing, and ultimately, I think it helps me better serve my clients by always striving to be my best professionally and personally. Competition with yourself to be the best you can be, and setting goals to work toward, are healthy external motivators which you can use to propel yourself forward to where you want to be.

Comparison on the other hand is competition’s unhealthy counterpart. According to the Social Comparison Theory, there are two ways we compare ourselves to others, either downward comparison in which we compare ourselves to those who have less than us, or upward comparison in which we compare ourselves with those who have more than us. Either way can be damaging to our relationships, mental health, and connection to our community.

When we compare ourselves to others, we rob ourselves of any success and devalue our contribution to society.

By comparing ourselves to those who have less than we do, it could either spark feelings of superiority, causing us to look down on others, and create an unnecessary barrier which limits the ability to connect with others who are “too different” than us, or it could cause us to feel sorry for others or guilty for our own hard work or success which can also alienate us, and keep us from fully engaging with others.

Comparing ourselves to those who have more creates an instant feeling of shame and can trigger thoughts like “I should be more successful,” “I should have a bigger house or a nicer car,” or “I’m not as good as others” “That Mom/Dad makes it look so easy, and I’m a mess.” By doing this, we are devaluing ourselves by not realistically acknowledging the positives or hard work that we are putting into all the different areas of our lives.

Both upward and downward comparisons can increase feelings of helplessness, which is a hallmark symptom of depression. We feel helpless and like a failure when we compare ourselves to those who have more and the same feelings can be experienced when we feel helpless to “fix the problems” of those who have less. We are not helpless though and this is just another untruth we tell ourselves as a way to try to define who we are and the role we play with others.

When we compare ourselves to others, there is always a bias. It’s easy to make judgments based on what we see on social media or how another presents, but we can never know another person’s internal struggles, challenges, or circumstances. Much like flowers we are all unique and wonderful and have our own positives that we contribute to our families, communities and world.

Since comparison is a behavior that we learn, we can also unlearn it, and you can start making some changes today! One way to overcome constant comparing is engaging in a daily gratitude practice. We can also practice mindfulness and allow ourselves to just “be,” happy and fulfilled and enough, right here in this moment.

If you notice that you are comparing yourself to others, have trouble defining who you are or your role in your family, workplace or community, and have feelings of not being “good enough.” Consider exploring a counseling or coaching relationship. I would love to hear from you!

Courtney Brandon