October 29, 2021

Why we don’t Need to Let this World or Others Define Us.


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Have you ever worried you’re not as good as someone else?

Perhaps, not as pretty, not as clever, not as creative, not as successful, not as popular as someone else? Maybe you’ve adapted your behavior or appearance to be like someone else, yet somehow it doesn’t work for you? 

The key question we need to ask ourselves when we feel like this is: does trying to be like them come from being inspired or from a place of enviousness (which can feel energetically negative)? One will help us, and one will hinder us.

As humans, we can get so caught up in comparing ourselves to others, particularly in the context of social media, which enforces consumption of those images and views on our feeds daily. Comparing ourselves and feeling we come out better than others at times may give us a boost, but it’s temporary. It’s based on our ego and is not at the core of our authenticity—the real us. This is why copying others never works. We have to find our own way. 

By trying to be like someone else, as we see it works for them, we position our self-worth externally. However, self-worth is from within, and it doesn’t have to be impacted by those around us.

Research tells us that a major factor in any anxiety is seeking external reassurance (or comparing ourselves). Also, the more we engage in social comparison, the more we are at risk of increasing anxiety, and depression emerging. Then the more anxious we are, which can cause low moods, the more likely we are to evaluate ourselves negatively. So the situation snowballs—and yet still we do it.

Social comparison theory (Festinger, 1954) suggests we compare initially to determine how we might evaluate ourselves. As babies entering the world, we have to look externally to learn how it works and how we view ourselves in our environment and in contrast to others. Comparison is a function we need. The risk is when we continue to use comparison as our only method of self-appraisal.

Imagine something as simple as running a race. We may all begin at the same starting block. However, there are so many things we don’t know. Did the others get as much sleep? What did they eat today? What have they experienced in life? How long have they been training? Are they dealing with pain in the body today? Are they processing something emotional? 

In reality, we are never all on the same starting block. The variables that make up our appearance and performance and how we impact the world are so complex and multidimensional that the ingredients in the mix that is us will never be replicable.

We even differ from the person we were yesterday and the person we were five minutes ago. Our sense of self has a core, but there are many layers around us, like the Russian dolls that slot inside each other. So when we compare, we don’t know how many layers the next person has—we have no idea of the backstory. Even with friends and family, we can’t be sure how the experiences they’ve had (that we do and do not know about) have been integrated into their system. Wherever someone is at is the right place for them.

The key is weighing up if any social comparison we engage in is beneficial.

Does it help our self-understanding and motivate us, or does it leave us feeling rubbish about ourselves?

Friends can inspire me if I see them exercise in the early morning, as it’s something I want to do consistently but struggle with. I see posts of early morning runners and think I want to be like that, but the fact I’m not doesn’t make me feel bad. Instead, I can see positives in myself as I run and see ways to become more consistent when the time is right. Their posts keep me goal-focused.

As a child, I remember my grandad telling me not to worry about what everyone else was doing but to compare myself to the person I was yesterday and think about the person I want to be tomorrow. That was an important lesson for me. However, I think maybe he missed out on the person I am today.

To accept things as they are means letting go of our expectations of how things should be. We are unique, and being ourselves is something no one else will ever be able to do.

The beauty of this reality brings the bonus that the judgments others have of us are merely their perceptions, filtered through their own understanding of the world. They do not define us, but they may give us a few clues about them.


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