Unhelpful Thinking Habits (2)
So, in my 2nd instalment of the series on unhelpful thinking habits, I thought I’d address another error that links with being too critical of ourselves, which is comparing ourselves with others. How often do you take a look at other people around you and think that they’re better looking, have a nicer house / car etc., have a better job, larger income, better social life etc than you do? And how does this make you feel?
You certainly aren’t alone if you feel that you don’t measure up, that somehow other people are better than you. We can all fall into the trap of thinking that we should be doing more to try and keep up with others and that if we manage it, this will bring happiness, status, and contentment. Yet this constant striving to better ourselves can often be an exhausting, never-ending treadmill of hard work and leave us feeling as though we’ll never make it.
There are several reasons why people may compare themselves unfavourably with others – it may be that they were heavily criticised as a child, or have been in a relationship where another person regularly put them down – that they weren’t good enough and that [insert name here] was better than us and why can’t we be as good as them? This sense of inadequacy can create well established thinking that others are better or more important than us.
Another reason could be the way the media portrays the ideal. You see, the way a company tries to get us to purchase the product they’re selling is to create a sense that we have a need for it – that somehow our life is lacking, and that if we buy their product – this lack will be satisfied. So, to sell an anti-ageing moisturiser – you encourage someone to worry about ageing, to get someone to have plastic surgery – you encourage them to focus on their physical flaws. To sell the next smart phone – encourage people to feel they’ll be left behind if they don’t. To sell perfume – advertisers use attractive models in idyllic locations – as if to say that when we wear their perfume, we will somehow be more attractive, sexy, wealthy etc. When all we’ll really do is smell nice. So, in all the ways we’re bombarded by advertising – TV, cinema, newspapers, magazines, billboards, the backs of buses etc. We’re being told that we lack something and that to match up to others and fit in we need to buy more.
Another cause can be a lack of the whole story – you see, when we look at another person’s life we tend to see all the good bits that people are happy to tell us about or post on social media – the highlights of life such as the parties, the holidays, the promotion etc.. What we don’t often see is the unpleasant bits – the arguments with family or friends, the intense deadlines at work that are causing them stress, the insecurity of how they look and how much they weigh. Yet what we can do is compare their highlights to our full picture and think that their lives are so much better.
So how can we stop comparing ourselves with others? Well here’s the truth – the first step is to value and appreciate ourselves more – to recognise our own strengths and good points and remind ourselves of these regularly, to be grateful for what we have. Knowing that we all have our own unique traits and qualities that make us who we are and that we can love ourselves just as we are.
Secondly is to appreciate that no-one else’s life is perfect – everyone has their own difficulties, challenges and insecurities, even if they are very good at hiding them.
Finally, to recognise that those who have overly and unfairly criticised us and made us feel small are the ones who need to change – because often all they’ve done is tried to reduce us in their estimation in order to feel better about themselves – this is the trait of bullies and is never OK.
I hope this is helpful – but I know that for some, this stuff isn’t easy to implement – especially if you have a long history of low self-esteem from bullying, abuse etc. so please get in contact if you would like 1-1 support. Also, keep an eye out for the next instalment on managing unhelpful thinking.