Compare to Despair
People come in for therapy when they are experiencing emotional discomfort. Sometimes this can be attributed to a specific event or stressor such as the loss of a loved one, unhappiness in a marriage, dissatisfaction with a job — the list goes on. Other times, people feel anxious or depressed and it cannot be connected to any one cause. Whether the source of the discomfort can be identified or not, what I often see is that people can actually make their distress significantly worse when they tell themselves that everyone else’s life is happy and perfect. When one starts to compare his/her life to other peoples’ lives, it can lead to feelings of despair. Here are some things to keep in mind if you find yourself caught up in this distortion:
- Social media life is not representative of real life. When people go onto social media sites, they are only seeing people’s best selves. Since all photos are taken digitally, one can always get the perfect picture. People post happy, perfect pictures with seemingly happy, perfect friends and family. If one is struggling emotionally it is easy to tell yourself that other people have perfect lives or other people don’t have any struggles. Remind yourself, social media doesn’t show peoples struggles. Social media only shows the good that people want you to see.
- The face people show the outside world does not always match what their inside world. Young children do not have the emotional regulation to hide their feelings. If they are sad, they cry. If they are happy, they smile. As we become adults, we become masters of functioning in the world while battling our own internal struggles. Sometimes when we are struggling, we look at those around us and tell ourselves that no one else is suffering because everyone else is seemingly happy. We begin to tell ourselves that other people don’t have problems. We must identify these distortions and remind ourselves that all people have their own personal struggles, but as adults, we are better at hiding it from the world.
- No one wins in the game of comparison. Everyone has heard the term, “keeping up with the Joneses.” It’s a comparison game that no one has the chance of winning. Once you choose to compare yourself with someone else, there is no finish line. If you want to be as thin as your friend, you might work hard to achieve that goal but you will find someone who is thinner/fitter. If you want your home to look as good as the neighbor’s, you might achieve that but you might find another home that looks even better. The list goes on. Stop comparing; it’s a losing game. Figure out your own personal goals as to what areas of your life you want to put your energy and then set your own benchmark for achievement.
Some amount of envy or self-comparison is natural, and every once in a while we can feel like other people have things easier than we do. But when comparison becomes a norm, our normal stresses can feel enormously unfair and distressing. Take the above thoughts into consideration, or talk through these thoughts with a trusted friend or therapist.