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Why We Compare Ourselves to Others on Social Media and How to Stop

Woman with Laptop

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

We all have certain triggers that can cause our confidence to take a sudden nosedive.

For some, it’s a trip to the gym. If you’re self-conscious of your body, watching fit people strut their stuff in their tightest fitting gym clothes likely has you over analyzing your every body part.

For others, it may be a certain individual—a family member, friend, or enemy that, for whatever reason, leaves them with the dreaded feeling that they just aren’t enough.

We all know the gut wrenching feeling that arises when we see or hear something that immediately has us second guessing our appearance, personality, or skill set.

Unfortunately, social media provides us with numerous platforms that help to quickly trigger that unpleasant self-disdain.

Facebook recently reminded me of just how powerful a determinant it is to my confidence level.

I found myself comparing all aspects of my life, both internal and external, to a person I had never met. She was a stranger in every sense of the word, and yet somehow, her profile page caused me to question my accomplishments, appearance, and even personality traits.

I didn’t realize just how illogical this was until I explained it to someone, and, now as I type, I’m reminded even further.

Regardless of how illogical these comparisons may be, our emotional responses to such images can be so strong that they completely overpower our sense of logic.

The reality is, people are constantly showcasing the best aspects of their life onto social media.

The arrival of a new baby and a recent trip to the Caribbean are both ideal picture-posting occasions. But do these same people post photos of 2 a.m. feedings or lost luggage? Not often, because that wouldn’t show them in an ideal light, but it would provide a sense of reality.

Reality is what is lost on social media. We emphasize the best versions of ourselves instead of the real versions.

Life can be hard, ugly, and downright depressing at times. But those likely aren’t the adjectives most of us would use to describe the photos we post onto our accounts.

The feeling of lack and dissatisfaction that we feel when scrolling through our newsfeed often results from comparing our true reality to our “friends'” idealized, perfectly Instagramed realities.

We are using the same scale to measure two entirely different realities.

However, we fail to step back and recognize just how wildly unfair and unrealistic these comparisons actually are.

So how can we stop ourselves from making them?

1. Reduce your time on social media.

This can be a challenge since we live in a culture that puts such a high value on social media outlets. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Allow yourself five to ten minutes a day to check your social media accounts and then be done with it. Especially avoid looking at profiles of people who trigger thoughts of comparison. You have nothing to gain in doing so besides anxiety and sadness.

2. Redirect your focus on the things that really matter.

When you direct your attention toward the real world, you have less time and energy to direct toward meaningless activities such as social comparisons.

Focus on a high-energy work out at the gym or finishing a book you’ve been putting off. Immerse yourself in activities that leave you feeling better for having engaged in them (versus Facebook stalking, which leaves you wishing you hadn’t).

Make a list of activities and then schedule them onto a calendar. Since we often spend time on social media when we have little else going on, having scheduled plans will reduce the time we are sitting idle.

3. Assess where those negative comparisons are stemming from.

As unpleasant as these comparisons can feel, they can serve a positive purpose in that they inform us of an area of our lives that may benefit from some improvement. The incident served as a reminder that I want to be secure enough in who I am and where I am in life that I don’t feel the need to measure it in comparison to anyone else (least of all, a stranger).

After my strong reaction to a stranger’s Facebook profile, I decided to work on developing a stronger sense of confidence and self-worth. I’ve done this in a number of different ways such as:

  • Putting a higher value on my relationships. I have amazing friends and family, but I admit that I often take them for granted. I’ve tried to become more present in my interactions with them, as well as in encounters with complete strangers.
  • Valuing my time more. In the past, I’ve been much more cognizant and respectful of others’ time than my own. I’m practicing putting my needs first and learning to accept that it is okay to do.
  • Doing more of what I love. Sounds simple, but I’ve really made an effort to go on quiet walks with my dog more or allow myself an hour to read a book. Doing things simply because I like to do them has given me an increasing amount of self-value.
  • Eating well and moving. I make sure to put my body in motion for at least thirty minutes a day (even if it’s just walking the dog), and I eat small, healthy meals throughout the day so I don’t find myself snacking mindlessly on junk. Putting a higher value on my body by eating clean and getting exercise has naturally given me a higher sense of self worth.

So, next time you make an unfair comparison, instead of allowing it to make you feel poorly about yourself, view it as an opportunity for a little self-evaluating.

Ultimately, social comparisons aren’t indicative of what others have that you don’t, but rather what you already have but aren’t quite aware of yet.

