The Other Side of Comparison Trap

When it comes to both social media and the “3-D” world we live in, we all can fall victim to comparing ourselves to others.

Sometimes it happens unconsciously, and we only notice later, when we are reflecting on why we are feeling low, unworthy, unsuccessful or otherwise deflated. We realize that instead of celebrating our victories and wins and focusing on our own process, we are internalizing a sense of self-worth that is based on our current state relative to that of someone else.

Sometimes, if we’re brave enough to admit, we compare ourselves to others who we perceive to be more attractive, successful or “happy,” in order to self-sabotage, or even to “motivate” ourselves to “work harder.” Whether conscious or not, as we often hear, “compare and despair;” comparison often leads to self-destructive thoughts and behaviors.

However, there is another side of comparison that I believe is also worthy of addressing: when we compare ourselves and rather than feeling inferior, we feel superior. We do this consciously and unconsciously as well. In fact, one kind of comparison often follows the other. When we compare ourselves to someone we consider superior, and therefore feel bad about ourselves, we often soon after find someone to compare ourselves to, to whom we feel superior – to correct the balance. This happens so automatically that often we barely notice it. But just like comparison that leads to despair, comparison that only satisfies the ego does not lead anywhere helpful either.

Why is that? First, because the only way to correct the balance of feeling inferior to others is to realize that our perception is often based on presentations rather than reality, and to focus on and celebrate ourselves and present moment.

Secondly, responding to comparison with another comparison, one where we place ourselves above others, just creates more internal imbalance. We have objectified someone else in placing them below us, without knowing their full story, history, internal world, and without empathy. But we have also placed ourselves on a hamster wheel we cannot get off – now that we’ve elevated ourself to a certain standard above others, we put pressure on ourselves to stay there. While we may feel momentarily “good” about ourselves by comparing “downward,” so to say, we’ve now created a standard in our own minds that we must live up to, or sacrifice the momentary high ground in order to prop up our self-worth.

The thing is, our self-worth is not relative. It is not to be judged on the basis of comparison, either up or down, to anyone else. Our worth as human beings is not defined in relation to anyone, but exists within us, untouchable, unchangeable and limitless. The difficulty lies in practicing believing that truth. In the process of recovery, and cultivating good mental health, we are in the process of learning where we have let false beliefs take hold – feelings of unworthiness, comparison, superiority, a black-and-white view of ourselves and others – and replace them with beliefs in line with our true values.

Halting the comparisons is not easy or simple, as it often happens unconsciously, and because we are so bombarded with images, stories, and highlight reels of people around us “living their best lives.” We are often posting the same, providing fodder for the whole charade.

So I ask, wherever you may be in the recovery process – how can you be more authentic? In relationships, and in your online presence? If stopping comparison immediately seems challenging, how can you create more space between the thought of comparison, and the conclusion or feeling that follows? How can you more actively choose yourself and focus inward, rather than outward? How can you encourage others in your orbit to do the same?

The comparison trap goes both ways – we are neither ultimately good or bad, better or worse than. We are unique and complex and beautiful human beings with our own stories, our own timelines and our own paths. Embrace where you are in its fullness and carry on in your own unique way. Doing so will inspire others to do the same, and hopefully break even more people free from the comparison trap.

About Kirsten Müller-Daubermann

“Since my own recovery, I am passionate about educating and empowering women to get the care they need to live amazing, productive and healthy lives,” said Müller-Daubermann. “I see the same compassion and desire in the Timberline Knolls team and look forward to being a part of this work of restoring women to health.”

Müller-Daubermann will continue to work as an advocate for greater awareness of eating disorders and resources for care. Since she won the crown of Miss America 2008, she has spoken on more than 20 college campuses, worked with youth and church groups domestically and abroad, lobbied Congress with the Eating Disorders Coalition, and started her own non-profit, the Kirsten Haglund Foundation, to raise funds and assist families financially in seeking treatment for eating disorders.

View all posts by Kirsten Müller-Daubermann