What To Do When You Are Caught In The Comparison Trap


When I was younger, I was convinced there was an email about life that passed me by. Everyone seemed to have figured stuff out and I was perpetually turning a corner. To say my parents weren’t exasperated would have been the understatement of the century. I was always hellbent on being different and other people’s choices just didn’t make sense to me. The comparison game was driving me demented. I constantly felt I was failing.


There is a lot of literature out there telling us not to compare ourselves with others. I am sure you have heard that ‘comparison is the thief of joy’. But come one, be honest, are you still looking at pictures on social media and questioning yourself? Is there someone in your circle that always seems to go from one successful thing onto another and just as you feel you are catching up, they have to go and do something even more impressive? Their children are always perfectly turned out, perfectly behaved and get a gazillion A*s in their exams.


We are social creatures and comparison, believe it or not, is part of who we are. It helps us make sense of stuff. We need a baseline, a KPI, a benchmark. Otherwise how else do we ever know if we are cutting it? The problem with this is, we are not a product or a service. We are complex multifaceted human beings. One size does not fit all and to compound matters, it is not a level playing field. For comparison to work, you have to compare apples to apples and all variables need to be controlled. You cannot get this with humans and our ever changing life circumstances. That is why it is a waste of time and emotions to indulge in the comparison game.


In a study: The theory of social comparison processes published by Leon Festinger in Human Relations, he states that: ‘The holding of incorrect opinions and/or inaccurate appraisals of one’s abilities can be punishing or even fatal in many situations.’


This is exactly what happens when you indulge in the comparison game. You will end up with an inaccurate opinion or appraisal of yourself. You will not be comparing apples with apples and before you know it, you will be headed in the wrong direction blaming yourself for not being good enough. This is when it becomes punishing. This is how you end up living up to someone else’s standard. A standard that if you stopped to think about it, you will realise that deep down, you never really cared that much if your child was the best turned out child at school but it would kill you if you realised that your relationship with your child was compromised. So what should your real standard be?


The problem is, a lot of people never stop to work out their own standards. This is where it goes from punishing to dangerous and perhaps even fatal. Apart from the fact that it is pointless to compare because you never have all the facts about someone else’s life, if you haven’t worked out your own standards, how can you ever make a fair comparison?  Unless you are into self-flagellation, comparison never ever makes sense.


With all that said, we are still social creatures and we are wired to make sense of things and to do that, you need some form of metric to measure by. So what to do? 


Again, if you must compare, compare only against yourself. That is the only place that you have all the facts and you will be comparing apples with apples, as in comparing against your own standards. Even with that, comparing who you are now, to who you were 10 years ago, unless you are a museum piece will still not be a fair comparison.

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