Social comparisons can lead to strong anxious feelings, low self-esteem, and hesitation to take risks or engage in personal growth. At the same time, social comparisons can help us determine what is normal or healthy and help us to improve our performance and behaviors appropriately. When does comparing ourselves to others become harmful and unhealthy? How can we stop comparing ourselves in unhelpful ways?
What Triggers Thoughts of Comparison?
Simply speaking, social comparisons are how we organize and make sense of the world around us. When we notice differences between ourselves and others, we determine if and how these differences are significant and if it is something we should care about. From another viewpoint, scientists describe comparison behaviors as part of a survival instinct where we determine our behaviors based on our odds of being successful or dominating. They point to evidence that the brain produces serotonin when we perceive that we are superior. The brain will produce cortisol when feeling threatened or inferior to someone else. Comparison behaviors can also arise from social learning experiences we had as children. Comparison thoughts may be increased for those that use social media or other technologies to enlarge social awareness and frame of reference beyond pre-internet social networks.
Healthy vs Unhealthy Comparison Thoughts
Thoughts of comparisons can become harmful if it becomes a habitual behavior pattern, especially when you are no longer aware when you are comparing yourself to others. Of particular concern is when comparisons are used to make conclusions about one’s self-worth or the worth of others. Comparisons that can take away from one’s contentment or satisfaction are also unhelpful. Comparisons can be helpful if they steer you away from unhealthy behaviors or relationships, such as situations of danger, destruction, or abuse. Comparisons can also serve as a helpful guide for novel social settings (e.g. which fork/glass to use in formal dining; how to participate in video group conference calls) or performance behaviors (e.g. “I need to come up with a financial plan for retirement because my friends have their plans ready.”).
Comparison Habit Management
Here are three strategies to help cope differently (or stop altogether!) when comparing yourself to others in unhealthy ways:
All blog posts from Dr. Soo Hoo are provided for educational and informational purposes only. As Dr. Soo Hoo is a licensed clinical and health psychologist, we must make it clear that nothing on the blog is intended to constitute medical or psychological advice, consultation, recommendation, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are concerned about your health, please seek appropriate care in your area.