People frequently get caught in the trap of comparing themselves to others when they feel insecure. This is a sure way to get into a worse place, psychologically speaking. There will always be someone else who has more money, whose career is (or seems) more fulfilling, who has more interesting hobbies, or is more beautiful. The list could go on forever. Complicating matters, social networking makes it easier than ever to be aware of what friends and acquaintances are up to. Why is it so difficult to feel happy for those others instead of getting caught up in the comparison and envy trap?
It would be fine if people could simply make observations about the beauty, strength, or other wonderful attributes of others and be happy for them. But so often, people don’t. Instead, they go into self-judgments. They ask themselves questions like “If she is like this, then how am I?” “How do I stack up?” “Why can’t I be like that/have that/do that?”
One excellent possibility is that this tendency is reflective of a competitive streak. This is an “excellent possibility” because it can be a source of growth. This aspect of the personality can be harnessed, leading to new ways of thinking and behaving in a positive life direction. Realizing this possibility can free people from staying stuck in discouragement and inadequacy. Of course the realization needs to be backed up with concrete action steps. Which action steps are needed? Reflecting upon what is triggering the comparisons and underlying sense of inadequacy will help to identify some possible courses of action. Reflecting on one’s personal values and priorities is even more important.
Is it bad to compare and compete? Some people think so, and this compounds the problem by creating a sense of shame around it. It feels kinder and gentler to NOT compete. Yet there is an authentic and healthy part of the self that is excited and compelled to grow. Comparison, envy, and competition can be the drivers of growth. Believing that feeling envy and wanting to compete is bad can result in a kind of “twisting up” on the inside which saps energy and can become an excuse for inaction. It keeps people fighting with themselves instead of taking risks, connecting, and moving forward in life.
Instead of staying in the place of shame, self-condemnation, and inadequacy, people who get caught in the comparing trap can choose a different course. They can identify the feeling mindfully, without judgment. They can decide on one thing to do that is in agreement with personal values and goals. Doing one thing is enough to invite a new feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction, however small. The alternative is not pretty. Get unstuck from the trap!