Mirror, Mirror: Breaking Free of the Comparison Trap

By: Natalie Rice-Thorp, Ph.D. | April 22, 2022

Have you ever left a class or staff meeting feeling like an imposter because you think that everyone is smarter than you? Have you ever looked at your social media feed and felt envy for someone else’s seemingly beautiful life?

If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. It’s human nature to compare ourselves to others. And that’s especially true in the era of social media. It’s natural to look at others for guidance and comparing ourselves with our peers is part of how we form identity. Like many of our natural tendencies, social comparison can help keep us safe. For example, while swimming in the ocean, we can observe other swimmers for cues about riptides and jellyfish. When someone gets food poisoning, the first thing we usually want to know is “what did they eat?” Sounds helpful right? Yes, it is, but when we rely too much on comparing ourselves to others, these comparisons can do more harm than good.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Measuring ourselves against others too much can lead to self-doubt, lowered self-esteem, and a nagging feeling of regret. It creates a judgmental, competitive outlook that negatively impacts how we see ourselves, our relationships, and the world around us. Fortunately, there are ways to approach comparison in a healthier way – to feel inspired and motivated. When we compare less, we learn more about ourselves and increase our self-confidence.

Ways to Avoid the Social Comparison Trap

1. Know the Difference Between Entertainment and Reality

Before you start scrolling online, prepare this mantra: “This is entertainment, not reality.” Repeat this as often as needed. We know people use filters; we know people present carefully cultivated images; yet somehow, we forget this within minutes.

Stop mindlessly comparing yourself to fantasy; it’s not reality.

2. Balance Your Time

In the age of social media, it’s easy to get lost in the carefully cultivated images of other people’s lives. Balancing your time online with experiences in real life gives you a more realistic, healthier perspective. People can still present a more polished version of themselves in person, but you will get to see the subtleties and be reminded that things aren’t always as they appear. For example, imagine that you are a college student wondering if you are fitting in. You could: a) turn to social media and compare yourself to other students’ posts; or b) talk to another student in real life and learn that you both have similar insecurities! Which scenario do you think is more likely to help you feel better about yourself?

3. Use Your Values as Your Compass

It’s tempting to look at someone else’s life and measure our own progress against it. It’s natural, it’s easy, but it’s not very helpful, especially in adulthood. There is no grading system for life because we are all too different. One person may value travel, while another may value staying physically close to extended family. One person may value having opportunities for creative expression, while another may value consistency. “What if my friend and I both value the same things, then can I compare our lives?” you ask. No, you sneaky weasel, it still doesn’t work. Even if you share some values, you have different contexts, your values may be weighted differently, and you have different paths.

If you want something to look to for guidance, ask yourself what you truly, honestly value and use that as a metric of comparison.

Using your values as a compass isn’t easy. It took me years in graduate school to learn how to trust my decisions and know that my path is the best one for me; based in my personal value system. Try saying this mantra to yourself: “You can’t compare, that doesn’t work anymore.”

Seek Support

If you find yourself consistently making social comparisons and are having trouble breaking free from the comparison trap, talking with a professional San Diego Psychologist will help. Too many social comparisons can lead to feelings of depression, low self-esteem, and lack of motivation. Your therapist will help you apply these strategies in your daily life so you can more fully acknowledge your own strengths, skills, and accomplishments. Contact us at Therapy Changes to learn more about our services and how therapy can help.

Best of luck in your journey toward self-appreciation and empowerment!



Photo by Septian simon on Unsplash

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