“A flower does not think of competing to the flower
next to it, it just blooms” – Zen Shin
With 24/7 access to all outlets of media, it makes it difficult to disconnect. Through this ongoing connection, we are unlimitedly able to explore all different types of people, places, and things. By doing so, we can become susceptible to an inherent need to want more than we have, or to compare ourselves to others. Have you ever caught yourself saying, “I wish I had her body” or “I wish I could travel as much as he does”?
The truth is, we have all at one point or another felt compelled to want more for ourselves, especially when we are constantly bombarded with images of “perfection”. But, what is perfection really? Perfection is subjective… it varies from person to person. What I think is perfect is different than what you think is perfect. What if where you are at, in your life right now, with what you have already, is perfection in itself? It’s difficult to think that way when all we see is MORE, and BIGGER, and BETTER. Its completely normal for humans to wonder about how we measure up to others.
Social comparison theory suggests this is an inherent drive to understand ourselves and how we fit in in the social world. Comparing ourselves to others may be based on looks, health, smarts, abilities, social status, wealth, and more. But, do we really know what goes on in the lives of the people we see? There is no way to know what really goes on beneath the surface of the idealized images that are posted on social media. But in an age where the amount of followers and likes might seem like validation and proof of ones worth, it is important to check-in with ourselves to determine what it is we are actually seeking.
While comparing ourselves to others may have positive aspects such as providing us with inspiration, motivation, and hope to improve our own situations, it can also fuel envy and decrease levels of self-esteem. Having a healthy level of self-esteem is important to our overall wellbeing. Low self-esteem can be detrimental to the way that we think and feel about ourselves. While it is evident that comparing ourselves to others can boost self-esteem, it can also be harmful as it can also do the opposite - leaving some feeling inferior and/or contributing to feelings of depression.
Studies reveal that spending time on social media has the ability to increase depression symptoms and feelings of envy, while decreasing emotional well-being. Comparing ourselves to others is a core human impulse, and it is impossible to shut it off completely. What we can do is come to understand the mechanisms behind it, what works for us and what doesn’t, what we need to watch out for/stay away from, all of which may help to lessen the possibility for negative effects and increase the positive ones both in our online and offline lives.
So what can we do to mitigate unhealthy social media behaviours?
Unfollow or delete profiles that make you feel bad about yourself.
Reflect to enhance self-awareness. If you find yourself comparing yourself to others and feeling low as a result of it, what are you actually looking to find? What are your motives for self-comparison? Are they productive and healthy? Or are they negative and toxic?
Set realistic goals for yourself. Use SMART goals to set specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based goals that are based on your own personal needs.
Create an accomplishment list. When we compare ourselves to others, we are often looking for a standard in which to measure our own accomplishments against. Writing down your own accomplishments can increase confidence and self-esteem, and help you to recognize how far you have come.
Seek out help from a friend or therapist. Exploring the core emotions beneath the need to compare or obtaining the support necessary to overcome low self-esteem or depression is important to maintain your mental and emotional health.