Something you said in your last column triggered something powerful in me, an uncomfortable feeling of being exposed. I had never heard of “compare and despair syndrome” before, but as soon as I read those words, I felt my heart speed up and my stomach churn. I am horrified to say this, but the truth is, I am constantly comparing myself to other people—both known and unknown. I measure myself against others in everything from professional success to personal accomplishments to appearance. This isn’t strictly a social media issue for me (though that does make it worse), but rather, something I seem to do in almost any setting, from the gym to the office to city street corners.
Looking back, I have been comparing and despairing my entire life—but I had never stopped to think about it before, let alone name it. Now that I have, it’s making me feel disgusted and ashamed and wondering how to make it stop.
Can you help?
Dear Constantly Comparing,
To compare is human.
From the moment we are born, we are measured against our peers. It starts with things like weight and height, and moves on to other developmental milestones like sitting up, rolling over, crawling, walking and talking. At this stage the comparison game is mostly harmless and largely well-intended—less about bragging rights and more about monitoring our health and well-being. Next up, the school years! The stakes intensify and the pressure mounts. From test scores to appearances, from grades to popularity to athletic ability, we amble to establish our place in the pecking order. As adults, status symbols abound. Home ownership, professional achievements, family life and the like all purport to signal the world something about who we are and what we are made of.