Beware: To Compare May Lead To Despair

In my psychotherapy practice, I commonly hear clients comparing themselves to others and usually not coming out too favorably. I often hear statements like,

“I saw pictures of my old high school friend on Facebook and their life seems to have turned out so much better than mine!”  

“My colleague seems to have such a charmed life and it makes me feel like such a loser.”  

“She has the perfect job, the perfect husband, and the perfect body—she just seems to have it all.”  

In such comparisons, seems is the operative word. But a person’s real life is rarely what it seems to be to the outside world—or to their Facebook friends!  

There is nothing new about comparing yourself to friends, relatives, or colleagues. What is relatively new is the constant barrage of images and posts we can use as ammo against ourselves in the comparing and despairing game. And very often, we tend to compare ourselves to someone we think has it all, causing us to zero in on the things that we think are missing in our own lives. The problem is that comparing in this way factors in only a fraction of a much larger picture. Rarely do people post pictures of themselves on Facebook when they have horrible indigestion or a raging headache. Rarely do people write on their timelines that they are filled with anxiety over a recent fight they had with a loved one, or that they are in the midst of intense grief or loneliness. We tend to put on a happy face, post happy pics, and tweet about happy times. And then others compare themselves to our fleeting posts and tweets, thinking they represent the full story—which, of course, is never the case.

Too often we compare the complexity of our own life to the superficial “snapshots” of another person’s.

This can lead to some very unhappy introspection if we are not careful. When we unfavorably compare ourselves to our image of someone else, we often imagine that they have the qualities we think we are missing. So rather than develop and nurture those qualities within ourselves, we may divert our attention outward and beat ourselves up for not being as successful, attractive, happy, disciplined, creative, or fulfilled as someone else seems to be. Oftentimes, the person we’re comparing ourselves to is someone we don’t even know very well. If we did, we would understand that they have a myriad of their own issues, struggles and insecurities.  

The truth is that if someone constantly tells you that everything is always great, I would suspect that they are either lying, in denial, highly medicated, or a very rare enlightened being! Granted, there are people with really positive attitudes and people who seem to have an easier time of it than others; but we are all human, and we all experience pain, loss and a variety of emotions.

I spent years lost in the despairing of comparing. I was in some pretty low places at the time, and I chose to compare myself to people who weren’t. I never bothered to look around and see that everyone, at one time or another, is battling something. We simply take turns. And when it is our turn to experience the challenging chapters of life, what we need most is to reach out for support and reach inward for compassion and kindness. We need to remind ourselves that the pain will pass and that there have been and will be moments of sweetness. What we don’t need is to compare ourselves to someone whose life looks “perfect” and add fuel to the fire of our pain.

So, the next time you find yourself caught in the web of compare and despair, here are some tips for you to try:

  • When you find yourself comparing yourself to someone else, remind yourself that they have already had, may currently have, and definitely will have many struggles in this life.
  • Make a list of all the positive qualities you think the object of your comparisons has, and then begin to find those same qualities within yourself.
  • The next time you see a perfect looking picture of someone on your Facebook page, tell yourself that it represents one single image in a lifetime of experiences, some of which are joyful, some of which are painful.
  • Look around you and realize that everyone is the same on some level. See if you can wish everyone well, knowing that we are all doing the best we can with the tools we have been given. See if you can be compassionate toward someone in pain and happy for someone in joy, and then see if you can do that for yourself!
Andrea Wachter is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and co-author of Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell as well as The Don’t Diet, Live-It Workbook. She is also the author of Getting Over Overeating for Teens. Andrea is an inspirational counselor, author and speaker who uses professional expertise, humor and personal recovery to help others. For more information on her books, blogs and other services, please visit www.andreawachter.com.

I hope Andrea's writing helps Inspire Your Recovery.  Xo, Angie

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Andrea Wachter, LMFT

Andrea Wachter is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and co-author of Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell as well as The Don’t Diet, Live-It Workbook. She is also author of the upcoming book, Getting Over Overeating for Teens. Andrea is an inspirational counselor, author, and speaker who uses professional expertise, humor and personal recovery to help others. For more information on her books, blogs and other services, please visit Inner Solutions.