“He is such a good lawyer. AND he’s four years less qualified than me. I’ll NEVER be like him. I should be MUCH better than I am. It’s a miracle I have this job at all! I’m sure I’ll be found out sooner or later.” … Sound familiar? Or perhaps it’s more like: “I am so ugly compared to her. If only I looked like her, I would be SO confident and happy.”… Making comparisons is commonplace, particularly when it comes to intelligence, performance and looks. It can be exhausting. And usually results in a more entrenched inferiority complex. But how can we halt the mental downward spiral ensured from making comparisons? This is a huge topic, and it can certainly take time and effort to change mental habits. But do NOT give up faith! Here are some pointers to set you on your way.
Before you read on, I want to emphasise that I’m not criticising social comparisons that are a natural and necessary part of humanity. A certain level of social comparison can be necessary for integration into society and self-development. What I’m referring to in this article is the comparison game that serves no purpose except to reaffirm low self-worth.
OBSERVING YOUR INNER CRITIC
I believe we all have an ‘inner critic’. It is that internal heckler which tells us we are “too fat”, “not pretty enough”, “stupid”, “pathetic”, “a rubbish lawyer”, “a bad parent” and so on. What can you do about your inner critic? First things first, observe it. Once you can take a step back from it and observe these internal criticisms, you’ll find that you are more able to detach yourself from that critical voice. Your inner critic does not define you. It is not you in your entirety. You are much more than what that critical voice is telling you.
BEWARE THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL
If you identify fully with your inner critic, you are in danger of getting caught up in a downward spiral of self-criticism. What starts out as a single thought, “Lucy is so much cleverer than me”, is then exacerbated by the inner critic’s further input. Before you know it, you’ve also told yourself you’re stupid…everyone else thinks you’re an idiot…you don’t deserve your job…you can’t leave this job as you’d never get another one elsewhere… Exhausting! And ultimately crippling.
Now that you are aware of your internal heckler, see if you can catch the initial critical thought that it is beating you over the head with. This will help you to avoid spinning off into that downward spiral of self-criticism.
When you catch yourself unfairly comparing yourself with another person try saying to yourself, “So what?! So what if David is a better lawyer than me?” (And I would encourage you to practice saying this with humour rather than as further self-criticism.)
Doing this takes some of the attention away from how well someone else may be doing, and instead brings it back to you. Expending energy focusing on the performance or external qualities of another in this way is often futile. The only person you are in control of is yourself. Therefore, focusing on the performance or external qualities of another can mean wasted energy.
RECOGNISE YOUR INDIVIDUALITY AND YOUR OWN STRENGTHS
You are unique. It may sound cheesy but it is a fact. The world would be a boring place if we were all the same. You may find it difficult to identify your strengths, but I can guarantee you, you DO have some! The sooner you can identify and value your intrinsic qualities, such as kindness, compassion, courage, empathy, a sense of humour…,, the better you’ll feel about yourself. And the more you can start believing in yourself, the less likely you are to look to others as a measure of your self-worth.
SET AN INTENTION TODAY!
Set an intention today to try to limit how much you compare yourself with others. If you do find yourself falling into the comparison trap then notice it, forgive yourself for it, then pick yourself up and try again.