Woman with laptop image via Shutterstock

About Emily Holland

Emily, M.A. is a freelance writer and Certified Health Coach. Her curiosity for people, personal growth, and healthy living led to a Masters in Psychology and a certification in Health Coaching. She is constantly researching news ways to live a healthier, happier lifestyle and is passionate about sharing her insights through writing. Visit Emily at curiouscoffeedrinker.wordpress.com.

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  • Hi Emily, great post! I have actually uninstalled facebook from my phone. Whenever I do use it from my laptop, I stick to business only!

  • Great points Emily! As an entrepreneur I’m forced to be on social media on a consistent basis to engage with followers, but some times I can’t help but check out what other entrepreneurs are doing. This often distracts me from what I’m supposed to be doing, and creates space for comparison. That’s why I’ve learned to stop comparing myself to others, but instead see them as inspiration.

  • Elizabeth Rosselle

    Thank you, Emily! This hits so perfectly close to home and it’s something that I’ve been working on (reducing my time on social media when I feel like it’s bordering on obsessive behavior). It’s difficult because I spend most of my time working on the computer, and some of my work involves logging into various social media accounts. Keeping the social (non-business) aspect of my social media engagement in check can be challenging. It’s also a means of procrastination for me and it pulls me away from work that will actually help me grow (kind of to your very last point). Thank you again. 🙂

  • Emily

    Hi Shawna! That’s awesome that you’ve been able to shift your thinking from comparing to drawing inspiration. I’m going to remember that next time I log into facebook:) Thanks for sharing!

  • Emily

    Hi Elizabeth! I can totally relate. A lot of the work I do also involves social media, which wouldn’t be a problem except I find that often I allow it to become a distraction. If I logged on solely for business purposes and didn’t allow myself to compare or become distracted, I would be much better off. Something I’m continuing to work on:) Glad this helped you!

  • Ms L

    Great story I came off SM totally I found it wasted so much time and it showed me who cared and who didn’t. I’m so much better off, I’m still in contact with people via email but my time is dedicated to spending my precious time with my hubby and enjoying life not through a phone or computer!

  • patbb

    the reason we compare is evolutionary based.

    The biggest urge we have in life is to establish social hierarchy in the local group.
    The people on top of the hierarchy ladder are more likely to get the mate with the best genes.

    There are many hierarchy ladders, some example:
    – who has the best bf/gf,
    – who is the smartest
    – who can drink the most
    – who is the craziest
    – who is the most fit (sometimes who is the least fit)
    – who has the most expansive hand bag
    – who has the fastest car
    – who know most stuff about star trek….

    The same urge to establish social hierarchy is behind all of those behaviors and much more.

    But
    becoming the best at something is not the only way to manipulate social
    hierarchy, pushing other people down the ladder a few steps or
    dismissing a ladder altogether are very common behaviors as well.

    this is why for instance people:
    – talk crap behind the back of a friend who just bough a nice bag
    – dismiss a behavior altogether (like getting in shape, calling people nerds…)

    to understand why you have the urge (desire/emotion) to do something is the best way to disempower that very urge.

    Emily, in your article you suggest avoiding the triggers to this urge.
    Which can be helpful but is not a permanent solution to the problem.
    It’s like avoiding going to the casino when a person have a gambling problem.
    It’s not bad temporarily but it limit people lives.
    imagine
    having tons of triggers left and right, and using the same strategy of
    avoidance to deal with them, you’ll end up avoiding doing all kind of
    stuff and being more and more limited in your life.

    ps: to “gain” confidence, be careful to avoid the same trap of trying to climb different ladders.
    real freedom is to be free from such urges altogether.

  • Jennifer Reed

    I appreciate you so much for writing this. You are writing about a topic that is relatable to so many people, especially young people, who are burying themselves in self-hate due to comparison. I love this so much. Thank you.

  • Emily

    Thank you, Jennifer! So glad you can relate. I agree that young people are impacted the most by this. Comparisons made at a young age are all the more detrimental because they’re not developmentally mature enough to fully process what they see on social media. I’m so happy this helped you!:)

  • Emily

    Hi Arijit! That’s a great ideal to uninstall FB from your phone. I never do business-related work on FB when I log on from my phone so I actually may uninstall as well. thanks!:)

  • Emily

    That’s great, Ms. L! Social media sucks up more of our time than we realize. That time could be spent doing so many more productive things. It’s great that you’ve figured that out!

  • Miki

    Wow you said it all I just so love this post of yours it’s so well put and echoes my sentiments too . The fact is is that while we might be posting our whole life on social media we might just not realize what message we send to others and iam certainly not the kinds who likes getting judged by a bunch of social media freaks. Also our life on display might not go well with jealous admirers or so called jealous friends leading to unhealthy comparision . Better to post the lost luggage moments than your happiness . Live the happiness never flaunt it as you will miss your precious moments. Love this and sharing it much regards .

