In a world where connections via social media are literally at the tips of our fingers, it feels like we have this awesome insight into other people’s lives.
We see where they are traveling, what they are eating, and who they are spending their time with.
And with this magnified glimpse into the world of others comes our dear friend, Comparison.
Why do We Compare?
It is natural for humans to compare themselves to others. Research shows we’ve been taught to engage in this behavior since about 7 or 8 years old. Social comparison theory explains that we engage in this behavior to determine how we are faring compared to others within our various environments and social circles.
This impacts our self-worth, consciously or unconsciously. Thus, we are wired to rate ourselves in regards to attractiveness, physical appearance, intelligence, wealth, creativity, personality and general success compared to others.
How we Compare
Social comparison doesn’t always make us feel worse about ourselves. There are two types of outlets for comparing: Upward and downward social comparison.
With upward, we compare ourselves to someone who we view as superior to us; whereas with downward, we view ourselves as superior to someone else.
We tend to compare ourselves with those whom we associate with, like friends or colleagues, because these are the people that we already identify with and relate to in some way.
Here are some points to consider when you feel trapped in social media comparison:
1. What You See Is Not What You Get
People often post their best selves on social media: One that they want to portray a certain way and receive a certain response in return. It’s important to remember that on the Internet, realistic and genuine depictions are not the norm.
Remind yourself that all humans experience difficult challenges in life- they’re just unlikely to broadcast them in a post. And with this in mind, try to not automatically compare yourself to something that likely isn’t 100% realistic to begin with.
2. Their Success Does Not Equate to Your Failure
Seeing others succeed does not mean you have failed. And approaching social media comparison with such a zero-sum lens can be damaging to self-esteem and confidence.
When you notice unpleasant comparisons, this is a good opportunity to get curious about what chord in you is being struck. Comforting those self-defeating thoughts with self-compassion can remind yourself that you are your own person, and are taking your own course. And that success is defined differently for each individual.
3. The Motivation Factor
While there are negative effects to social media comparison, it isn’t always a bad thing. Seeing other people post about their successes and accomplishments may act as added encouragement or motivation to pursue your own goals.
Acknowledging what is going to be beneficial, realistic, and rewarding for yourself is the key. Because comparing ourselves to our own selves can also help us strive for improvement, and help meet yourself where you are at.
4. Our Emotional Outlook
If we look at others’ posts with jealousy, upset, or self-scrutiny, then that’s the emotion or negative thought that will likely stick with us. In the end, these thoughts and emotions run deeper than social media comparison.
Noticing this gut-reaction can be an opportunity for further self-reflection into your self-esteem and confidence:
- How can you turn to self-compassion instead of harsh self-scrutiny when the comparison bubbles up?
- What would happen if you instead react with kindness and happiness for others?
- How could you shift your feelings about your own experiences?
Ultimately, getting curious about the visceral reactions brought on by the social media comparison game may help you realize how you’re interpreting things around you on a daily basis, and can change the way you feel about engaging with social media platforms.
- The Comparison Trap
- Why We Compare Ourselves to Others on Social Media and How to Stop
- A Scholar Breaks Down the Real Reasons We Compare on Social Media
About the Author
Lilly Servera is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) at Well Clinic in San Francisco.
“With so much happening in daily life, you deserve to find someone empathetic, non-judgemental, and trustworthy to confide in. For me, it is a privilege to be allowed to listen to someone’s story, and witness their journey towards self-improvement.”