“Stop comparing your insides to someone else’s outsides.” On Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., folks seem to live a charmed and successful lives. We compare ourselves to our family members, colleagues, friends, neighbors and folks we don’t know. These comparisons range from financial, physical appearance, professional achievements, relationships and even more specific goals.
Comparing ourselves has to do with how we relate information about others to ourselves. It is one of the basic ways we develop an understanding of who we are, what we are good at and not so good at. In the presence of other human beings, the first thing we do is to compare ourselves to them.
Vulnerable truth-telling time … when I compare my insides to someone else’s outsides I am plagued by an overwhelming sense of inadequacy, fear and deep shame. It happened to me not so long ago.
When it happened, I sank into a deep dark hole. I was angry, hostile toward myself and Yael. Everyone that I knew seemed supercharged with more spirituality, intelligence, love, achievements and success than I ever could achieve.
Comparing one’s insides to someone’s outsides on social media can appear to be indisputable scientific proof that someone is worthy. Social media manages to kick us in our achilles heels because we are fixated with proving our worth, LIKES, performance, making others jealous, money, scandal and competition.
It’s easy to be ashamed of our oddities, fixations, and peculiarities when there is a huge asymmetry between knowledge of ourselves and knowledge of others.
Unfairly comparing ourselves is something we all struggle with. There is an infinite number of categories and infinite number of people to measure up against, like a Facebook news feed, we CHOOSE to keep scrolling through accounts of those ~better~ than us.
When I’m off the spiritual beam … feel empty inside or like something is missing in my life, that’s when I am most vulnerable to comparing myself to others. My feelings of emptiness or less than can twist my perception into thinking that everyone has it so much easier than I do or that they appear to have something I don’t.
Psychologically speaking, since comparison is a fundamentally human impulse, there is really no way of shutting it down completely, but if we understand its origins and mechanisms we may be able to alleviate the negative effects and focus on the good—both on and offline.
Judging Yourself Against Him / Her
It can appear that everyone else online is happy and serene. Your friend just posted that he was tenured and you’ve been trying for years and it hasn’t happened. Your colleague was accepted to do a Ted-Talk, your proposal was declined. Your sister’s child was just accepted into an Ivy-league school, your daughter has been in and out of drug rehab for most of high school. Your colleague just told you that she and her husband are going to vacation in France. Your marriage is on the rocks-your husband may be having an affair. Yet, we all know that Facebook uses algorithms to prioritize information that social media feeds—a reality that is designed almost perfectly to make us feel discouraged, unworthy, inadequate and ashamed.
Trapped inside our own heads, we are all too familiar with our own thoughts — and precise insight into all that is absurd, intricate, annoying, raw, worrying, contradictory, humiliating and delicate about ourselves.
But when it comes to others people? All we see are their poised cardboard cut-outs. Do we really know them?
It is heartbreaking! We are tightly restricted to really knowing folks from the outside. We are left to play with our imagination, hints and clues about the reality of their existence. I really mean it when I say it’s heartbreaking because unfortunately, I think that feeling a sense of inadequacy, shame, unworthy, and disconnected is NOT a top human concern. We seem to be satisfied with relationships based on heavily skewed pictures of someone’s social universe.
In societies full of ‘normal’ people, how can we be expected to always feel “fine” when we compare our imperfect, manic insides to the curated presentations of others? Comparing ourselves just makes us feel worse than we actually are.
We are too unforgiving. Yet by acknowledging the ridiculously reserved, polite, curated nature of the public sphere, we can open up a new world of affection for ourselves — all parts of ourselves —by realizing that deep down we’re all a bit messed up.
Comparing our insides to someone else’s outsides can leave us feeling chronically depressed and inferior. When we compare ourselves to the polished versions of people on the street, bosses, competitors and toothy TV and online folks, self-flagellation comes very easy. We really don’t know what they’re truly like, so we give them an advantage. It’s called the envy up, scorn down dynamic, and it is provoked each time we measure our self-worth against others.
Envy up, scorn down is like trying to win a race with a truck full of all our secret dreams, desires and impulses, chained to our waist. We are so focused on ourselves that we forget to look around to see that everyone else also has a truck chained behind them, filled with their secret dreams, desires and impulses.
This isn’t a new revelation, most of us KNOW this, but internalizing it in order to let ourselves off the hook and/or forgive ourselves is much easier to write about than to do. I struggle, which is why I’m writing about it, perhaps I’ll find others who feel the same way and want to do something about it.
You Are What You Do, Not What You Say You’ll Do
I believe whole-heartedly in relationships. I found strength and discovered who I was through my close relationships. We made mistakes and we weren’t ashamed of them. We discovered our feelings together and learned that unpleasant feelings were just as important as the pleasant ones in making sense of our life’s ups and downs.; that being vulnerable with someone we love allows us to reveal the peculiarities of our thoughts safely.
Many therapeutic nights, I spent with close friends after meetings, sitting with someone at their kitchen table trying to untangle painful thoughts and emotions. There was always a hand stroking my back and non-flinching attention to what I was saying — even if to them it sounded completely wacko — they listened with a warm, loving, non-judgmental presence and offered up fresh perspectives after I was done crying. Those experiences healed me and taught me about real love and how to have real relationships. They are the reason I became a therapist.
Meaningful two-way conversations with trusted others taught me to compare myself to myself; that I am not more perverse or screwed up than the rest of humankind. My father, Reggie, frequently reminds me, “You are what you do, not what you say you do.” This means:
It takes time to build relationships in which we are comfortable to show off more than our socially acceptable sides, but when we do it’s a great solace. Vulnerable truth-telling is an antidote to pain, loneliness, feelings of inadequacy and shame.