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Stopping Comparisons: Reclaim Reality and Raise Your Self-Esteem

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“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel” ~Steve Furtick

Have you ever wondered when the turning point was? When did you start questioning yourself and believing you were missing something? When did you stop thinking of yourself as invincible and start noticing what others called “flaws”?

As a teenager and young adult, I struggled with severe depression and anxiety. I collected diagnoses like baseball cards: anorexia, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and borderline personality disorder, to name a few.

In 2010, as a 21-year-old college senior, I traded in days spent at the library and nights spent going on bad dates (or wishing I had a bad date) for residential treatment for my eating disorder.

After seven weeks there, I postponed my final semester of college for a year of medical leave, a decision that proved to be life-changing in the most positive of ways.

During my second stint in treatment, I met a young woman who was a year older than me, and the walking embodiment of everything I wanted to be. I felt threatened, intimidated, and highly insecure every time we were in the same room.

She was smart, beautiful, spoke French better than I did, and had a loving boyfriend. I wished that I had her olive skin and shiny dark hair, not to mention her exquisite wardrobe.

However, I also quickly learned how much she and I had in common, including an insurmountable desire to be envied and admired for our accomplishments. Our similarities caused us to repel against each other like the similar poles of a magnet. 

I so badly wanted to be her, and she became the mirror by which I judged myself for the next few months. Despite our apparent commonalities, she always had the edge, or so I believed.

In reality, her life wasn’t as perfect as I made it out to be. After all, the only reason we had even met was because we were both patients with eating disorders, but I chose to ignore this key fact.

Nevertheless, I believed that the reason she didn’t like me was because she thought she was better than me, confirming the beliefs I had about myself—that I was unlikable, obnoxious, and stupid, and that’s why people gravitated to her over me.

On my last day in treatment, all the patients and therapists gathered in a group for a small goodbye ceremony.

When it was her turn, she said without hesitation, “I was really intimidated by you when I got here. You’re so smart and were constantly writing in your journal. I always thought you were writing all of these brilliant philosophical thoughts and I couldn’t keep up with you.”

As it turns out, I had created this entire scenario where she didn’t talk to me because she thought I was stupid and obnoxious.

It had nothing to do with reality and everything to do with my own beliefs about myself and how others perceived me.

Words will never do justice to how I felt at that moment. I was genuinely shocked to my core by her admission that she had at one point compared herself to me!

Now, almost two years later, I look back at the situation and see why this woman crossed my path.

I learned that when we compare ourselves, we don’t do it fairly. More importantly, the process of comparison leads to desperation, not happiness, and loosens, not tightens, our grip on reality.

If I had imagined her hatred and annoyance for me, what else had I imagined?

Did the world I thought I lived in have anything at all to do with reality?

Throughout the next years, I discovered that the way I compared myself to others was inherently flawed.

I was setting myself up to lose.

I compared my worst moments to others’ best moments, which left me reeling in depression and always falling short of my own already problematic expectations.

While it took me several years to learn that I had been building my confidence the wrong way, it was a beautiful moment when it all clicked.

Now I’m able to see the monsters I created out of shadows and stop myself from creating more.

By applying the following ideas to my daily experiences, I not only boosted my own self-esteem, but gained greater respect and understanding for others who are also just trying to find their way in this world.

1. Realize that comparisons rarely, if ever, leave us feeling better about ourselves.

Tip: I know that I’m in the process of comparing if my stomach starts to hurt and my mind is replaying negative thoughts and memories. That’s my cue to change something about the situation I’m in.

It might mean reciting a few affirmations, reading some inspiring quotes, calling a friend, or increasing positive self-talk. It might also mean that I need to remove myself from the situation I’m in.

2. Use differences as an opportunity to learn and grow rather than a chance to get down on yourself for what you believe are weaknesses or failures. 

I used to see others’ successes as intimidating and let them detract from my own self-worth. As an experiment, I tried looking at the accomplishments of others as proof that I could achieve my own dreams too, and all I had to do was put in the effort and be patient with myself.

3. If you start to compare, ask yourself the following:
  • Do I have all the information?
  • Am I judging fairly, or using someone’s success to make myself feel like a failure?
  • Will comparing make me feel better or worse about myself? Be honest!
4. Cultivate compassion toward yourself and others; it changes everything.

Berating yourself or others won’t produce change in the long run. When you take a compassionate stance, you give yourself the chance to accept yourself the way you are and in turn, that lets you create positive change. Change that comes from a place of self-love is more sustainable than change that comes from a place of self-hatred.

5. Don’t let someone else’s confidence diminish your own.

There is not a limited amount of confidence in the world. There’s room for all of us to feel good about who we are and what we accomplish.

Photo by missportilla

Avatar of Alex S

About Alex S

Alex Smith writes about creating a life worth living at Raw Recovery. With a degree in Philosophy, she works as a free-lance writer and budding entrepreneur. She will soon be launching a series of workbooks devoted to helping others recover from eating disorders and self-esteem issues. Her mission is to prove that anyone can create happiness.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • http://twitter.com/EFTFreedom Ben Ross

    Definately, I always have compared myself too much to the best people in the fields of what i’m into. But when I was able to let some of that go and focus on where I have improved and how far i’ve come then things have been much better and i’ve come further.

