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The Counseling Corner: Social Comparison

Social comparison is an inevitable part of human development and important for personal growth. As we move through life and begin to shape our identities, we observe others around us to build our own beliefs, values and attitudes. We use comparison to learn things that we admire and build upon those strengths, becoming our true authentic selves. This is especially true during development in adolescence.  

Though comparison can be used for positive growth, it can also lead to a number of challenging thoughts and opinions that we develop about ourselves. Self- esteem, personal worth, body image and well- being are all things that can be altered from negatively comparing ourselves to others. When we look around and observe qualities in others that we don’t have in ourselves, it can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, envy, regret and defensiveness that can manifest into possible mental health issues.

In our current culture, children and adolescents are experiencing comparison at a much higher rate than in previous generations. One of the biggest reasons for this increase is the amount of connection that they have to viewing others’ lives through social media platforms. By being constantly “plugged in,” they are watching people they both know and don’t know, as they move through their entire day. Usually only seeing the image of what people want them to see and not the full scale of their lives. This constant examination of others is difficult to avoid and can cause negative rumination directed inward.

As parents and educators, working together to support the youth population, it is important that we understand the potential harm in comparison and examine our role in promoting the behavior. Instead of focusing on comparing and identifying shortcomings, let us explore how to encourage celebration and empowerment for our adolescents and help them to see the value in their unique selves. If we begin to shift focus from “what we don’t have” to “what we do have,” we can promote personal support and support for those around us. All while increasing self- confidence and quality of life.

Here are eight ways to practice moving away from social comparison that you can use at home with your family:

Notice what activates comparisons

Explore comparison with your family. What types of things or people lead to feeling the need to compare? Having the knowledge and communication can help build awareness and the ability to cope with comparison, in the future.

Practice gratitude

Talk opening with your family about gratitude. Encourage journaling, lists or sharing one good thing that happened in the day. Can be quick and shared at any part of the day!

Take the best, and leave the rest    

Help to encourage an understanding of comparison and how it can be used as motivation and inspiration. Move away from the harmful emotions of comparison.

Focus on strengths

Highlight the strengths that you see in your family and encourage them to explore what they feel are positive qualities within themselves. Great opportunity to give praise!

Accept your imperfections

We have all heard the saying, “no one’s perfect”, but this can be a challenging concept to put into practice. Discuss imperfections and how to embrace them, positively.

Appreciate others

Listen for your child’s personal judgements in comparison to others and encourage them to support others achievements. Act of kindness can shift us towards positivity!

Unplug

As much as possible, reduce the screen time. Find things to do outside of social media that promote mindfulness and being present in the moment.

Compare you with you

We are all constantly growing and expanding! When the urge to compare surfaces, practice shifting that focus to personal experiences and how far they have come.

As parents and educators, one the best way to support our adolescents in reducing comparison is to lead by example. Developing some of these practices into our own daily lives will strengthen our ability to promote it in others and improve overall quality of life.

For any further questions, concerns or thoughts please contact us in the counseling center.

Kindly,

Lexi Marquardt, Heather Murphy and Kathleen Hicks