Comparing ourselves to others is a common, natural tendency, and can be good in some ways. We can see someone else’s achievement and create a vision of what we want for ourselves. It can inspire and ignite us to take action. It can be an occasional glance, or what we keep in mind while focusing on our own journey. This can be good!
But there’s a downside to comparisons. When comparing ourselves to others becomes a constant focus and our comparisons aren’t just with our peers but an endless cycle of celebrities and influencers, it can be dangerous for our mental health. One of the biggest sources of these unhealthy comparisons: social media. What was initially a place to connect with others has become a breeding ground for constant and harmful comparisons.
Social Media and the Urge to Compare
Social media is a key player in the compare-despair mindset. This is when comparing ourselves to others leaves us feeling bad. We see what others are doing, how they look, or what they have, and tell ourselves we are “less than” in some way. And our insecurities play a role in this comparison trap.
We all have insecurities! They can come from when we recognize the differences between ourselves and others, and we begin to question something about ourselves. Someone may point out our differences through a joke, and the negative thought is dropped into our heads. The seed has been planted, and social media can help those weeds grow.
When we scroll, our insecurities are present. And we are filtering what we see through the lens of our insecurities. Whatever you are feeling insecure about is what you give more attention to when you scroll. If you’re not feeling confident about a certain body part, you end up hyper focusing more on that body part when you surf, creating more negative self-talk and leaving you feeling worse about your insecurity. It’s like pouring salt into an open wound.
Comparison has Reached New Levels
Lately, I see the comparisons becoming more than just what people look like, what they are doing, and their possessions. The comparisons have reached a new, destructive level. I see the comparison creeping into how the people we follow are living their lives. We perceive they are living blissful, seemingly perfect lives, free from disappointments, difficulties, or any mental health struggles.
It can leave us feeling like everyone but us has life figured out. We know we are facing difficulties, but the hundreds of lives we’re seeing each day don’t seem to be struggling, so we think, “it just must be me.” We end up finding more things to be insecure about and more negative self-talk is created, and we beat ourselves up.
And while we’re doing the unhealthy comparison thing, we’re also trying to figure out who we are, and our place in the world. We need this time to be explorative, and not full of pressure and judgment, so we can venture out without hesitation, and without being too self-conscious. Social media really doesn’t allow for that. And when we are scrolling, we are trying to attach to so many different things trying to figure out who we should be and it can be confusing.
Promise of Perfection, Threat of Rejection
Remember the wild animal lurking from listening to your body article? I often wonder if the threat lurking now is rejection. We are constantly trying to figure out who we should be to fit it, measure up, and not fall behind-all in an effort to be accepted. It is hard to be comfortable in our own skin when we are focused on mitigating rejection.
Social media only shows quick snapshots of someone’s life. The best–and very highly curated–highlights of the day. We see different people excel at different talents, and then expect ourselves to be good at all of them. But no one is good at everything!
We don’t see unflattering photos, mistakes, or embarrassing moments or times of crisis, like dealing with breakups. We only see the illusion of perfection. It can be very misleading, and leave us feeling like we aren’t good enough or deficient in some way. And our desire to create perfection in ourselves can skyrocket.
Social media is our default when we have free time. And when we aren’t feeling great about ourselves, we tend to isolate and our social media use increases. This only increases your bad feelings. It’s just piling on during the hard time you’re already experiencing.
And because humans are naturally curious, it can be hard to stop our use, and the downward spiral that may impact our mental health.
How Can I Help Myself When I’m Caught in a Comparison Trap?
Be curious and ask yourself:
- Is my mental health taking a hit when using social media?
- How am I feeling when using social media?
- What are my thoughts saying?
- Who am I comparing myself to?
- Am I dependent on “likes” to feel good about myself?
- Is social media content blowing up my insecurities and/or creating new ones?
- Does social media use cause me to question how I am living life or my self-worth?
- Is social media use messing with my amount of sleep?
The best way to help yourself if you’re caught in comparison is to curate your feed! Surround yourself with things that are helpful, and contribute to you feeling good about yourself. Follow people who show their true selves and don’t use filters, photoshop, and face tuning apps.
How Can Others Support Me When I’m Caught in a Comparison Trap?
Grab your mental health ally and go through the list of questions above together. Don’t make it a one-time conversation, but something you do together often.
Quick Tip: Remember “Perfection” Is Impossible
Keep in my mind this slightly-updated definition of perfection when scrolling:
“for humans, an impossibility, an unachievable state. An illusion some feel others have achieved. Trying to achieve it or holding belief that it is possible will cause pain and likely create another issue or multiple issues.”
Caring about YOU and your mental health,
Read the next blog in the series: Identify: Understanding Common Feelings Associated With Social Media (Belonging)
– Written by Susan Caso, MA/LPC and Mental Health Director for the LIV Project