    -Ben

  • Razwana

    Well said, Alex! The push for perfection is exhausting – and comparing ourselves to others just makes it even more difficult.

    How interesting that the woman you were intimidated by felt the same way about you. Did that change your level of self-confidence when you heard her telling you this?

    I guess we never know what is going inside other people’s heads! Best to make the most of what is happening inside our own!

    - Razwana

  • David Forbes

    Well written and brave post. The ability to fairly validate our perceptions and the perceptions of others is such an important and undervalued life skill. I like that you listed a few techniques that you use too (coaching yourself, talking to a friend, reading favorite quotes). Thanks for sharing Alex!

  • Alex

    Thank you so much for reading and commenting, David!

  • Alex

    Hi Razwana! Thanks for your comment! I wouldn’t say that this situation immediately and permanently changed my level of self-esteem, but it was definitely the catalyst that got me to where I’m at now. Quite honestly, I was still in shock months after this happened, and I didn’t let myself take in her honesty, which in hindsight I wish I would have! Any time I’m tempted to go back to my old way of thinking and “mind read,” substituting my own thoughts and projections without really knowing what someone else is thinking, I think back to that moment and I can definitely feel a change in my self-confidence! I love the last line of your comment, “Best to make the most of what is happening inside our own!”–well said and so true!

  • Alex

    Hi Ben! I think it’s hard to not fall into that comparison trap, but I know I am so much happier when I can pull myself out of it! I like how you said that you’ve come further once you’re able to let go and focus on yourself and what you’ve accomplished. It’s almost like it takes the pressure off and let’s us achieve even more than we previously thought possible!

  • http://www.facebook.com/aeconomos Alex Economos

    Hi Alex! I’m Alex as well :D . . . I really enjoyed your post! It was really brave and I definitely can relate to the negativity that comparisons can breed. Being at a crossroads in life right now, it is often easy for me to compare my life to other peoples lives and somehow come to the conclusion that they are better off. It makes me realize I’m not the only one :). I wish you best of luck and thank you again!!

  • Johanna_Galt

    Thanks so much for sharing this Alex. I’m constantly comparing myself to others and as a result, always feel like I’m falling short. I don’t know that I’ll be able to immediately take in all the wisdom you offer here and stop right away, but I’ll at least be more mindful of what I’m doing and do a reality check with myself. I love the quote that starts off the article. It’s a good reminder that what I’m comparing myself to isn’t always the whole picture. Especially in today’s world of Facebook, etc., it’s all too easy to think everyone else has it better, when really that’s just what they choose to present. Thanks for reminding me of that.

  • Alex

    Hi Johanna! Thank you for your lovely comment! I hope you will be able to gentle with yourself as you start to compare less. It takes time and I found that extending kindness to myself during the process made a HUGE difference. I completely agree with your thoughts about Facebook and other social media…it makes it easy to portray a seemingly perfect life and it is even easier to get down on ourselves about it. Best of luck!

  • Alex

    Hi Alex! Great name :) Thank you for your kind words, I’m really glad you enjoyed the post! It is so easy to believe that everyone else has it better/easier, when in reality, we all have our stuff going on. I wish you the best of luck as well and thank you for taking the time to comment!

  • http://relationship-consciousness.webs.com/ Claude Lagang

    So true! :)

    Furthermore, being your best requires you to feel worthy of the best but not to be more worthy than the rest.

    Always,
    Claude

  • Alex

    Thanks Claude! Well said!

  • Nguyen Hoang Lam

    Thank you for your sharing. It is very useful. The philosophy of stopping comparisons and its justifications are all good.

  • Victor H, Alegria

    Thank You =) You don’t know how much this helps me. I am going through some personal rough times. I make myself feel like a failure because of the life I have. I don’t appreciate the good I have and think about where I should be in life than where I am right now. Ms. Alex. Your post literally uplifted me. Thank you. =)

  • Codester

    Thank you for sharing, Alex. I currently work with adolescent girls who struggle with some of the same issues. I think your insight and experiences would be powerful for them to hear. I hope you don’t mind me sharing. I only wish you could come speak to them directly.

  • GeorgieGirt

    Innit doe yh omfg i kno

  • Patent Lawyer

    Excellent post, really excellent, I think you’re so right to tell us to take a step back from comparisons, they really are never helpful and they are often unfounded.

    http://www.eip.com/

  • yesica

    For a month, continually say to yourself ” I love and accept myself as I am .”
    When I poke a contrary thought , do not give importance and resume the
    sentence.

    If we do not have what we need , if it seems that life denies us our aspirations and needs,
    although apparently fight for satisfying them, it is likely that this occurs
    because subconsciously we do not feel deserving of success, because we feel
    unworthy of be happy, because, from a low self-esteem and a lack of love for
    ourselves, unconsciously seek failure.

    Type in a list: “I deserve to have (or be ) … and I accept it now.” Write
    each merit several times , paying attention to what happens in your body. Ask
    yourself if you believe what he says or if , on the contrary , it still feels
    unworthy.
    If your body transmits any negative feelings , claiming : ” I renounce the party, in my
    conscience , is creating resistance to my own good ,” and repeat : ”
    I deserve … ”

    learn how to be happy and have what you want ..
    look at this video here : http://tinyurl.com/qxglhyy