Do you compare yourself with others? Most of us do.
We compare ourselves to individuals who are better than us — and to people who are worse. We compare ourselves day in and day out.
For instance, I compare myself with a colleague on recent number of scientific publications and on teaching evaluations completed by students. I compare myself with other players at tennis.
I often compare myself with someone less fortunate, for instance Ukrainians killed in the war. I feel sad for the dead but happy to be living in a nation not under attack.
Two young women I know are more likely than I am to compare themselves to others on attractiveness.
If we come off on the losing end of a comparison, we may feel motivated to try harder. More commonly we experience a negative emotion. Which one?
Depending on the situation, we might feel sad, anxious, envious, or jealous. I feel guilty when I compare myself to my tennis partner and conclude that I dragged down our doubles team.
Think about your most frequent emotional reaction to perceiving yourself as inferior to someone else.
These negative emotions can have bad effects on our behaviour. We might act resentful or stop trying.
Why do we compare ourselves to others?
Because we humans are social creatures. We want either to measure up (do as well as others in our society) or to outdo others (show superiority). I mostly want to measure up, but I have nothing against being superior.
Comparing ourselves to others is not necessary, and we can consciously reduce how often we engage in comparing.
When a comparison pulls us down emotionally, we are wise to use coping methods. What methods, you ask?
I recommend to my psychotherapy clients a main course of realistic thinking, along with a side-order of self-compassion.
Specifically, I recommend these countering thoughts: comparing myself right now is not doing me any good; coming out on top in the comparison would have no practical value; it is not realistic to always want to be the best; and I want to do things well, but I won’t always achieve that — life is a challenge.
Here is another counter: I will get better!
A final one: On the bright side, at least I…
I use all these coping thoughts myself, usually to good effect. At tennis, I tell myself: At least I got some exercise.
What are your coping thoughts for unpleasant comparisons?