Relationships

How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

HowToStopComparing

They say “comparison is the thief of joy.” Understatement of the century.

The modern version should read something like “Looking at pics of your ex-bestie’s engagement ring while stress-eating a pizza will only make you feel worse about your existence.” (Though perhaps that’s not as concise).

It’s no surprise that the more miles our thumbs scroll on Instagram, the shittier we feel. And yet, the moment we feel stressed, bored, or inebriated, we reach for our phone. And thus begins the vicious cycle.

So why do we do it and how do we stop? Read on:

Cara* is a 31-year-old, female who first came to me when she felt “lost” in her career and relationship. From the outside, most people would think she has the perfect life. She has close friends, a growing career in marketing, and a long-term boyfriend with whom she lives. She’s in great health, has no debt, and has a (surprisingly) healthy relationship with her parents (say what?!). Cara, however, didn’t see it that way. She felt like nothing was ever enough.

When friends would get married, coworkers would move on, and her sister had a baby, Cara judged herself as a loser, upset she hadn’t “achieved” the same milestones. She imagined others to be living a happy life, free of the self-doubt she plagued herself with daily. As a result, she didn’t take consistent action toward her goals (her juicer is still in the box, her resume is unwritten, and her running shoes have accumulated more dust bunnies than miles).

In one session, I asked whether she’d ever shared these feelings with her friends, to which she responded “of course not! They would never understand.” And when I asked if she ever posted a less-than-flattering selfie, she had a similar response. I pointed out that if she’s only portraying an idealized version of herself, the same might be true for others. Not sharing the whole picture not only isolates her, but her friends as well. Maybe they, too, share similar self-doubts. That night, she opened up to a friend who had similar feelings of self-judgment when she saw fitness “influencers” on Instagram. Cara and I spoke the next week and she reported feeling closer to her friend and more hopeful about her future.

1. Facts are facts. Thoughts aren’t feelings. Our behaviors are irrational.

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Okay, that’s a lot to throw at you. Let’s break it down.

In my work with Cara, we addressed her need to compare herself to others with a 3-prong approach to address: 1) thoughts; 2) feelings; and 3) behaviors.

When something good happens to someone else, we have a difficult time separating facts from thoughts and thoughts from feelings. A fact doesn’t have the power to make us feel badly. It’s the conclusions we draw from them that have the potential to harm us. For example, a coworker getting a raise is a fact. “She doesn’t deserve a raise” or “I should have been promoted” is a thought, not a fact. “I’m a loser” is a feeling, not a fact. “I’m going to re-watch Gossip Girl tonight instead of looking for a job that excites me” is a (totally relatable) behavior.

While people often tell us to remember that there are others who are less fortunate or urge us to compare ourselves to those who we may perceive as “lesser” than us, this negative comparison doesn’t change our beliefs or behaviors. In fact, it’s equally as damaging, keeping us in the competitive mindset of constantly comparing ourselves to others.

Try it: When you notice you’re comparing yourself to others, identify the differences between facts, thoughts and feelings. Have a hard time noticing? Take stock when you use words like “I should…” (I should be married by now); “I wish…(I wish I were thinner); and words that end in –er (She is prettier than I am.) Separating your thoughts from your feelings will allow you to choose behaviors with more awareness, resulting in a better outcome, mood, and mindset.

2. Our outsides don’t always match our insides.

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For the past 1.5 years, I’ve been providing therapy to at-risk teenage girls. Needless to say, self-esteem is a recurring theme. One of my favorite tools came from an art therapist I worked with. Seeing its success, I decided to try it with Cara. In session, she decorated the outside of a shoebox with images and words that portray how others see her. She used words like “fierce” with images of adventure and Michelle Obama. On the inside of the box, she conveyed how she sees herself. The imagery was completely different. She depicted a small girl surrounded with the words “stuck” and “alone.” When she finished, we noted that her closest loved ones would be surprised to see the inside of the box, not recognizing this as the Cara they know. She acknowledged that when we compare ourselves to others, we only see the outside of their box. As a result, we base our comparisons and resulting beliefs on half-truths without the whole story.

Try it: While I get that crafting out your feelings might not be for everyone, I highly recommend trying this for yourself. Play some calming music, grab a few old magazines and use this self-care activity to create more connection with yourself and others. Not for you? Challenge yourself by sharing an “in the box” memory or feeling with someone close to you. Remember, vulnerability creates connection.

3. Fill your life with purpose and passion.

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As vomitous and pinteresty as that statement may be, it’s true. When you’re doing things you love, you stop noticing what everyone else is doing. And because you’re focused on yourself, when you do notice, you care less.

Try it: Take a class. Try a new hobby. Get back in touch with the things you did before social media existed (assuming you’re as old as I am!) Personally, I started using Goodreads and am back to reading for pleasure. I’m also finishing a course in trauma-informed yoga. Bonus: It’s amazing how much sleep you get when you’re not reading the entire Internet before bed each night!

The Takeaway:

So instead of comparing your body, bank account, or boyfriend, focus on changing your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Recognize that comparisons aren’t based on the whole picture. And lastly, go out and live your life. It doesn’t have to be Instagramable to be worthy of your time and energy.

