Social comparison is a common behaviour that we learn from a young age, and it can have both positive and negative impacts on our lives.
While it is natural to compare ourselves to others, social comparison theory suggests that this behaviour is driven by a desire to understand ourselves better, determine if our skills are good enough, and decide what we want to achieve. Research indicates that social comparison involves a drive to improve and enhance ourselves.
There are two forms of social comparison: upward comparison and downward comparison. Comparing ourselves to those we perceive as doing better than us can motivate us, set new goals, and raise our competitive spirit. However, it can also lead to feelings of failure, low self-esteem, unrealistic standards, grandiosity, or even delusions.
Comparing ourselves to those whose lives are less advanced than ours can improve our confidence, increase our sense of gratitude and hope, and leave us feeling better about our situation.
However, it can also cause us to lose motivation, be dishonest with ourselves about our own suffering, and avoid seeking the help we really need.
Our self-esteem can be impacted by social comparison, and the effects depend on our confidence level. If we are in a state of self-worth, comparing ourselves upwards can motivate us and serve us better than comparing downwards. However, if we are not feeling great about ourselves, comparing ourselves to others lowers our self-esteem even more and is best avoided.
Social media can exacerbate social comparison issues, as we tend to use it when we are feeling vulnerable and compare ourselves not just upwards but also to carefully manipulated illusions. To make our moments of social comparison less psychologically draining, we can limit social media time, learn the habit of balance, practice gratitude, use comparison for better perspective only, and compare ourselves to ourselves by seeing how far we've come.
Self-comparison can also be a sign of dealing with mental health issues, including depression and ADHD.
Those who are sensitive, have high empathy, low self-esteem, or are neurotic or narcissistic are more likely to self-compare.
Comparing oneself to easily achievable goals can be helpful, but comparing oneself to things that are very out of reach can send moods spiralling.
Overall, social comparison is a natural behaviour that can motivate us and help us improve ourselves, but it can also have negative impacts on our self-esteem and mental health. By understanding the different forms of social comparison and learning how to use it productively, we can lessen the negative effects and improve our overall well-being