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The Mental Health Effects of Comparison to Others

The mental health effects of comparison to others – silhouette of two faces

The internet makes it very difficult to avoid comparison to others. There they are, in their Instagram-perfect photos and their seemingly amazing lives. Perhaps the “nice” thing to do would be to feel good for them, and maybe the reasonable thing to do would be to recognize that things probably aren’t as perfect as they seem. But how many of us in our worst moments are nice or reasonable?

Comparison isn’t fun

In some ways I’m a bit of a dinosaur, cruising along on the tail end of generation X. I didn’t grow up in an ultra-connected world. I had a Facebook account at one point, but I ended up deleting it, partly because I was playing way too much Farmville (does that even still exist?) but mostly because seeing other people’s supposedly happy lives was making me feel utterly alone and bitter in my depressed state.

Quitting Facebook wasn’t that hard, but what I continue to struggle with to this day is Google stalking. Not of the hardcore creepy variety, but finding out what former classmates and colleagues were up to, and using that information to compare myself and conclude that my life was even more pathetic than I thought it was. A lot of it was career-oriented, and it was particularly bad in situations where I felt like I was at least as capable as the other person. Envy is never particularly pretty.

The impact of depression

Depression totally changes things. The biggest trap I fall into is comparing myself when ill to myself when well, because it’s been a big drop. The friendships, close family ties, full-time work in a career I loved… that’s all gone. Sometimes I will then turn to Google stalking to reinforce these views. I’ll see how much career success a former classmate or coworker is having, and compare that to myself being hardly able to work.

Sometimes I’ll start should-ing on myself. I should have done this, and then I’d have that. If I hadn’t done this, I should have been able to have that. There is a reasonable part of me that knows hindsight is 20/20. That reasonable part, though, also recognizes that there is a germ of truth underlying all of this; I have had substantial losses. I just need to re-orient where I’m focusing my comparisons.

It’s interesting, when I’m well I’m not prone to fall into that trap of comparing myself to others. I always had pretty good self-esteem, and I was very independent, preferring to do my own thing than to follow the crowds. I was pretty content with where I was in life. I had goals and ambitions, but they were more focused on what I wanted rather than being relative to what other people were doing.

Being more focused

I’ve tried really hard over the past year to stop with the Google stalking, and I’ve gotten a lot better with it. It’s been a long time since I’ve logged into LinkedIn, and when I get an email with a Linked In connection request I just delete it. My Twitter and Pinterest accounts are only for blogging-related things.

The online mental health community has been really helpful in shifting my focus to the reality that we’re all facing a lot of challenges and trying to fumble along as best we can. The respect and admiration I feel for others in the community reminds me that I deserve to get those same things from myself.

It would be so easy to let myself get sucked up in the social media whirlwind and go back to my comparison-fuelling Google stalking habits. It would be easy, but I choose not to go down that road; or, when I head in that direction, I will reorientate myself to where I need to be.

Is comparison something that you struggle with?

Don’t compare yourself to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about. 

Regina Brett
Embrace Acceptance guided journal

Embrace Acceptance: A Guided Journal draws on concepts from acceptance and commitment therapy to help you move towards a place of greater acceptance. It’s available from the MH@H Download Centre.

29 thoughts on “The Mental Health Effects of Comparison to Others”

  1. I used to get hung up in the whirlwind of social media, then feeling jealous and bad about myself.
    Although I still have my FB still, I haven’t followed, nor shared much there is quite a long time.
    I’m like you. I’d rather be here in a community that is supportive, informative, and overall non-judgmental. Thank goodness we have that here.

  2. I’m at the low end of the baby boomer generation so I never got attracted to FB. I find it hilarious that my 75 year old mother just got on FB last month. My brother keeps encouraging me to start! Nooo thank you! Do I really want to see my brother’s pictures of his trip to Italy? Pass! I started running this past week, got into Tai-Chi again, bake, garden, read and write. I will enjoy my life at my own pace while they do their thing.

  3. Living in a small town, it is very clear to me that what people show on social media is definitely the “highlight reel”! I know what’s really going on in most of my friend’s lives! 😂😂😂 And they know a lot of mine. So…sure, I get envious of some things. But when it comes right down to it, I’ll keep my familiar troubles, thank you! I like my life for the most part-and I barely even remember about 2 decades of it, so that’s saying something. 😊

  4. Comparing myself to others is something I struggle with a lot as well. I find I have to remind myself that for most people social media shows just a snapshot of their life. It’s hard to avoid comparing though, especially when depression sets in.