Speaking of which…while you’re at it, maybe cool it on the social media for a while :)

*Name and identifying information has been changed

18 Signs You're in a Healthy Relationship

All relationships have ups and downs, so what makes for a “healthy relationship?”

I’m willing to bet that we’ve all been in relationships that started out well and ended in World War III. And while it’s easy to dissect our roles and detect the red flags AFTER we’re done, it’s virtually impossible to spot the signs when we’re in the initial honeymoon stage. Vowing to learn from my mistakes (or at least make new ones), I took a look at my past relationships and distilled the things I did, didn’t do, and wished I did. The result? 18 Signs You’re in a Healthy Relationship:

1. You give without the expectation of getting anything in return.

You give out of compassion, empathy, and mutual respect. In an unhealthy relationship, giving is used as a tool to get something in return. Avoid the quid pro quo mentality by giving from a place of presence and abundance, not just so he’ll assemble your shelves from Ikea.

2. You love your partner for who he is, not for his potential.

In a healthy relationship, you love your partner for who he is in the present moment. While you may not find his flaws endearing, you accept them. In an unhealthy relationship, you try to change your partner or love him for the person he might one day become. Remember, your partner is a person, not a fixer upper.

3. Your relationship is a safe space.

A healthy relationship fosters intimacy, allowing you to express yourself without the fear of judgment or reprisal. Your shared experiences and deep knowledge of each other are guarded in a private space. In an unhealthy relationship, your insecurities, weaknesses, and secrets are shared with others or become the punch line of a joke.

4. You fight to fix instead of fighting to win.

Contrary to popular belief, fighting is not a sign of the apocalypse. Communicating your needs lovingly, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, and finding resolutions are powerful tools to build intimacy, connection, and trust. In a healthy relationship, fights are productive. Each person makes an effort to see the other’s point of view, validates their feelings, and works toward an equitable resolution. In an unhealthy relationship, a fight is a power play or opportunity for payback.

5. You look for common ground over competition.

In a healthy relationship, both parties have a shared vision for the future and support each other to achieve their goals. Each win is considered a win for the team. In an unhealthy relationship, each person competes to outdo the other or demands that the other sacrifice their dreams and priorities.

6. You use sex to connect, not to fill a void.

Physical affection can’t fill a void within. In a healthy relationship, both people recognize when and why they want affection and how to communicate their need. They don’t use sex to boost their self-esteem or address bigger problems. Remember, deeper issues need to be worked out in a therapist’s office, not in the bedroom.

7. You choose to see the best, not the worst.

Your attitude determines your mood. In any moment you have two options: (1) You can nitpick what’s “wrong” and use that as an excuse to end the relationship, or (2) You can choose to appreciate your partner and the things they do “right.” In a healthy relationship, you give your partner the benefit of the doubt and accentuate the positive. This doesn’t deny reality; it gives you a balanced perspective to address your concerns.

8. You choose to see the present rather than old patterns.

In a healthy relationship, each person avoids making grandiose statements like “You always...” or “You never...” Forgetting to pick up the milk doesn’t define your partner or his behavior throughout the relationship. It’s easy for us to want to lump things into patterns, but when you’ve put an issue to rest, mass generalizations open up old wounds. Treat each instance as a unique event unless you’re ready to end the relationship.

9. You have your own life outside the relationship.

In a healthy relationship, you take space to pursue a life outside your relationship. You choose to be a partner over a groupie. In an unhealthy partnership, you define yourself through the relationship, losing touch with who you are, your friends, values, and hobbies. Relationships should support your growth, not hinder it. If you’re stagnant and losing your identity, it’s time to reevaluate your situation.

10. You communicate what you want instead of what you don't want.

There’s a difference between a complaint and a constructive comment. In a healthy relationship, you communicate what you want. It’s more effective to say “I want us to spend time with my family” rather than saying “We spend too much time with your family and not enough with mine.” While the first is positive and leads to a productive conversation, the latter may signal a defensive response. And, as stated in #4, the purpose of a fight is to fix, not to win.

11. You express gratitude.

Whether it’s a simple “Thanks” or a gesture of appreciation, gratitude goes a long way.

12. You're open and honest instead of passive aggressive.

Saying “whatever you want” may squash a problem now, but it creates a pattern of apathy and resentment. In a healthy relationship, you take responsibility for your decisions and communicate them in a healthy way. Snide remarks and “yeses” that are truly “nos,” only add fuel to future fights.

13. You apologize because you care, not to make a problem go away.

You don’t get points for saying “I’m sorry” unless you really mean it. Similarly, you’re not a better partner when you play the martyr. An apology isn’t about making a fight go away, it’s about overcoming an issue as a team. In a healthy relationship, you choose to be happy rather than right. Often that requires a sincere apology. To do that, don’t end an apology with a qualification (“I’m sorry, but…”). Instead, take responsibility (“I’m sorry because I…”)

14. You ask your partner for help instead of trying to look perfect.

In a healthy relationship, you respect your partner’s experience, guidance, and perspective. You not only trust your partner, but trust that you can be vulnerable with him.

