Dear Maria,

How do I stop comparing myself to others? I see other people’s differences and wonder if they’re better than me, if my friends or boyfriend would like them more, etc.

Signed,

Struggling with Self-Esteem

Dear Struggling,

Oh, this is a tough one. I’m guilty of this, as a lot of people are, I think. We look at others and judge that what they do, possess, or have accomplished as better than what we’ve done, have, or accomplished. Buyer Beware: Don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outsides. Others are working pretty hard, just like us, to keep up appearances. They want the world to see them as attractive, intelligent, and successful, with everything under control.

duck

It’s kind of like the Duck Principle: Cool and calm on the surface, but paddling like hell underneath. A very helpful stance in emergencies, but not so good as a standard operating procedure.

We live in confusing times. There are multiple ways to communicate life in real time. “Be real” we’re advised. Yet, more often these platforms promote a false self. Most people don’t share what’s not working in their lives on social media. Posts will usually show happy times in beautiful spaces eating delicious food and celebrating with stylish people. “She’s having a great life,” we mutter to ourselves, “I must be doing something wrong.”

In becoming an adult (that is, our fullest self, the person we were born to be) we explore different work, roles, and looks before we find our authentic self. Others may display a style, attitude, or career that our culture defines as successful. They look like they “have it all” or “have arrived.” They may perform well for years, then something happens that changes the status quo—death, divorce, job loss, natural disaster, health issues, etc. That’s when true self-discovery begins. It’s the Hero’s Journey lived out in our little lives. Sadly, our facades need to break, sometimes painfully, in order to bring our true selves to light. But, what we learn in the process can change the world, even our little corner of it. So, nothing is lost in the losing of what we imagined ourselves to be.

By comparing yourself to others, perhaps you are trying to be something that isn’t really you. My father used to say that if you could list your problems next to everybody else’s, you’d pick your own every time. Next time you start this internal comparison, ask yourself: Would I really like to switch places with this person?

comparison-rooseveltYour comparison also fuels insecurity about your relationships with friends and your boyfriend. Consider this: If they really didn’t want to hang out with you, would they? If you’re giving off a vibe that says you’re not worth hanging out with, guess what? They will eventually drift away. People like to be around others who are comfortable in their own skin. People who are secure help others feel secure, too. So, the key is to appreciate yourself, and you’ll draw others who appreciate themselves (and you) into your orbit.

Start by appreciating things: a good night’s sleep, a warm bed, a sunny day, music you like, food that nourishes you. Pay attention to how you feel when you’re aware of these things, and stay in that feeling as long as possible. You probably like yourself in those moments. Appreciation fills the space inside, and brings everything into perspective. Buyer Beware: Appreciation leads to joy. Comparison, however, says Teddy Roosevelt, steals it away.

Also, take a break from social media, and all media, on a regular basis. The advertising industry plays on our insecurities, especially women’s, and gives us false hope that a certain car, beverage, or outfit will bring happiness. Turn off those messages and tune into what’s working in your life, what you’re grateful for, and what lifts your spirits.

One of the things you’re learning in all this is that happiness is an inside job. We’re taught to look for validation outside ourselves, through grades, paychecks, awards, compliments. Yet, even when we receive these things, part of us fears that someone will find out we’re imposters, not worthy of the accolades. When good things come your way, don’t be shy about acknowledging your part in your success. You are wonderful and worthy. To quote another Roosevelt:

no-one-can-make-you-feel-inferior-quote

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s great you are so aware of where your thoughts take you, which means you can reroute them. Attend to what fills you up, not what tears you down. We can be our own worst enemies, but it doesn’t have to be that way. When the Inner Critic speaks up, say, “Thank you, but it’s my turn now,” and focus on appreciation. With practice, you’ll come to love yourself. Great things are ahead for you. Hang in there!

 

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.