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  • Jim Taylor, PhD

15 Ways to Stop Self-Comparison

Comparing yourself to others rarely makes your life better.

15 Ways to Stop Self-Comparison

  • Social comparison is a normal part of being human.

  • The effect of social comparison is mediated by self-esteem and perceived control.

  • The internet has arguably made social comparison more extreme and toxic.

  • There are steps you can take to reduce how much you compare yourself with others.

We humans are comparison creatures. We are constantly measuring ourselves against other people. This attribute may have evolved as a means of helping us fit into the social hierarchy of the cultures we inhabited. Regardless of the reasons, social comparison plays a significant role in how we view and evaluate ourselves, and how we interact with our world.

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What is Social Comparison?

The noted psychologist Leon Festinger defined social comparison as “the processes by which individuals evaluate their own abilities, opinions, attitudes, feelings, physical features, accomplishments, or any other self-aspects in relation to other individuals and/or groups.” Other researchers propose that the impact of social comparison depends on two factors: 1) how closely the comparison is connected to people’s self-esteem, and 2) how much perceived control people feel they have related to their status in relation to the person or people they are comparing themselves to.

For those with high self-esteem or high perceived control, downward comparison, namely, comparing yourself to those less fortunate, tends to bolster self-esteem and improve mood states, while for those with low self-esteem or low perceived control, downward comparison reduced their self-evaluations and produced diminished mood states. Conversely, for those with high self-esteem or high perceived control, upward comparison—that is, comparing yourself to those more fortunate—provided encouragement and hope. For those with low self-esteem or low perceived control, upward comparison decreased subjective well-being and lead to more negative mood states.

Then and Now

It used to be that our primary reference of comparison was our local communities, primarily neighbors and co-workers. Because we tend to congregate around those similar to ourselves in terms of educational level, work income, and shared interests, the range of differences when we compared ourselves to others was fairly small.

Yes, through magazines, newspapers, television, movies, radio, and other media, we experienced glimpses of other potential comparison groups, but they tended to be viewed at a distance, as separate from us, so they were less impressionable on us. As such, the impact that those comparisons had on our self-identities, self-esteem, and place in our above-mentioned social hierarchies was relatively minimal.

Unfortunately, with the emergence of the internet, our points of comparison have expanded exponentially because we can now compare ourselves to literally anyone in the world. Thus, we are now exposed to groups that are drastically different from us in terms of wealth, status, power, celebrity, and physical appearance. What had in previous generations been a small gap in our comparisons has become a yawning chasm of differences, in which those differences feel so large and unattainable.

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Comparison is Often Toxic

This new level of comparison has immense implications for many aspects of our psychological and emotional lives. Before the internet, there seemed to be far fewer people to compare ourselves to because there were, in fact, far fewer in our immediate vicinities and in our visual fields.

But when so many people that are easily discoverable on the internet seem to be so successful, famous, influential, and beautiful, given our proclivities to compare, it is difficult to not have it influence how we view ourselves. Sadly, these stark comparisons usually result in our feeling inadequate and “less than.” Even if we compare downward (to those less fortunate than we are), it usually only provides a temporary salve to low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy.

These toxic comparisons also erode our emotional lives. When we feel lacking, we experience an array of unpleasant and unhealthy emotions that make happiness and contentment difficult to experience. We feel jealousy and envy for what others have and what we lack. We feel frustration and helplessness for our inability to have what they have.

We can even feel bitterness, resentment, and anger at others (but really at ourselves) for the unfairness of it all. We can feel shame, guilt, and humiliation for believing that there is something wrong with us compared to others. And we can feel hurt, sadness, and even despair in realizing that we will never have all of those wonderful things that we think so many people in the world have (in reality, “those people” are a very small number).

Again, even if we compare downward, the schadenfreude that we might experience and feelings of superiority from measuring ourselves to those less fortunate can’t easily be considered a healthy emotion.

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Stop Comparing

It’s one thing to realize that you compare yourself to others. It’s another thing to recognize that social comparison is often corrosive to you in so many ways psychologically and emotionally. It’s an entirely other thing to stop yourself from comparing yourself to others.

Yet it is possible, and it is worth the effort for your mental health and well-being. Here are some steps you can take to reduce the amount of comparing you do to others.

  1. Accept that social comparison is a normal part of being human (but that doesn’t mean you should keep doing it).

  2. Recognize when you are comparing (“Here I go again!”).

  3. Acknowledge why you are comparing (you may feel threatened by some aspect of another person, for example, accomplishments, relationships, intelligence, appearance).

  4. Understand how comparing makes you feel (probably bad!).

  5. Acknowledge that continuing to compare will only hurt you.

  6. Ask yourself whether you have high or low self-esteem and perceived control to better understand how social comparison affects you.

  7. Realize that we tend to compare our lesser qualities with others’ best qualities (not apples to apples), so you put yourself in a no-win situation.

  8. Put your comparisons in context, meaning put those lesser perceptions you have of yourself and those more admirable perceptions of others into a broader picture of who you and they really are in toto.

  9. Recognize that you only see the outside of a person and have little knowledge of who they are inside (they may appear happy on the outside but may be miserable on the inside).

  10. Accept your humanity (we are all imperfect beings, who still deserve love, respect, and appreciation).

  11. Focus on your strengths (you may be “lesser” than others in some ways, yet “more” than others in other ways).

  12. Focus on your goals and how to achieve them (remind yourself who you want to be).

  13. Limit social media (it tends to make comparison more noxious).

  14. If you do compare, use comparison as motivation (“If they can be that way, so can I!”).

  15. Shift your focus onto who you want to be and what you want to accomplish.

Jim Taylor, Ph.D. - Website - Book -


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