  • lv2terp

    Great post! What a profound last statement! 🙂 Thank you for sharing this message, it is definitely a huge side effect to a wonderful tool of keeping in touch!

  • Emily

    “Live the happiness never flaunt it as you will miss your precious moments.”<–I love that, Miki! It definitely rings true. And think of how many more people could relate to those photos of lost luggage versus photos of perfection? So glad you enjoyed it:)

  • silkred

    I always enjoy to think of subjects like this from an evolutionary perspective.. I think your right in many ways. My social connectedness has been challenged by a narcissistic bully, disconnecting me from the feeling of freedom to relate to a specific group. What has been interesting about that is how difficult it has been to come to terms with, needing therapy and much reflection even a brief flirtation with suicide during the 2 years it’s taken to start to feel normal again. I can be objective now because I’m okay and recovering but it serves as an insight into the draw of our social space and why so many people are welded to their phones even when out with others.. This desire not to miss something blinds you to your here and now present moment. For me it was little kindness that saved me, smiles, letting people in in front of me while I drive, writing about past happiness.. Being present and not woven into social media so much.. It can be good, I found this article via Facebook but the bully never once talked directly to me about how they felt it was all done via social media and via controlling and manipulative utterances, gatekeeping the social group.. So if you take anything from this it would be exactly what is spelled out in this wonderful article, 5 mins tops then get out and leave your phone out of easy reach and smile at the world you are in in that moment.

  • Guest

    I hardly go to facebook anymore and I have never been happier – I am so sick of people talking about their “blessed” lives

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  • Talya Price

    I had to cancel my Facebook page because it was making very depressed. I was constantly comparing myself to other people. In my eye, other people were having a better life than I was. They were getting more work, making more money, traveling and having relationships while I was single and lonely and unemployed. At one point it made me think of suicide.

    I still feel lonely. I have a Linkedin account and i have a tendency to check that everyday alone with Twitter.
    And when it comes to work I feel that everyone is getting auditions and making great project and making tons of money while I am auditioning and getting no call backs and sometimes I just avoid being around other people, especially actors because I do not want to hear how great their lives and careers are, and how they got the part that I auditioned for. This industry is making me feel inadequate.

    I have to stop myself from checking my twitter, instagram, and linkedin. Thank you for this post because it was very helpful reminder for me to focus on myself and go outside into nature.

  • Talya Price

    This is exactly how I feel. I am working in probably the most cutthroat industries on the planet. And I am constantly climbing that mountain to success. Everything you said in your post is completely accurate. It makes me wonder if I can really cope with society.

  • I go to Google+ on average once a day, mostly watching the news.

  • AnAnonymousFellowActor

    Hi Talya, I’ve noticed your comments on a lot of tinybuddha posts, and as a fellow aspiring actor (I, too, have had more rejections than being in actual productions), I would like to encourage you to hold on to that dream, but I would like you to try and look at the bigger picture and consider other options. I know exactly what it’s like to be frustrated with the continuous rejections and wanting so badly to be onstage, but perhaps the Universe is guiding you in another direction? That’s what happened with me. I have a degree in Psychology and taught schoolchildren for 2 years, and I was miserable the entire time because it wasn’t what I wanted at all!

    If you’re familiar with a vision board, go and do one ASAP, and take the time to sit down and write out everything that you need in life, what you’d like to achieve and where you think those opportunities are (any particular companies, countries that call you etc). I’m telling you, once I got everything down on paper where I could see it everyday, I just took the leap and applied to a local theatre in my city to try out stage management and I got the job! I’m also going to pursue my Masters in Dramatherapy next year (another option which I discovered earlier this year while in this creative limbo), and it’s everything that I want and more. Looking back, I’m also now realizing why everything happened the way it did and I’m not resentful anymore! As cliche as it is, everything does happen for a reason.

    Trust me, I get it. I still want to perform, the stage is my home and nothing beats the feeling of baring your soul to an audience and getting standing ovations during the curtain call. But, I’ve accepted that right now, there are other things that I could be doing with my time, and there are other talents that I have which can also be applied to the field of performing arts. I trust that’s the same for you.

    Look deeper, acting is ONE way you can express your talents, and there are so many other options out there. You just have to be open and get clear.

    I really hope you find your way! Hugs!

  • Talya Price

    Thank you for the comment. I am a professional actor, not aspiring. Lately it has been a bit difficult because of the rejections. And I have no idea when my next audition will be, and I have to resort to my day job to my pay bills which does not make me happy.

