You really need to learn how to stop comparing yourself to others. My counselor was on to something when she spoke those words to me. I was constantly looking around at other women and taking note of all the wonderful things they had — looks, clothes, cars, husbands — that I didn’t. It didn’t feel good, and even I was growing sick of the self-defeating talk. It was time to focus on overcoming my jealousy. An unexpected encounter at a Dunkin' Donuts offered me the opportunity to do so.
As I waited in line, a beautiful woman walked up and stood behind me. She was about the same age as me, tall, beautiful, clear skin, and a physique to die for. Each muscle was perfectly defined, exposing her determination and passion to stay fit. She was toned and strong; she stood with confidence and grace. She was just like those women I envy in the gym whose sweat is sexy and perfect: a moist glow that glazes over their perfectly smooth skin. The women who make me think I can’t even sweat right. And just like that, jealousy crept in to steal my peace of my mind.
As I looked her up and down, the thoughts of envy and self-hatred arose. I want to look like that. My complex mind constructed harsh judgments. She probably eats ice cream and still looks fabulous and fit. She clearly does not have financial burdens; just look at the well-made fabric of her clothing, molding her strong and feminine body perfectly. My thoughts were spiraling out of control. Jealousy took over, and I wallowed in my feelings of being less-than. Why am I so jealous? I wondered.
As I compared myself to her, I concluded that she, in her aesthetic glory, was more valuable than me. Why can’t I love myself as I am? I wondered. No more negative thoughts, I told myself. I remembered my counselor’s words and I made an active decision to stop comparing myself to others in that very moment.
I then looked at this woman and said directly to her, “Wow, you are so fit; you have me feeling inspired to start working out again. I love how strong and feminine your physique is.”
Did I really just say that? I could hardly believe it myself. Speaking these complimentary words to her was awkward. Very awkward, but very effective. Once I expressed my admiration to this beautiful stranger, the focus was no longer on me, my body, my wrongs and my self-hatred. The focus was on a woman who works hard to take care of her body. She deserved to hear that feedback, and the truth is, I deserved to stop the self-loathing. I can appreciate the talents and beauty in others without focusing on my shortcomings. I am not perfect. Neither is she. I bet if she sat down with me for few hours, she would admire a quality in me, too.
This was one small action step in my battle to overcome jealousy. I am slowly learning ways to do this on a more consistent basis. I spoke with Christine H. Farber, PhD, a counselor from Glastonbury, CT, about the dangers of jealousy and comparing yourself to others and how to bring the focus back to yourself. If you want to stop comparing yourself to others, try the following.
1. Find the admiration with the jealousy.
“I like to think that admiration is the other side of the coin of jealousy,” says Dr. Farber. “When we find ourselves feeling jealous of others, it is because we perceive them to have something we wish we had for ourselves: success, beauty, talent, etc. Rather than getting stuck in the jealousy, shift awareness to the admiration underlying it, and use that as inspiration.” One way of doing so is to offer a compliment, as I did for the woman in line with me at Dunkin' Donuts.
2. Practice self-compassion.
In her book Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, Kristin Neff, PhD, discusses how to stop judging ourselves and to instead recognize our own suffering — and to be kind to ourselves in the ways we are to others. She suggests writing a letter to yourself from the perspective of a loving, imaginative friend when you are struggling with feelings of inadequacy. Self-compassion helps us to accept ourselves as we are, flaws and all. It can help to remember that none of us is perfect.
3. Be realistic.
Farber described the finding that the greater the difference between who we are and who our ideal self is, the lower our self-esteem. For example, comparing yourself to Hemingway when you’re a new writer is likely a formula for feeling badly about yourself. Be realistic when it comes to setting goals for yourself. “These days, this is difficult to do,” says Farber. “Aspirational images, which are everywhere in social media, are often taken for realistic ones. Things that are largely unattainable are presented as though they are ordinary. So be realistic. Stay anchored in your own life, set attainable goals for yourself, and limit your time on social media.”
4. Empower yourself.
“Comparing yourself to and being jealous of others takes up so much energy. Feeling empowered can be a safeguard against misusing your energy toward self-defeating ends. Discover what helps you to feel strong inside and when you notice that you are judging yourself, stop the thoughts by asking instead, what is one thing I can do to feel more effective and purposeful in this moment?” says Farber. This is exactly what happened when I chose to give a compliment rather than remain in jealousy: I felt stronger, and more empowered.
5. Celebrate you.
What is it that make you uniquely you? We all have at least one quality that is uniquely ours. Embrace and celebrate yours. There is no arrogance in loving ourselves, so don’t be afraid to look in the mirror and say, I am a damn good dancer. It will help you in those times of jealousy: Wait a minute, you’ll say, I am a fantastic dancer! “Be more of who you are, rather than trying to be more of someone else. The former is exhilarating; the latter, impossible,” says Farber.
This post was written by Suzanne Hayes.