If you have ever compared yourself to someone else, you are not alone. According to some studies, as much as 10 percent of our thoughts involve comparisons of some kind.
“She is so organized, I wish I was more on top of things.”
“How does he manage to stay so fit? I look nothing close to that.”
“She seems so intentional in the way she lives her life, unlike me.”
“He has the kind of job I would really like.”
“I want to parent like her, she is so calm and collected and really has this gentle parenting thing down pat.”
“The way they interact seems so effortless, it’s how I dreamed our relationship would be.”
If any of these examples resonate (or perhaps there’s something else that you compare yourself against), you will likely agree that comparing oneself to others can arouse some powerful emotions. And by powerful emotions, I don’t mean that you are probably thrilled and ecstatic about their good fortune. What I am implying is more along the lines of envy, discouragement, disappointment, and self doubt.
In the 1950’s, Leon Festinger came up with the social comparison theory, which is the idea that individuals determine their own social and personal worth based on how they stack up against others. As humans, we tend to want to know where we stand and so we compare our opinions and abilities with others. The more similar someone may be to us, the more competitive or judgemental we may become. (Have you ever been on a treadmill at the gym and checked out the speed and incline of the person next to you?)
Whether you are gauging someone’s appearance, outfit, house, car, or their Pesach plans, it is important to consider how judging or comparing is of service to anybody. Is it beneficial at all, or is there a negative side to the constant comparisons?
In an informal Instagram survey, 88% of respondents shared that comparison was ‘mostly detrimental’, while 12% of those polled responded ‘mostly beneficial’. (Of course, you can’t undo a poll selection on Instagram and I wonder if any of the 12% clicked by accident.) Some people may truly feel that there is a benefit to comparing, such as being motivated by the accomplishments, achievements, and success of others. However, for the majority it seems to bring up dissatisfaction and a negatively impacted sense of self esteem, among other negative thoughts and feelings.
“I felt so understood and encouraged.” For Nomi, who had been struggling with a recently diagnosed health issue, it was helpful to be a part of a support group of people with a similar diagnosis and to hear tips and techniques of how to manage. When members of the group shared their positive moments, Nomi felt uplifted and hopeful. “I can’t say I’ve never been envious of other people’s recovery or symptom management, but overall being part of this group gives me strength.”
“That should be me.” For Zev, who had a complicated relationship with money, watching his friends travel, go out to eat, and purchase luxuries made him constantly question his status, abilities, friendships and values. Zev was often comparing himself to others and this really affected his sense of self worth.
A number of studies have shown that, when people compare themselves to those who are (or appear to be) better off than they are, they feel worse about their own circumstances. Additionally, we may feel pride when we succeed in outperforming competitors, marvel in admiration about the excellence of other but may also feel the pain of envying them (Crusius & Lange, 2017; Smith, 2000; Steckler & Tracy, 2014).
Last week I attended a panel discussion where women shared their experiences in the workforce, and a discussion on balancing work and family as well as managing stress ensued. It would be impossible for everything that was shared to be applicable to all of the attendees.
Chava relied on her husband to manage the morning routine with the children, but Tilla, a single mom, had no use for Chava’s carefully planned strategies. Pori, on the other hand, took careful notes to share with her husband.
Shosh shared her approach to household chores, which was not helpful to Chaya, who had full time household help, but some of her tips were relevant to Adina, who implemented new techniques she learned the very next day.
While it can be valuable to take insight from peoples experiences, it is important to remember that each person has a different set of physical, social, emotional and financial circumstances.
Rivka felt that everyone else seemed to have it easier than she did. Her cousin Gitty made it all look so effortless, as she shared about her expeditions and acquisitions casually. Rivka resented having to think so carefully about what she bought and where and how she vacationed; she wanted to be free like Gitty! What Rivka didn’t know was that Gitty and her husband were barely on speaking terms. Finances were actually a great source of contention between them. Rivka only was privy to the glitzy and glamorous exterior, and she was envious.
Social comparison is a common process influencing how people think about themselves, how they feel, what they are motivated to do, and how they behave.
3 ways to manage comparing yourself to others:
- Accept yourself with understanding and compassion. Consider what it is you are comparing yourself against, and take the time to understand why.
- Consider your exposure: who are you spending time with? What are you browsing on social media?
- Remind yourself of your own goals and values, and shift your focus towards your strengths, blessings, and abilities.
As Lisa Olivera so eloquently put it: When we stop comparing ourselves to others, we realize there is no such thing as “further along” or “way ahead” or “lagging behind”; we realize there is only our pace, our timing, our place, our current reality that will inevitably shift and change as we do.
This article originally appeared in the Five Towns Jewish Times.