“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt.
I have a very bad habit.
It pokes me when I stop to browse newspapers and magazines.
It slaps me when I'm watching TV.
It punches me hard at the gym.
It knocks me down when I am walking down the street.
I compare myself to other women.
I’ve suffered from depression at points in my life, and I’ve suffered from low self-esteem pretty much always.
It’s not an uncommon trait, comparing ourselves to others. But it seems to be a particularly bad habit for me. Perhaps because my brain is terrifically inventive; at my worst, I can find literally anything as proof that another woman is better than me.
She’s beautiful. She’s slim. She has a successful career. She has money. She’s married. She has nice clothes. She has brown eyes. She has blue eyes. She has smaller hands. She has a red top. She can walk faster than me.
I don’t always do it. If I’m feeling good about me, I can see a pretty woman while my boyfriend is with me and, although I do feel a slight pinch at my heartstrings, I’m able to disregard it fairly well.
But when I’m feeling low in confidence, seeing that pretty woman rips into my heart and brings tears to my eyes.
I look at her face, hair, body, success, and I think, “I can’t compare to her.” I torture myself with thoughts that if my boyfriend ever meets such a woman, I will be, as we say in Britain, yesterday’s news and today’s fish ’n’ chip paper!
It’s not just when I’m with him. I used to work in the fashionable Soho region of London, and I couldn’t take more than a few steps before a young, pretty, slim, effortlessly cool lady would glide past.
My thoughts would be, one: How does she have the money for those clothes? Two: How does she have the energy to make herself look so nice? I barely remember to brush my hair. Three: Thank goodness my boyfriend isn’t here to see her; he’d push me into that puddle over there and go running after her! And four: I look awful.
It got so bad at times that I couldn’t hold my head up. Not only did I feel ashamed of my own appearance by comparison, but literally averting my eyes seemed the only way to protect myself from the massive emotional upheaval I went through when I saw a beautiful woman.
I was really horrible to myself. Not to mention close-minded about the other women. I didn’t know their circumstances, their personalities, or personal traumas. I just saw the outside, and believed that it looked better than mine.
I create these comparisons all by myself.
They’re just people; it’s me who subscribes to the “she’s better than me” mindset, and me who judges that one of us is prettier, more successful, happier. I make all these comparisons and then berate myself, first for being a lesser being than them, and then later for being irrational and silly.
But as it is my reaction, and my brain, I have the power to do something about it.
As with all insecurities, thought patterns, and habits, it takes a lot of work, practice, and self-forgiveness to teach yourself to genuinely see your own awesomeness. For some of us it will be our life’s work.
I have discovered some tips that have greatly reduced the occurrence of my episodes, which I’d like to share:
1. Try a change of scenery.
I happened to move to another area recently. Obviously I’m not suggesting moving as a plausible tactic to avoid comparisons. But the change to my routine really gave me a big boost.
I was completely distracted by finding my way around, discovering my new neighborhood, caring for my new home, seeing new sights, and visiting new places. I was stimulated by the new experiences and too engaged in my own life to think about everyone else’s.
This can be done right where you live; seek out new things to do or see. Broaden your world.
2. Take even better care of yourself.
Exercise is well documented as a mood-booster, but it never used to work for me. I tried to go running but, rather than a rush of endorphins, I would feel a rush of tears, as I felt stupid and unhealthy.
But I was able to join a gym two months ago. My first workout was mortifying, but once I got used to the machines, I started to feel really proud of myself. I am doing something just for me. I am giving myself the gifts of health and hope.
3. Be honest with yourself and others.
I am really honest with my boyfriend about how I feel. He knows my triggers, and being synced into my problem means that he knows just how to help me feel better, whether it’s distracting me, taking me out of the situation, or planting a big kiss on my forehead and reassuring me.
I also talk about it very openly with my girlfriends, and it’s so helpful to hear them say “I feel like that too” or “You have absolutely no reason to feel you’re less than anybody.”
4. Keep practicing.
I work hard not to give into every opportunity to criticize myself. I try to breathe, give myself space before reacting, and see whether I can resolve it alone before asking for reassurance.
I remind myself that my boyfriend loves me for me. I remind myself that I have my own strengths, my own beauty. There is nobody else like me. I deserve to stand alongside every one of those women whom I compare myself to.
Everything gets easier with practice, even resisting the urge to make comparisons.
5. Remember your strengths.
We all have them. I know I have a unique personality, a good sense of humor, a few different skills and talents. I know I have nice hair and nice eyes. I’m not the pitiful eyesore I believe myself to be when I’m feeling down on myself.
The more you become comfortable recognizing your strengths, the more armor you’ll have against negative thoughts.
We are all different and all beautiful. I believe this for other people, and so my goal is to believe it for myself as well.
If we work on our self-esteem and realize how lovely we are then other people won’t seem so threatening. Be kind, gentle, and nurturing to yourself and you’ll feel less of a need to make comparisons.
Photo by Ollie Crafoord