  5. I understand this, I used to do it lot. I would get frustrated because it seemed like everyone I went to high school already had their lives together. Most of them did. They had already graduated from college and starting careers or were married and had their own family, which is something I don’t really see happening for me realistically, I don’t think I could manage having kids, as nice as it would be to have my own family. And I didn’t date for 5 years when my mental illness was at it’s worst. Everyone would be posting pictures of their fiances, etc and I’d be on there posting pictures of my cats haha. I’m 24 now and feel like several years of my life just disappeared due to not being well. I’m still working on my associates degree and have to do it part time. I’ve had to take breaks. I don’t’ have much of a social life but I realize that not everybody’s life is the same, and not everybody is meant to do the same things in life. My life may be different than many my age but I’ve learned to be okay with it and still find meaning in it 🙂

  6. It’s amusing but also sad that I was literally just thinking yesterday after reading the post where you talked about your qualifications, that I was lazy and a failure in comparison to you because I “only” have an undergraduate degree 😭😭

  7. I was going to say that I think you’re doing better at this than me, but I guess that’s also comparing!

    I’ve also long since come off FB. Never had Tumblr or Instagram. Am technically on Twitter to promote my non-anonymous blog, but avoid it. But still I compare myself to people, mostly to real life people. My synagogue seems to be full of people barely half my age who are getting married and having children (is that even legal? Shouldn’t they be, like, old before they’re allowed to do that? Twenties isn’t old!). I’ve been google stalking a bit recently, but thankfully it’s been hard to find people, particularly as I’m mostly looking for ex-crushes who are apparently now all married and living with new surnames (or otherwise hard to find). Although I did find out the other day that one (male) university acquaintance is now a partner in a big law firm, which did not surprise me as if I had been asked to name one person I was at university with who was unimaginative successful enough to be a partner in a big law firm, it would have been him. He’ll probably be a Cabinet minister in twenty years.

    Weirdly, more than I want to know what people are doing, I want people who came into my life to know just how hard my life has been. Perhaps the ones who hurt me, but mostly the ones who I potentially hurt (I don’t know if I did) or at least the ones who would have witnessed my craziness and freakishness. I wish they could just know that there are reasons for my being a freak (depression, autism), I wasn’t just some crazy weirdo who messed up their lives on a whim.

  8. I guess we all have this problem: comparing ourselves to others or envying people because we believe they are happier, more successful, prettier…I don’t know at what point it becomes an illness, but for sure we all have it! Social Media has just increased it because now we can see everything, before it required some good stalking skills and probably a detective to do so 🙂 The way I see it, we should find out what we love, what makes us really happy even if it’s something silly or simple, and just do it, focus on it and forget about what others know or do! Everyone is unique as fingerprints are…if we’re not satisfied, we just work to improve but the comparison should always be with our previous version not with anyone on this planet..Easy said than done I know but this is the only way to break this comparison circle…Why we don’t compare ourselves to the people that are less fortunate, having less than we do in different aspects? This is the part where we count our blessings I guess…I wish you all the best and I hope it will always gets better 🙂

  9. Oh..I totally compare myself to others…. I look on facebook and see what others are doing and it makes me feel so bad that I can’t do what they are doing (traveling, changing careers, hanging with family and friends). I am just getting by each day…just trying to eat. I do work full time, but I am always afraid of that being pulled away too. I have learned to stay in my office…isolating myself from my coworkers too. I just don’t feel good. Not only do I see things on facebook, but I see things in my face… people at work smiling and happy. And they really are. I used to be like that (well I always had anxiety)…but I was happier than I am now. Now, I feel like I am dying. But today..was an okay day. And I have decided to create a list called “what I did today that I didn’t think that I could do.” Just something so that I can remind myself of this. Thank you for always liking my blogs, even if you don’t read them. You are a true “follower.” You always like. Thank you.

  10. Constantly, I feel I’m surrounded by people who have a clear view of what direction they’re going in. Me, on the other hand, am stuck at a crossroads at nearly 31 🙁 I keep wondering where I went wrong.

  11. Ha ha, yes Farmville! I was quite obsessed with it at one point. Never tried google stalking, can’t say I really care enough about other people to start!
    Wordpress is the best community anyway 🙂

  12. Beautiful written! 💕 I so agree with you. Comparison is the worst. I also do it a lot and then I end up feeling worse. What ifs are also bad because it makes my mind go crazy. What if I did this, what if blabla. We are all just doing our best in life. I have FB but I use Instagram more and just love to be in the mental health community and follow people who inspire me rather than whose make me feel bad about myself.

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