How to stop comparing yourself to others
Updated: Jun 17
What would it be like to live your life without comparing yourself to others?
Here’s an article I wrote for Counselling Directory about how to stop comparing yourself to others.
I look at why we compare ourselves with others, and how we can think about ourselves differently so that we can become happier and more confident.
In many ways, it feels natural to compare yourself to others. We look around and notice differences and similarities all day long. These things make us unique, exciting, and distinctive individuals. But somewhere along the way, we can forget to celebrate our distinctiveness. We get caught up in comparing ourselves to others. In a way that might leave us feeling somehow inferior, or not good enough.
Our sense of ‘who we are’ is made up of many different things. In the UK we refer to ‘protected characteristics’ such as age, race, religion, sexual orientation and so on. But I’m most interested in how each of us sees ourselves.
How would you describe yourself to someone else? What is the difference between your public and private self? Many of us describe ourselves differently if asked to ‘sell ourselves’, for example in a workplace profile, or on a dating app. This reveals how we see ourselves, often based on our physical appearance, our achievements, our family, and our friendships. What happens when you are asked to describe yourself as you really are? Consider things like character traits, achievements, failures, support network. Notice whether this is easy or difficult. Does it come naturally to you to list your attributes? Or is it easier to criticise yourself, and list traits that feel negative to you.
How was your identity formed? Consider whether you truly believe these things about yourself right now. Or are they stories or labels that have been attributed to you throughout your life. Maybe you have been the difficult one, the lazy one, the quiet one, the clever one. Who is responsible for these labels – did you select them or were they stuck onto you by a relative, friend, colleague, partner, teacher, the list goes on. Has the story been constant throughout your life? Or was there an event or relationship that had a powerful impact on how you feel about yourself? Do you judge yourself against the reality of life as it is right now, or is it based on an ideal image of what you hoped life might be like? Are you a chameleon who fits in everywhere?
How do you feel about your identity? Be curious. Perhaps you’re happy or contented, feeling ok with who you are right now. Or maybe there’s anger or frustration about how you feel about yourself. Or sadness or disappointment about yourself or about how life has worked out for you.
Hang on – isn’t this article meant to explore how to stop comparing yourself to others? So why all the talk about ourselves and who we are?
The truth is that we compare ourselves to others based on how we feel about ourselves, our self-esteem and self-worth. So, if you feel like you’re ok, you’re good enough, then it’s easier to feel content even if people around you might appear more successful, attractive, popular, capable etc (*delete as appropriate). But if you’re feeling insecure, uncomfortable, critical, or vulnerable about yourself then it becomes easy to look around and assume that everyone is doing better than you are. Comparisons can be triggered at any moment. Struggling to cope? Someone who appears effortlessly capable might make you feel useless. Feeling unattractive? Someone who looks great might highlight your disappointment in your looks. Disappointed by your love life? An invite to a wedding or engagement might heighten your sadness, even if you want to feel happy for them.
These examples might seem silly, but we come across more complex versions of these every day. A tired mother sharing her exhaustion without realising that they are talking to someone who is struggling with their fertility. A friend shares a dilemma about what to buy, without realising that someone else is struggling to make ends meet.
How to stop comparing yourself to others - Top tips
We’ve taken a quick look at how you see yourself, and what might make you compare yourself with others. Here are some steps that you can try, to avoid falling into this trap:
Acknowledge what you think about yourself. There are lots of different ways to do this, and it’s something that we often explore together in counselling. What language do you use when you think about your qualities and attributes. Where has this come from, what do you focus on, where are your blind spots?
Think about how you talk to yourself. Daily affirmations aren’t for everyone – although they can be a helpful way to strengthen and build beliefs about yourself. But think about what goes on inside your head. Do you criticise yourself in comparison to others? Are you getting in your own way? Do you replay events or conversations and think about how someone else might have handled it better? In therapy we can explore this in more depth and consider the root causes of what’s going on for you. Try offering yourself the same kindness and compassion that you would offer to a friend or loved one.
Approach social media with a big pinch of salt. See if you can look beyond the filters and airbrushing. I loved the idea of the app BeReal – an app that encouraged people to show the reality of everyday life.
Think about how you view other people. I’m not encouraging you to approach other people with suspicion. But remember that people often operate behind a mask in their everyday life. So just because someone appears a certain way, it doesn’t mean that they really feel that way inside. The same goes for relationships. It’s easy to assume that other people have happy relationships, but you really never do know what goes on behind closed doors. I’ve focused in this article on comparisons with other people that might make leave us feeling inferior in some way. But it’s worth also thinking about qualities that you find unattractive in other people. Sometimes there will be something that we really don’t like about someone else, but it’s actually because it reminds us of something that we really don’t like about ourselves. This is sometimes referred to as our ‘shadow self’ and I might write about it in more depth another time.
Think about how you interact with other people. Do you keep yourself behind a mask too? It can be scary to be vulnerable, to be authentic with others. And some situations require a professional or social façade. But I often find that when we are open about our flaws and insecurities, other people are too. It might sound uncomfortable, but it can be helpful to seek feedback from other people. It might challenge how you feel about yourself and the comparisons that you make.
Consider your boundaries. Does it feel like certain people ‘make you feel’ a certain way? In counselling we often look at the boundaries that we have with other people. The fact that we can’t control what other people might think or do, but we can control how it makes us feel.
Keen to explore more?
I love working with people to help them to understand themselves. In counselling we build a relationship where we can look at your sense of who you are, and how you compare yourself with others, so that you can feel more comfortable and confident in everyday life. If you’d like to learn more, click here to contact me, or click here to book a free 30-minute introductory chat.
Click here to view the original article on the Counselling Directory website.