“That person is funnier than I am.”
“That person is smarter and better at their job than me.”
“My crush likes someone else. They’re more desirable than I am.”
“I want that person’s life. They seem happy.”
Does this sound like someone you know? I know it sounds like someone I know pretty well: me.
Too often I struggle with a recurring issue, a tendency to compare myself to other people. These mostly internalized thoughts are the root of a lot of my own anxieties, which at times lead to bouts with depression. These falling dominoes bring an additional risk: Any time anxiety or depression is in play, there is a risk of substance misuse as a quick-fix cure to these exhausting thoughts.
My burden is that I’m constantly unsure about whether or not I’m accepted by others — an irrational fear that borders on delusion — along with the question of how my life compares to other people’s lives.
“Am I as funny as (insert person’s name here)?” is one such question. You can even swap out “funny” for any other positive attribute and I’ve surely asked myself that as well. It all circles back to the general question of, “Am I liked/respected/loved?” This is one of the main symptoms of social anxiety disorder.
I hate these feelings. I hate comparing myself to other people. I hate that little voice — as one friend describes it — nagging at me every day, or even every hour. That voice can make me question every decision I’ve ever made in my life. It can make me unsure of my friendships, my relationships, my employment, and my overall status in life. That voice results in “the grass is always greener on the other side” thinking, and I have difficulty getting around it. Concentrating on routine daily tasks such as household chores or eating a regular meal can become more difficult. Maintaining close relationships, even with a spouse or family members, is a challenge. Social anxiety and depression can be debilitating, and these comparisons are so often the root cause of why I sometimes struggle to even force a smile on my face.
However, I recently learned something. It wasn’t surprising, but it was definitely revealing.
A lot of people do this.
Maybe not to the same extent or with the same debilitating outcome as me, but I believe that most have negatively compared themselves to others. So many people struggle with self-esteem and confidence in this way, and a lot of people let these thoughts take complete control of their minds and sink them into a dark hole of depression. It’s happened to me, on numerous occasions.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, around 40 million adults in the United States — nearly 20 percent of the population — struggle with an anxiety disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, around 12 percent of Americans suffer from a social anxiety disorder at some point during their lives. However, that number can be misleading, as many people struggle in silence.
A lot of people rely on drugs or alcohol as a way to self-medicate. Even if rehabilitation is an option, these comparisons will persist during a person’s recovery. Co-occurring disorders such as social anxiety are often the cause of a substance use disorder, and programs such as those offered at The Recovery Village work to identify these issues and help people cope with their burdens in a healthier manner.
Making these comparisons to others is part of being human because human beings have a natural tendency to become jealous of one another. We’re jealous of our friend who gets the attention of our secret crush. We’re jealous of our co-worker who won the esteemed award. Married people could be jealous of the person who is single and has a metaphorically empty life plate, ready to be filled by anything they want. Single people can be jealous of those who are married and have found love, commitment and comfort within a family of their own.
People too often want what others have and forget what they have. That’s not just a “me thing,” or a “you thing.” That’s an everyone thing.
The issue isn’t immediately solved, though. There will always be moments of struggling with these anxieties and moments of low self-esteem. However, knowing that you’re not isolated is a huge weight off anyone’s shoulders.
No one is alone. In fact, a lot more people are in this with you than you might have realized.
I have also realized some other ways to cope with these issues through my own trials and with the advice of friends:
1. Make a list of every positive quality you have.
You could write down anything from your personality traits to professional achievements. There is no limit, either. Write down all the relationships with your friends, family members and colleagues. And this list can grow. Make a note of every person who has reached out to talk with you, who has wanted to make plans. Mention every compliment you’ve received from someone. Even write down small victories like a great meal you made or cleaning the entire house. Accomplishments are a great way to allow yourself to have self-pride. Steps, like seeking help or reaching a milestone in sobriety, are major accomplishments and worthy of a mention on the list.
2. Remind yourself that negative thoughts aren’t reality.
Reach out to close friends or family members to remind you that your negative thoughts aren’t reality and don’t define you. Telling yourself over and over what you need to hear can get old — and eventually, your own voice can lose its impact. Other people can have a powerful positive effect.
3. Go do what you love to do.
Anxiety and depression can cause people to feel unmotivated. Depression can make you not want to get out of bed, much less go outside. Put one foot in front of the other and do something you enjoy. It’s a good way to pull yourself out of your own insecurities. Focusing on your passions is also a good coping strategy to continue your recovery after rehab, and if a substance use disorder is connected to a co-occurring one, enjoying activities can have an impact for both. Relying on friends or family members can be beneficial, but a balance is important.
4. Remember that you’re not alone.
In fact, you’re trying to go through life with these burdens just like nearly everyone else. Another coping mechanism, going a step further: While you’re comparing yourself to other people, be aware that someone and possibly multiple people are comparing themselves to you. Recognizing this fact is another great way to take stock in the value of what you have, instead of yearning for what someone else has
More than anything, remember that list of your positive qualities. Make it. Read it. Add to it. That list is every reason why you’re better than that voice says you are, and it’s every reason why so many people care for you. They don’t love you because you can become someone else; they love you for you, exactly as you are.