Many of us regularly fall into the bleak, bottomless pit of the comparison trap. Maybe you even compare yourself to others in a whole lot of areas: profession, school performance, parenthood, money, looks.
It’s hard not to. Making comparisons is often how we gauge our progress. It’s how we figure out the bar in the first place.
“Without others, we have no way of knowing how we ‘measure up,’” according to Christina G. Hibbert, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and expert in postpartum mental health.
So how do we break out of comparing ourselves to others?
Before we talk about how, it helps to better understand some of the other reasons we compare ourselves to others.
For instance, we might compare ourselves to others because of quivering confidence. “When we lack confidence in what we are doing, we tend to think everyone else is doing a much better job,” said Michelle Lacy, MA, LPC, a therapist specializing in women’s mental health. She commonly sees this with new moms. “Because they are so uncertain in themselves, [new moms] make assumptions about how well everyone else is doing or appear to be doing,” she said.
Competition can cultivate comparison-making. For instance, girls are often socialized to pit themselves against each other — and thereby compare themselves — instead of being supportive, Lacy said.
But there might be more to comparison-making than measuring up and confidence concerns. “On a deeper level, however, we compare because we’re searching — searching for who we are and who we are not,” Hibbert said.
Still, making comparisons is rarely helpful. According to Lacy, making comparisons can further ignite low self-esteem and depression and damage relationships (because of jealousy or poor communication).
Below, Hibbert and Lacy suggested several strategies for breaking out of the comparison trap.
Quit Comparison-Making by Observing Your Mind
“Listen as it comments, judges [and] compares,” Hibbert said. “When we realize we are not our thoughts — that we are so much more than our constantly thinking mind — we begin to see others as the same,” she said.
When we view others as equals, we embrace a sense of compassion and love. “When we’re full of love for ourselves and others, we have no need to compare,” she said.
Learn to Accept and Love All Sides of Yourself
As Lacy said, this includes the good, the bad and the ugly. She suggested sharing your authentic self with someone else, whether it’s a friend, rabbi, pastor or therapist. “When we speak of our good, bad and ugly sides we can move toward self-acceptance.” Plus, “the more we are authentic with one another the easier it would be to build each other up rather then compare and compete,” she said.
Our inner critics can often run wild and sabotage our steps toward self-acceptance and self-love. Use your strengths to refute your inner critic, she said. (Here’s more on quieting your inner critic.)
Also, “practice self-nurturing behavior,” Lacy said. This can include everything from getting enough sleep to exercising to praying to celebrating your successes to planning fun, relaxing activities, she said.
“Comparison is the thief of joy,” according to Theodore Roosevelt. “If you want to know joy, let go of comparisons and just be you,” Hibbert said.