When was the last time you compared yourself to someone else?
If you’re like most of us, the answer is probably “a few minutes ago.”
Social media is a huge part of our lives right now, and because of this we’re more likely than ever to compare ourselves to others. Our Instagram and Facebook feeds are filled with polished, Face-tuned, filtered photos of other people and their lives.
It’s easy to feel that our own lives and appearances don’t measure up, or, on the flip side, that we are better than others (though this may not feel good either).
We tend to assess whether our experience is more or less valid than another person’s.
We might have thoughts like “Maybe I shouldn’t say that because that person suffered more,” “Who am I to feel upset about this when it’s not that bad?” or “Wow, I have it more together than that person.”
We might compare and come to the conclusion that we’re not good enough, or that we’re better than.
We rarely say this out loud, but we think it.
We can only be who we are.
The problem with comparison is that it is a source of suffering when we apply it to our sense of worth and lovability. We will never be someone else. If we decide that someone else is better, more important, or more deserving than us (which is never true), we suffer because we will never be that other person. We can only be our self.
We feel separate from others when we put ourselves in a pecking order.
We compare our looks, our perceived levels of wealth, happiness, spirituality, intelligence (the list goes on), and use our “ratings” to place ourselves in a self-created pecking order either above or below everyone else.
Sounds lonely, doesn’t it?
When comparison is useful
Our minds are wired to compare. On a certain level, comparison can be helpful.
Is that person who is threatening me bigger than me? Is that person faster than me? Hmm, do I want to stay and face the threat, or run away? You can see how comparison can be self-preserving.
If you are deciding whether to go on a hike with friends, “They are more experienced and in better shape, so maybe I should ask what kind of hike they’re planning”, could be useful to know.
Similarly, if you are deciding whether to enter a musical competition you might want to ask yourself, “Am I performing at approximately the same level as the other entrants? Am I more advanced than they are? Am I less advanced than they are?”
When we detach the answers to these questions from our sense of self-worth, we become free to seek information to help us make decisions.
How to be free from the comparison game
Recognizing when we are engaging in ego-driven comparison is the first step to freeing ourselves from unhealthy comparisons.
Then we can examine our thoughts about our inferiority or superiority with good humor and curiosity. We can see our egos at work trying to prove their worthiness. There is no need to believe those thoughts or give them any weight.
Because your ego is the part of you that craves approval, the gold star, the A+ on the test, or to be the winner, it is constantly seeking validation. Once you see this, there is an opportunity to no longer be ruled by it.
When we embrace our uniqueness, which includes our strengths and weaknesses, we are able to live more fully. The realization that we’re not what we produce, and that we’re not better or worse than anyone else frees us up to explore who we truly are and what our unique contribution is.