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Why Do We Engage in Social Comparison?

Social Comparison


Social Comparison is the tendency to use another person as a yardstick to understand ourselves. We have all engaged in comparison behaviors at some point in our lives to understand our abilities, drawbacks, or success and goals. While it can be helpful, and keep us accountable by being on track, it can also be detrimental to our mental health by resulting in unhelpful behaviors.


This theory of social comparison was given by Leon Festinger in the year 1954. He suggested that the need to assess ourselves to learn more about ourselves fueled social comparison; however, more current research says that social comparison is motivated by three domains, the need to self-evaluate, the need to self-improve, and the need to self-enhance.


During therapy sessions, the majority of clients engage in some form of comparison. These comparisons can be classified into upward and downward comparisons.


Upward comparisons are when we compare ourselves to someone we perceive as doing better than us. Downward comparisons are when we compare ourselves to someone we perceive as less advanced than ourselves.


The natural tendency of clients, however, is to compare higher. Research shows that the majority of people preferred to compare themselves to those they perceived as better. Most often than not, we tend to stack up against those who appear to be doing better.


Different social comparisons have different effects. Upward social comparison can be extremely motivating at times; for instance, we could want to emulate a role model. The following factors temper the power of the upward push:


When the comparison is made internally rather than publicly, the upward drive is more robust. For instance, when a student compares themselves in private, they are motivated to upskill. But if a student says this out loud, or someone points it out to them they are less driven to do better.


When the person is not in danger of being viewed as inferior, the impulse to rise is stronger. For instance, a child who gets compared as inferior to a sibling is less likely to be motivated to improve as compared to a child who isn’t being compared as inferior in the first place.

Upward social comparison, however, also has its downsides. It can lead to reduced self-esteem, fear of failure, and low motivation. For example, a friend of yours that announces their promotion on social media may lead you to put yourself down, resulting in reduced motivation and self-esteem.


According to the social comparison hypothesis, downward social comparisons should make us feel better about our current circumstances because we may be in worse situations. It reassures us when we are feeling low. While it may seem like a quick fix to boost self-esteem, it is important to remember that it is only temporary. It can also help reduce feelings of sadness, anxiety, and fear. The downside to this is that it can make us sad because they serve as a constant reminder that things might always get worse, or it may make us unhappy because we know things could get worse.


How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others


Social Media Detox

Social media has a significant role to play in how people are compared. One can easily access other people’s lives, whose lives have been meticulously manicured to appear flawless. Due to its easy accessibility, it gives the impression that it is the sole standard, making those who are not a part of it feel out of the ordinary. Do a social media detox if you notice that you’re starting to feel negative. Taking a break from social media from time to time can help you regain control over your digital and emotional well-being.


Practicing Gratitude

Focusing on what you have rather than allowing your mind to wander into a spiral, can help count your blessings. Sometimes, we might want to be in someone’s shoes, until we actually put ourselves there and realize we are better off. Being grateful for the little things can also take us a long way. Another way to go about this would be to balance your thoughts with the good qualities you think you possess that are different from the other person possessing them.


Social Support

There are times when it seems like unhealthy relationships or competitive pals thrive on the comparison. Build a strong support system for yourself by taking into account the people in your life. Self-esteem decreases when upward comparisons get more extreme. But people’s self-esteem increases with the amount of social support they have. Find a group of people or friends that share similar interests so you can grow and feel supported.

Be Better Than Yesterday

Try competing with yourself rather than with others. Put your personal development, achievement, and goals first. Consider your progress over the past five years. Consider the ways you have changed or even developed over the past year. Focus on being better than you were yesterday.


Give Yourself Credit For Your Achievements

We tend to neglect ourselves while we’re focusing on how successful or skilled someone else is. Just because someone is exceptional at something or has a quality that you like doesn’t imply that you don’t have your own skills, talents, and qualities to be admired and credited for.


Seek Therapy

If you find that you are feeling very overwhelmed because of the negative comparison loop that you have entered and are unable to break out of it, do not hesitate to seek professional guidance. To book a counselling session, please click here.

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