What’s the Cost of Comparing Ourselves to Others?

“In 1995, TV was first introduced to Fiji showing many imported US shows.
In 1998, only 3 years later, 11.9% of the teenage girls were hanging over
the toilet bowl with bulimia, a previously unknown behaviour”. 

– Susie Orbach, “Fat is a Feminist Issue”

I haven’t forgotten this shocking fact since I first read it many, many years ago.

Until teenage girls in Fiji started to compare their bodies with women on American television, the eating disorder bulimia nervosa didn’t exist in their country. As the unfavourable comparisons began, so did the mental health condition.

We live in a world where we’re invited to compare ourselves to others almost constantly.

On social media especially, we’re urged – on a daily basis – to evaluate how we measure up to other people’s lives, bodies, careers, health, happiness, you name it. Thanks to Before-and-After photos and the 10-year Challenge, we’re even encouraged to compare ourselves to ourselves,

But what’s the cost of comparison?

If you struggle with low self-esteem, comparing yourself to others gives your Inner Bully an opportunity to stick the boot in. Like an evil game show host, your Inner Bully loves to draw you into “The Comparison Game” – the worst quiz in the world, where each round is torture and the “prize” is a collapse in your self-esteem.

“She’s thinner and more successful than you”; “people like him much more than you, because you’re a loser”, sneers the Inner Bully.

If your overeating is emotion-driven, you’re more likely to turn to food as The Comforter attempts to detach you from feelings of shame, defectiveness and worthlessness. What happens then? You guessed it. You Inner Bully shames you for binge eating and you feel even worse than before.

So why do it? Why keep comparing yourself to others?

As Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning explain in their book “Self-Esteem”: “once in a while you decide that you are more attractive, smarter or warmer, and you feel a moment’s satisfaction at being higher on the totem pole. Though it comes only occasionally, that moment’s satisfaction is reinforcing”.

That instant of satisfaction is enough to keep you invested in “The Comparison Game”.

But is it a game you’re willing to keep playing if 99% of the time you end up feeling rubbish about yourself and turning to food, and the other 1% you’re scoring points off others to feel better about yourself?

Here are some ideas to help you escape “The Comparison Game”:

Consider limiting your time on social media
How many times have you felt OK about yourself until you’ve seen something on social media? How often have you wasted hours disappearing down a virtual rabbit hole when you could have been doing something creative or meaningful or truly relaxing? Social media has its purpose, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of our existence. If social media didn’t exist how would you feel about yourself and what would you do with your time?

Pick yourself up when you compare
Don’t let your Inner Bully draw you into comparing yourself to someone else. Remind yourself of the enormous personal cost. Is it worth your mood taking a nosedive and having a binge? Absolutely not. Make a habit of sending your Inner Bully packing and stopping “The Comparison Game” before the cheesy opening title music begins. It may be a hard habit to break, but it’s worth breaking – repetition is key.

Focus on what’s important
Is the size of your body or how many “likes” you get more important than your character, integrity or authenticity? I hope not. Consider your strengths and qualities. Take ownership of your courage, curiosity, humour, kindness, determination and creativity. If you know and value yourself, it really doesn’t matter what anyone else does or how they look. What matters is that you let your inner light shine by being grounded in who you are.

There’s room for everyone so we have no need to compare ourselves – favourably or unfavourably – to each other.

If you want to feel better about yourself, it’s important to intervene in anything that might cause a downward spiral in your self-esteem. Instead of thinking “they’re better than me”, perhaps you could say “I wish them well – I have no need to compare myself to anyone”. How would that feel?

While the cost of comparing ourselves to others is a seriously negative impact on our sense of self, the benefit of putting an end to comparisons is peace of mind and self-empowerment.

Theodore Roosevelt was bang on the money when he said “comparison is the thief of joy”.

Don’t let your Inner Bully steal yours.

***

References

Becker, A.E. (1996) Body, Self & Society: The View from Fiji. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

McKay, M. & Fanning P. (2016) Self-Esteem. Oakland: New Harbinger.

Orbach, S. (2006) Fat is a Feminist Issue. London: Random House.

39 thoughts on “What’s the Cost of Comparing Ourselves to Others?

