The Toxic Habit of Comparison

todayJuly 11, 2022 58 1 1

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By Celeste Parler
Web Content Contributor

Have you ever heard the phrase “comparison is the thief of joy”? Because I have heard this several times throughout my life, and I haven’t learned my lesson yet.

I don’t tend to compare every quality in everyone I know, but in areas I want to improve as a person, I am constantly aware of how much better my friends are at being the person I aspire to be. The way I compare myself to other people is also not at all rational. For example, I will be disappointed in myself thinking my friends are so much more fulfilled with their jobs. Then I remember I would never want to be a teacher or work with kids.

Social media is not helpful when you are trying not to compare yourself to other people. Everyone I know that uses social media doesn’t document every moment of their lives. They post the highlights of their lives to the friends they hang out with to the places they’ve traveled. It makes me wonder why I don’t spend more time with friends or leave my apartment more often.

So why do people compare themselves in the first place? In group settings, there are unspoken hierarchies and roles to determine how we get along with other people.

Despite everyone theoretically having an equal role in their social circles, it’s easy to compare ourselves to others even when there’s no progress in being “better” than someone else. Then it becomes a toxic habit that can affect your mental health and decision-making.

But can there actually be benefits to comparing yourself to others? Psychologists say in some circumstances, yes. The Social Comparison theory holds that people determine their worth and make daily decisions based on comparing themselves to others. Having a higher standard of the person you want to be and looking to role models with the traits you aspire to have can be a positive thing. Being recognized for your work or your life progress compared to the average person can also lift your spirits and challenge you to continue the good work.

When it comes to measuring personal growth, the only accurate method is to compare your present self to your past self. A year ago, I had never cooked a meal for myself that wasn’t a scrambled egg. Sometimes I felt that I was less of an adult for not knowing how to cook, but now I grocery shop and prepare meals every week and feel confident enough to experiment with recipes I find online.

For every positive impact of comparison, there seem to be double the potential negative effects. Constant comparison undoubtedly lowers one’s confidence level. The gap between the person we are and the person we want to be only seems to widen.

These comparisons are often based on our incomplete knowledge of someone’s life. It’s unfair to assume that we are supposed to have all the strengths, talents, and desirable traits of people around us simultaneously.

Just like how comparison can be a tool to motivate people, it can also have the opposite effect. The unrealistic idea we construct of who we think we should be makes it so that we never want to progress. Finally, comparing yourself to the people around you can lead to serious cases of imposter syndrome. In my upper-level courses surrounded by people just about to graduate, I asked myself several times “what am I doing here?”. I doubted my skill level and that I could fit in with the people in my major that seemingly already knew each other.

I am still trying to find a better way to live my life and find self-worth without comparison. I believe no one can break a toxic habit without acknowledging how it negatively affects them. Comparing myself to my peers all my life has definitely taken a toll on my self-esteem, and it has obscured my perception of how much I’ve grown as a person in the last few years.

It would be counterproductive to expect myself to stop comparing my life to others overnight. Instead, I have to listen to myself and show myself compassion. I reflect on why I feel the way I do and think about the traits and even the flaws I love about myself. It’s crucial for me to accept myself for who I am and treat myself like I am enough.

Written by: Hannah Walls

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