Upward Comparison

Photo by Gean Montoya on Unsplash

At our recent event, a lot of conversation was had around the issue of upward comparison (a term we learned from one of our esteemed attendees — thanks, Karen!) Upward comparison is when you compare yourself to others who you perceive to be better than you or better off than you (as opposed to downward comparison, where you compare yourself to those you consider inferior to or worse off than you.)

As much lip service as we give to not comparing ourselves to others, social comparison is a natural tendency, and one that can be helpful at times. We may use social comparison to help us realize that we’re expecting too much of ourselves, or to motivate ourselves to do more. It can help us gauge if the level of difficulty we’re experiencing in a given situation is “normal,” or if we need to re-evaluate our approach (or if we even want to be in that situation anymore.)

Like most things, social comparison serves a purpose, but with social media upward comparison has become a massive problem. One reason is that the comparisons aren’t realistic, meaning they can’t be helpful. Social media is usually a carefully curated highlight reel of people’s lives, sometimes followed closely and supported by people who don’t even know them. Even when we understand on an intellectual level that this is so, we often can’t override our tendency to believe what we’re seeing and compare ourselves to it. So what to do?

1. Unfollow the uninspiring. If you have someone in your social media feed that posts frequent workout selfies, vacation photos or career accomplishments that leaving you feeling less than, feel free to unfollow them. Not that there’s anything wrong with celebrating successes, but a constant barrage of success and superiority can cause much dreaded upward comparison.

2. Keep some things sacred. If there’s something in your life you feel extra sensitive about, or maybe even extra proud of, consider leaving it off of social media. Not getting the number of likes or comments you were hoping for can put a damper on something that’s either already difficult or meant to be special. You can cultivate small groups of friends or family that you share certain news, updates or pictures with who you know will be there for you.

3. In the same vein of exclusivity, you can intentionally pare down the number of friends or connections you have, getting rid of those you don’t know or have any real connection to, or those who simply leave you feeling bad. Even though you’ll have less friends or followers when you’re done, the number will be on your own terms.

4. Reach out. Usually the people we’re comparing ourselves to aren’t any better off than we are in reality. If there’s someone you watch from afar with jealousy but never interact with, change that. Once you start engaging with them you’ll probably start to see the ways you put them up on a pedestal, when really they’re just an average person. If it’s someone you can’t engage with, like an influencer with tons of followers who you don’t actually know, think about spending less time following them, and more time focused on those you can form real relationships with.

5. Use less filters. Filters and Photoshop can be lots of fun, but it might be nice for all of us if we saw more real pictures online. Sharing unedited photos, blooper photos, and “behind the scenes” photos will help others feel more connected to you, and a little better about themselves. You’ll probably feel better seeing your authentic self being accepted, too.

Community Focused, Ethically Driven