  1. I fear that my daughter will start comparing herself to others now that she’s a teen. I hope I’ve taught her enough, but it still worries me. This is is such a great post! I’m going to share it with her and others.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel for you, Michelle, and I’m sure there are many other mothers of teenage daughters who feel the same as you. Trying to instil a solid sense of self-worth and a positive body image in our children is difficult when they’re faced with everything on social media, but it sounds like you’ve been really conscious of this. I’m so pleased if the post is useful to you and others, many thanks for sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Julie, the subject you so eloquently write about is creating quite traumatic states
    of being. It creates an obsession that really takes over the daily lives for many.
    I am not on any social media but there are films giving the same message.

    Young women do at times give up the idea of having a child as it could destroy the
    body. I overheard this and felt tears for them.

    miriam

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re absolutely right, Miriam. Comparing ourselves to others can become a really destructive obsession that, as you say, interferes with daily living. Fatphobia is such that some women don’t want to have children for fear of what it will do to their bodies. I always feel incredibly sad when I hear a woman, either in the movies or in real life, complaining that she’s “fat” because she’s pregnant. The ability to grow another human being inside our bodies is, surely, the most incredible thing a person can do – it’s such a shame that it’s seen as getting fat, rather than the amazing process that it is. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, Miriam, it’s great to hear from you.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It can be hard if we’re feeling jealous of other people, but I think it always feels better if we can find it within ourselves to wish them well – it’s easier then to release what we’re feeling and move forward. Good to hear your thoughts, Karen, many thanks, hope you’re OK.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m a lover of Susie Orbach’s books too 🙂 You’re so right. We are pulled in to comparing ourselves almost constantly due to, not just hollywood, but even more than ever today because of social media. One of the problems is, the men in our lives see these same images all over social media too. That can affect how we feel about ourselves, knowing that our boyfriends and partners can make the comparison as well.
    However, as you pointed out, perhaps the only way to have peace of mind is to follow through with the steps you’ve outlined here.
    Also, it’s really helpful of we can reach the point where we can really see it is who we are that matters. At the end of the day, we feel best around people who love, like and truly care for us, and who see the good in us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Fat is a Feminist Issue” was such an important book for me – both in my own process of resolving my issues with food, but also professionally. I had the opportunity to hear Susie Orbach speak in Cambridge earlier this year – it was fascinating! You’re right, many women worry about what men think of their bodies, given the images on social media. As you say, it’s so important we find people we feel good around and who really know and value us. Good to hear from you, many thanks for your comment.

      Like

      1. Wow! You heard her speak!!! That must have been wonderful, My favourite book of hers (I work in counselling and therapy) is “What’s really going on here?” She’s very insightful. Always good to hear from you too 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing!… there are many who find themselves part of a closed minded society where being who they are or wish to be leads to ridicule, bullying, being a outcast etc… hopefully one day the world will live in harmony where one is accepted as who they are…. 🙂

    “Don’t be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart.” ― Roy T. Bennett

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is so hard not to do. I have two daughters, so I practiced not comparing while raising them; it’s hard. I also re-framed the idea of comparing yourself to yourself; yoga helped with that concept because what you do today may be totally different than what you can do tomorrow.

    Anywho, thanks for this read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It must be so difficult not to compare children, especially if they’re the same sex, and to respect and celebrate their individuality instead. You’re right about being mindful that our bodies can learn to do wonderful things – like yoga – and how amazing that process can be. Many thanks for sharing your experience.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I remember that time I did feel like I have the upper hand and it was an ex-boyfriend who always called me beautiful no matter what day no matter what I look like but he always saw the beauty. And for some reason now I seem to think that’s what I need to go back to but I’m not even sure what that is. He broke my heart I know it will never get them back. It’s just my irrational brain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We appreciate it so much when someone else accepts us unconditionally, but it can be so painful when we lose it. I think what we really need is to find that unconditional acceptance within ourselves – that’s the challenge, that’s where the work is. When we can find self-compassion and self-acceptance we’re not so dependent on others to provide it. Many thanks for sharing your experience, I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts.

      Like

      1. Thank you. It feels therapeutic to share. When I read it it’s almost as if It is someone else. I Learn more about myself by writing about my experiences. Accepting who I am is definitely a struggle. I’m a work in progress for sure.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. a beautiful post. We loose ourselves in undue comparison, forgetting that each of us is unique, wonderful. You are so right. I enjoyed reading your post and how young girls were not able to find themselves in this race.

    Liked by 1 person

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