    However this down time has made me reflect on my career and take time out to do some writing. I am going to Amsterdam to get away from everything because I am not happy in the city where I am currently living. And tomorrow I will take a long walk into the forest. I realized that my mental healthy, my overall health is the most important thing in my life and lately I have been neglecting it. The Universe is always there to remind me what I need to do.

    I do believe that everything happens for a reason. But I cannot and will not deny how I feel when events happen to me. Thank you for the reply. 🙂

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    Thank you so much for sharing your story Emily…This was truly WORDS OF WISDOM & quite Eye-Opening! 🙂

  • Emily

    Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Emily

    Thank you for your kind words! Glad you enjoyed it:)

  • Emily

    Hi Talya, I’m glad my article could serve as a reminder for you to refocus on yourself. I’m sorry to hear how social media has gotten you down in the past but I can totally relate. I’m in the early stages of becoming a freelance writer and I often compare it to that of an actor or singer. There’s a lot of rejection and comparing myself to other, particularly writers I stumble upon online that have really impressive resumes. It’s so easy to play the comparison game and social media certainly doesn’t help. Keep your head up and focus on the positive. Good things are coming your way!:)

  • Emily

    Thank you for your comment, Silkred. I’m so glad my article resonated and that you are recovering from the dark times you went through in the past.

  • Juuri Vy

    Through my whole life, I have been compared myself to anyone, who achieved sth which, I thought, was bigger than me. So I satisfied myself with his/her bad things, comparing to me. Because I simply can keep my confidence on his/her weakness. All my life such a comparison till your post, Emily. I feel peaceful, balanced, less suffering. You’ve changed my life! I hope to read more post from you, Very thankful!

  • Vincent

    I’m going to say: Easier said than done!
    I happen to have a facebook account, but I voluntarily dismiss what happens there!
    But, I also have various professional social media accounts… and, seeing and reading things in here, just pains me! I read about friends, former colleagues, classmates getting great positions. And, I do envy them, sometimes.
    Sometimes, I check on former classmates and when I see their current positions I’m thinking: “Right, she/he deserves it”; other times “HOW on Earth did she/he get to this position? She/He does not even DESERVE it!”
    And, that’s the word, I’ll emphasize on: “HOW” did they do it? I mean, we attended the same engineering school… And I keep on seeing people constantly being successful while I keep failing at everything!
    Luck happens to be a real b*tch sometimes!

  • Becca

    I love this post! I spend so much time on social media, and I find myself comparing myself to others on it, even if the picture isn’t even what they look like in real life. I can catch myself wishing that I had hair like them, or even if I was their size. Sometimes it is just nice to forget about the social media hierarchy ladders for a while.

  • thanks for all the tips. this has always affected me, but it is something that i want to control. i love my own life, and do need to stop comparing it to others of a similar age.

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  • Guest

    I agree wholeheartedly that reality is lost on social media. Social media is only a small representation of a person’s life. It’s unfortunate that some people can’t see beyond that. The ironic thing is that people who obsess over social media that post ridiculous amount of pictures and posts on Facebook are the same ones who compare themselves to others and feel insecure or have low self-esteem. I also find it ridiculous that people label those who rarely or don’t use facebook or other forms of social media as ‘anti-social’. It’s a choice a person makes. I made that switch years back and I have never ever regretted that decision. In fact, spending less time on social media made me focus on the real world (ie. work) and spend time with real friends and get involved with new hobbies. I have noticed this with many of my friends as well. A person who’s actually busy in real life with priorities including work won’t have time to upload posts and pictures incessantly on Facebook.

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  • Mae V Veritas

    I was looking for guidance more so with the following:

    I feel more guilt about posting or responding to certain things on Facebook/social media, out of fear that someone will judge what I have posted – I guess it comes down to me judging what others are doing / saying / showing themselves as. How can I overcome that? Any suggestions? Besides going off the social media grid completely – which probably won’t happen right now as I have alot of international connections I need to keep contact with and I enjoy the information sharing that occurs. Thanks

  • Fransiska Dewi

    The right article I need to read 🙂
    Thanks for writing this!

  • Loz Foz

    The more you compare your self with others the less you feel like you worthy of anything and the best thing i did my self become my own best friend and learn how to focus on my self.

  • Lurking Silhouette

    I truly appreciate this piece you wrote. It allowed me for once to finally put my insecurities in the backseat and to invite my self worth to ride shot gun.

    For years I have idolize other people’s lives and talents verses ever exploring my own. I cried as I read each line of this article because for once I received some advice that fueled my self esteem.

    Thank you girlie.