My friends were like a mirror. All I could see were my shortcomings staring back at me.
If I had to guess, I’d say that human beings have been comparing themselves to one another since the beginning of time.
I have no doubt that prehistoric man envied the size of his neighbor’s cave or coveted his admirable flint skills.
Sometimes these comparisons can be helpful. They can give you a blueprint for improvement and inspire you to change. Other times, they can be a means to pick yourself apart and see everything that you think is wrong with yourself.
Comparison has mostly been a fleeting experience for me. I’d note my friends’ successes or an influencer’s figure on Instagram and feel envious, but the pain was always short-lived. That was until a new girl joined my social circle.
She was everything I wasn’t. Or everything I thought I wasn’t. Bright, funny, outgoing. People adored her instantly, and luck always seemed to land squarely at her feet.
Lisa* quickly became one of my close friends. Despite our deep bond, her brilliance tore me apart.
She was like a mirror, but all I could see were my shortcomings staring back at me.
Everything I achieved felt tainted by her achievements, which, somehow, always seemed superior. I could never measure up, no matter how hard I tried. It crushed me on a daily basis.
I might have expected these feelings at 16, but I was 30, a grown-up, and someone who rarely felt threatened by another’s success. But Lisa brought my insecurities into sharp focus.
On an intellectual level, I knew there were things that were great about me. But emotionally, I just couldn’t get there.
By comparison, everything in my life seemed less than. I wasn’t as pretty nor as fun. I wasn’t as fearless nor as talented. I didn’t have as many friends, and I wasn’t as appealing to the opposite sex.
My confidence was taking a beating, and I felt truly worthless. All of these feelings were amplified by the guilt I had for feeling this way about a friend. I searched the internet far and wide for some practical advice I could use to help me get past these feelings.
I knew that I was going to need some serious help to get over this. With much trepidation, I put my fears to one side and enlisted the support of Sarah, a life coach who would eventually guide me out of this funk.
Over the course of several weeks, Sarah gave me a practical toolkit that would help me stop comparing myself to others and recognize the beauty and value of my own uniqueness.
Here’s what she taught me.
Sarah cut right to the chase on our very first session and explained something important to me: Naming something gives it less power.
Sarah had me give my inner critic — that critical voice inside that points out all of my perceived inadequacies — a name.
I settled on the name Ciara, and as we got better acquainted, I discovered she was particularly nasty. Ciara wanted me to think I was never good enough.
She liked to remind me that I often let fear get the better of me, that I could stand to lose a few pounds, and that I’m an awkward mess in big groups.
It was agonizing to hear how I’d let this voice in my head berate me. Now that I’d given her a name, I could recognize when she spoke up.
I could begin the next crucial step in freeing myself from the comparison trap: starting a conversation with her.
I’ve always considered myself a good friend, but Sarah pointed out that I wasn’t being a particularly good friend to myself.
“How would you comfort a friend in a crisis?” she asked me.
I replied that I would sit with her and discuss her feelings. I’d comfort her and remind her what a great person she is. I’d probably give her a great big hug.
Sarah told me that when Ciara gets in the driver’s seat, I need to speak to her with love and understanding.
When Ciara would pop up in my head, I started a dialogue. I’d ask Ciara how she was feeling and why she might be feeling that way. I’d empathize with her, offer her words of encouragement, and remind her of all the reasons she’s great.
Sarah had one simple rule: If you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself.
By following this rule, I started to understand where some of my insecurities were coming from. I was able to unpack why Lisa triggered these feelings in me.
I came to realize that both of us were at similar points in life and that she was excelling in the exact areas I felt I was failing.
When we compare ourselves to others, we focus on all of their strengths and achievements and ignore our own. That’s why Sarah encouraged me to keep a record of all the good things I had done.
It didn’t matter what they were: If it was something I felt proud of, I made a record of it. Soon, I had a bulging folder of things I had accomplished over the weeks.
If I aced a project at work, I recorded it. If I helped a friend in a crisis, in it went. If I dragged myself to the gym on a morning I really didn’t want to go, I wrote it down.
Looking at all I had achieved, both big and small, bolstered my self-esteem. I felt a swell of pride. Lisa was great, I realized, but in so many wonderful ways, so was I.
Running a hot bath and pouring yourself a glass of wine can be great self-care, but we can take it even further. Self-care can involve honest and continuous introspection, according to Sarah.
It’s a process of looking inward and seeing what you find. Sarah encouraged me to keep a journal and jot down my thoughts, particularly when I was in a self-esteem spiral.
Once those thoughts were on the page, I had the power to observe them and decide whether or not they were true or just a result of me feeling inadequate.
I was able to unpack them and decipher where they may have come from, and it was incredibly freeing.
It wasn’t always easy. Confronting some of my darker feelings was hard, but looking them straight in the eye gave me the power to begin moving forward.
My comparison journey didn’t end after my last session with Sarah.
Yes, I felt clearer on my unique talents, skills, and qualities. I was much more confident, and I no longer saw Lisa as a rival. I felt lighter. Friends remarked that I seemed to be in a great headspace.
I wasn’t feeling burdened by feelings of inadequacy anymore or worrying about hiding my jealousy. I could celebrate Lisa’s successes, as well as my own.
Comparing myself made me feel lost. It had deprived me of joy and made me feel miserable. The self-doubt I was feeling played out in other areas of my life.
I wasn’t always present with friends because I was playing the comparison game in my head. Dates were doomed to failure because I didn’t feel good about myself from the start.
Once Sarah gave me the tools, I had a clearer focus on what I wanted in life and how I could get it. I didn’t feel burdened by the self-doubt that had held me back before. Shaking off comparison had allowed me to enjoy life again.
Working with these tools is an ongoing practice. Even now, I know I need to keep up that inner dialogue with Ciara and continue adding to my record of achievements. I know it’s important to regularly look inward to confront uncomfortable emotions.
Breaking free from comparison is not a linear journey. There are bumps in the road, moments of insecurity, and doubt. But maintaining the practice that Sarah taught me has helped keep my self-esteem on an even keel.
There will always be someone prettier, more talented, intelligent, bubbly, or outgoing. For me, the trick is knowing the unique value of what I bring to the table.
*Name has been changed
Victoria Stokes is a writer from the United Kingdom. When she’s not writing about her favorite topics, personal development, and well-being, she usually has her nose stuck in a good book. Victoria lists coffee, cocktails, and the color pink among some of her favorite things. Find her on Instagram.