Woe Is Me! “My Life Is Great, But I Always Compare Myself To Other Women!”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“I’m caught in this spiral of constantly comparing myself to other girls. Mainly intellectually and how we are doing in our lives, lifestyle, choices- material and nonmaterial, everything. Oh yeah, and add a bit of analyzing and comparing looks in there too. There isn’t a week that I’m not triggered by some female who has no solid impact in my life and is just an innocuous Instagram presence who I happened to know via something. But the worst part: I do it with genuine close friends too. I know it’s rooted in self-esteem issues from childhood- I was always the silent girl, the odd one out who wanted to be a part of the popular clique. But I’ve actually managed to do pretty well in life in all aspects — a thriving career, a beautiful husband, and enough money. Then why does this still haunt me?!“
— Professional Comparer
KB: You need to learn the most important life skill there is: not giving a solid fuck what anyone else is doing. I could give you all the tired advice about taking breaks from social media, and not holding yourself to impossible, fake standards, and recognizing that no one’s life is perfect even when it appears so. But you’ve heard all this before, I’m guessing. Try, instead, to think of this a little differently: there’s no happiness competition in life, and personal fulfillment is not a precious resource in short supply that you have to fight with your friends over.
The only person who can really make you feel fulfilled and grateful and content is … you. So instead of this constant comparison to people around you — who have their own unique circumstances and struggles — try comparing yourself to yourself. In other words, is there something you may want to work on in your marriage to make it a little bit stronger? Is there a specific professional goal that would make you feel particularly proud of yourself to accomplish? Is there some particular benchmark for ‘success’ you’ve always dreamed of? Are there relationships you really want to invest more time into? Then work on the concrete steps that will help you accomplish those things. The more you look around at what others are doing, the less focused you are on your own needs and dreams. So stop wasting time, and start paying attention to the things you already have, and how to garner as much fulfillment from the gifts, talents, and circumstances life has given you.
AS: The first thing I feel like doing is congratulating you for everything you’ve achieved, and all these wonderful things you have going for you! I totally relate to this incessant need to compare yourself to others, even when they have no bearing on your real life. You’re the best judge of just how much childhood insecurities have played into this. But I feel that social media has made the act of showing-off a distinct feature in our lives. In my opinion, it’s the bane of our hyper-connected existence, and so, you’re really not alone in feeling like this. It may surprise you, but the people you end up comparing yourself to might be comparing themselves to you and feeling the same way.
My recommendation would be to tune it out a bit. Put a timer on your Instagram. Don’t check as many stories and tweets. Also, just try keeping yourself busier with things that make you genuinely happy about your life. And from time to time, just be shameless and hype yourself up. Talk about your achievements and your awesome job. Dress up, get a haircut, strike a pose in the mirror. I know it sounds superficial, but I think it’s a good reminder to yourself that you’re pretty damn great, just as you are.
DR: Social conditioning is hard to get rid of, isn’t it? We have grown up in a patriarchal, heteronormative society that has told us from a very young age that our worth will be determined by the men we end up with. And how do we achieve that? By proving we’re better than other women we cross paths with — sowing the seed of competition in our formative years. When this idea is drilled into young, impressionable minds, we end up internalizing it so much so that it continues to subconsciously inform our outlook even though we may have consciously begun questioning the patriarchy around us.
At the same time, we also continue to live in a male-dominated society, where opportunities for women are much more limited. Very often, we’re hired just to fulfill a quota because the general ‘brilliance bias‘ favors men — limiting the number of opportunities we have. And, perhaps, this makes us more competitive towards other women because society doesn’t always treat us at par with men, especially in sectors like finance, law, and STEM fields, where the boys’ club culture is really strong, making other women our only competition — irrespective of whether or not we consciously recognize the bias. However, while this is just a theory, having worked at some of these places, it was difficult to ignore just how often women are pitted against each other and compared — breeding negativity between fellow female colleagues.
So, I understand where you’re coming from. But, it’s amazing that you’ve recognized this problem, and are calling yourself out on it. This is progress! Also, if it helps you shed the competitiveness, look at it like this: women around you probably envy you, too, for having “a thriving career, a beautiful husband, and enough money.” So, you’re not alone — we’re all in this mess together, and hey, we’ll make it out of here!
RP: We think envy is about other people but it’s not. It’s usually just an annoying reflection of something we don’t want to be reminded of. Think about all the comparing you’ve been doing — are those choices, lifestyles, and looks something you specifically want for yourself? Or does friends achieving them just remind you of where you want to be but aren’t going? Sometimes people’s successes point us right at the space we’ve set aside for goals we haven’t yet defined but want to. Let the envy be the trigger that gets you thinking about what fulfills you, and it will free you from being at the mercy of other people’s news. The formula of a great partner, job, and means can feel like the answer to everything, but it isn’t always. We need to be busy enough building the life we actually want to not care about the milestones of everyone else.
The other thing to remember is that we are living in the era of highly curated everything, whether it’s strangers on Instagram or friends we meet in person. We have so much information in our hands that we know instantly who’s getting promoted and praised at work, whose WFH setup has the best view, and who had the fanciest breakfast today and with whom. Wouldn’t it be great if we were all just as vocal about our fears and vulnerabilities? The cliche of sharing other people’s highlight reel with our deleted scenes really does carry over to friends IRL.
Envy can usually only be killed by generosity. Share praise and kind words with your friends for the things that touch you, even if they aren’t the accolades they would usually highlight. Share gratitude with people who’ve helped you or whom you think of more often than you contact. Help out someone with something you know they need or you know how to do. Those gestures can save us from that ugly spiral of self-doubt.
LG: Oh, Girlfriend — can I call you that? You feel so very familiar; there’s a quality of ‘Every Woman’ to your woe that has me thinking we’re already friends. You’ve already identified that lingering self-esteem issues from your youth might be influencing this constant comparison. But here’s another big factor: Patriarchal society conditions women to compete against each other at every turn because it has made space for so few women to rise to the top. So, while I applaud your desire to change this streak of comparison — don’t be too hard on yourself, too. We’ve all been there! It’s good that you recognize this tendency and are fighting against it — that’s the best way we can stick it to the man.
I have a question that might help you: What do you want — like really want — out of your life? What do you want for you? Society sets so many goals for women, and one of the other best ways we can stick it to the man is by setting our own goals instead. This list could include tangible goals — an annual exotic holiday, a promotion, a child, say — as well as more abstract ones — time and space for creativity, or a supportive work environment. Thinking about what you truly want — writing it down somewhere, even — might help dial back the comparisons, because it will help you keep in mind your goals and progress toward them are what matter, not anyone else’s. Go back to those goals every once in a while for a self-check-in — compare yourself to yourself! This might wean you away from a habit of comparison to others.
Or, consider making a pact with a partner or friend to call you out when you’re comparing yourself to others — in response, you have to say three things you’re proud of in your own life. These little exercises can go a long way toward refocusing us from others’ seeming success (which is definitely only seeming — everyone out there is as insecure and struggling as you!) to our own internal happiness. Hope this helps you, girlfriend, and just know there are people out there who think you’re wonderful just as you are!