It is said that comparison is the thief of joy, robbing us of our confidence and self-esteem. Nowhere is that more apparent than in today’s world where we are bombarded with social media feeds carefully curated to show us how every woman we know (and some we don’t) is living her best, happiest, and most successful life–#blessed. With lattes in their hands and Louboutins on their feet, these women make the daily grind look effortless. So is it any wonder that when faced with images of their picture-perfect homes, hair, babies, and bodies, the rest of us fall headfirst into the comparison trap? And while research shows that social media has been shown to negatively impact mental health, increasing feelings of depression and anxiety, the truth is that people have been comparing themselves to others for centuries—especially women. We worry that the PTA president is a better mom, that our neighbor drives a nicer car, that our best friend has a better marriage, that our coworker is smarter…you name it, we compare it.
“Even before social media, we’ve been exposed to societal standards or stereotypical ‘norms’ of what women ‘should’ be through movies, television, magazines, and other external factors,” says Andrea Tristan, Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor with Alliance Psychology. “Everywhere we look, there seem to be expectations of who and what we as women are ‘supposed’ to be.”
And while some comparison is normal, it becomes a problem when it affects your confidence and self-esteem or causes you to obsess over “whose grass is greener.” So what can you do to stop the spiral? Tristan offers the following five tips that can help you bring your focus back to where it belongs: living YOUR best life.
Unfollow, mute, or downright block any feeds that cause you to feel bad about yourself, whether intentional or not. If you can’t do that without causing a problem (say it’s a close friend or family member), remind yourself that what you see online is only the “highlight” reel. Very few people are airing the ugly stuff for all to see.
“You have to remind yourself that everyone has some kind of struggle going on in their lives or some insecurity they are wrestling with,” says Tristan.
Once you’ve weeded your “friend and follower” garden, replenish it with “feel good” feeds.
“There are plenty of people putting out uplifting, encouraging, and strengths-focused content,” advises Tristan. “Find and follow those accounts that offer positive messaging and make you feel good about yourself.”
The adage may be trite, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t truth behind it. Tristan recommends taking time to reflect on the things in your life that you are grateful for, proud of, or appreciate. Keep a grateful journal and on the days when you are falling victim to comparison, read and reflect on what you’ve written down. When you focus on your “haves” versus your “have nots,” chances are you will discover that there is plenty of good in your own life. Gratitude makes us happier, healthier people.
Your best friend posts photos from her fabulous trip to Paris while you sit tethered to your desk, toiling away with no vacation in sight. Before you morph into the green-eyed jealousy monster and start comparing your boring job with her glamorous life, reframe the narrative. “Instead of thinking, ‘man, I wish I could’ve taken that trip like she did,’ try thinking, “good for her for working so hard so she could take that trip,'” suggests Tristan.
The simple act of uplifting or celebrating someone else’s success may help you remove any negativity or jealousy you were feeling. It’s a win-win!
Comparison sometimes stems from insecurity or the idea that someone else’s strength is your weakness, or their success equates to your failure. To combat those feelings, Tristan encourages patients to appreciate their strengths, writing down at least three things they did well that day.
“Try to find different things each day,” she says. “Over time, you will have a great collection, and it will teach your brain to notice your strengths instead of what you think you lack.”
Even if you aren’t into designer clothes or fancy cars, that photo of your friend’s new shiny, red convertible may still make you question your mini-van as well as all your other life choices. That’s okay—none of us are immune to comparison. But before you cash in your kid’s college fund to get your own shiny new toy, take time to reflect on your values and ask yourself whether you are living them out. Do you really want or need a new car, or are you just trying to keep up?
“Sometimes we get so caught up in comparison that we lose sight of what’s really important to us,” cautions Tristan. “That’s where it becomes important to center ourselves back around what matters to us and why.”
Learning to let go of comparison is hard, especially for women in today’s world. But the good news is, you don’t have to go cold turkey. There is such a thing as a healthy comparison that can bring added value to your life and the lives of the women around you.
“Too often, women are pitted against one another and made to believe we have to compete with each other rather than joining together and celebrating one another,” says Tristan, adding that some of her greatest mentors were women who were doing amazing things with their lives.
“I viewed their successes as a blueprint for my life and what was possible for me to achieve, instead of seeing it from a place of jealousy or as something unattainable. Striving to learn from one another is how we better ourselves.”