15. You show love every day, not just on special occasions.

Hallmark shouldn’t dictate how and when you say “I love you.”  Sounds obvious, but many of us reserve our loving words and gestures for special occasions. In a healthy relationship, each person acknowledges and recognizes the other daily. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it does have to be sincere, for example, stating, “You’re a wonderful mother.” In a healthy relationship, affection is expressed with words, acts, and gestures.

16. You spend quality time together.

Shared experiences extend beyond date night and into every day life. This doesn’t mean you have to spend every waking moment together. Instead, aim to be present by actively listening and putting away your phone. In a healthy relationship, intimacy is built through conscious connection, choosing quality over quantity.

17. You don't take their choices personally.

In an unhealthy relationship, you choose to make everything your problem. While it can be hard to discern your partner’s problems from yours when they affect you, it’s important to remember that those choices have nothing to do with you. For example, I once dated a man who smoked cigarettes. I felt that his inability to quit was evidence that he didn’t value me or our relationship. And while I spun my wheels rationalizing my argument, the truth is that he is the one who had to deal with the consequences, not me. Things are only your problem when you make them your problem. And while it’s your decision whether to accept your partner’s choices, it’s important to remember not to take them personally. Remember, entering a relationship and hoping your partner will change isn’t fair to either of you. It’s a recipe for disaster. See #2.

18. You are wiling to work on the relationship.

Relationships aren’t easy, they take work. Those who value their relationship are willing to work on themselves individually and as a couple. They’re not afraid of couples counseling, but excited to learn new tools and skills that will troubleshoot and strengthen their relationship.

The quality of your relationship comes down to your choices: Do your actions foster a fulfilling relationship or do you need to clean up your side of the street?

Try this 7-day action plan to create your best relationship yet.

An Open Letter To Anyone Who Feels Lonely on Facebook

Isolation is an epidemic.

The other night, after a particularly long social media binge, I felt the sudden onset of a hangover. While it may not have started in wine or ended in a headache, the similar anxious, listless, comfortless quality was palpably present. It was a classic emotional hangover. The irony, of course, was that it came from an outlet designed to foster connection from the comfort of my couch.

The truth is that social media has grown far beyond friendships and is now a tool used to sell teeth-whiteners, compare ourselves to our exes, and fake a fantasy life.  As Facebook continues to exacerbate our need for authentic connection, our social skills continue to degenerate.

Sure, we can interact. But, can we connect?

If you’d rather text than talk, order food online over using a phone, or scroll through Instagram pics rather than seeing friends in person, then this post is for you.

Social connection impacts our emotional and physical health. According to former U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, isolation and loneliness can create chronic stress, similar to factors such as illness, poverty, discrimination, and violence. It’s a growing epidemic: In the 1980s, 20% of adult Americans said they were lonely. Today, the percentage has doubled to 40%.

The good news is that you don’t have to swear off social media to create more connection. Here are:

7 steps to build better relationships:

1) Upgrade your connection.

No, I’m not talking about your internet speed. Instead of texting, talk on the phone. Meet friends and colleagues in person. Even Facetime and Skype can build better bonds. Feeling short on time? Remember, just because something is efficient, doesn’t make it better. Communication on each medium varies. So, avoid the misunderstandings and deepen your relationships by upgrading how you communicate.

2) Accept the friend request.

Often, we place people in categories without giving them a real chance. Deepen your current connections by:

  • Trying something new (e.g. going for a hike instead of a drink)
  • Sharing how you feel (e.g. being vulnerable and honest)
  • Working on it rather than dismissing it (e.g. being courageous enough to troubleshoot problems rather than ghosting) 

3) Who dis?

Define what you want in a friend down to every last detail. Want a bestie who does yoga, yoda impressions, and yodels with her yorkie? Weird, but cool. You have to know what you want to know if you have it and where to find it.

4) Expand your circle with friends, not followers.

The best way to meet people with similar interests is by exploring your own. Upgrade your activities by rekindling an old hobby or starting a new one. If you want to meet the right people, you need to be your best self. That means less time doing what isn’t working and more time doing things that speak to your passions and values.

5) Disconnect.

I can’t tell you how many times I go to a restaurant and see people ignoring each other and staring at their phones (even when they're on a date!) Unless there’s a life-threatening emergency, let the other person know you actually want to be there by silencing your phone and putting it away.

6) Can you hear me now?

So often we listen to respond rather than to hear. Instead of secretly planning your response, let their words sink in. Your undivided attention is the greatest gift you can give someone and the key to understanding and empathy.

    7) Still loading.

    Loneliness is normal. Even with strong relationships, this natural human emotion is bound to surface. Our feelings of isolation took time to develop, so don’t expect overnight results. Be patient with yourself and others, focusing on the steps you’re taking instead of how far you have to go.

    The Takeaway:

    Whether you’re surrounded by people or alone on your couch, isolation is a growing issue. Don’t let the number of Facebook friends or followers define you, your relationships, or your time. In any moment, you can take simple steps to feel less lonely and create more connection.