“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” --Oscar Wilde
Comparison and competition seem to be increasing in our society. There may be some reasons that contribute to these conditions. Perhaps, the rise of social media has much to do with this increase. Many people spend their precious time looking at what others are doing on social media websites. Are they dating, married or expecting children? How many friends do they have? Where have they traveled? Who has more “likes”?? Who’s better at this or that? These preoccupations seem to get in the way of the evolving true self.
While one's true life may be unnoticeable on social media, the images therein can stir unhealthy comparison and competition such as jealousy, envy and estimations of lower self-worth — which lead to or increase insecurities. , Comparison and competition have many avenues: people may compare their income, marital status and children (or lack thereof), educational degrees, social status (how many friends they have or how often do they engage with friends); body image, weight problems and the list goes on and on. Frequent feelings of inadequacies or a need to “always” be better than someone else are unhealthy.
Healthy and Unhealthy modes of comparison and competition.
Unhealthy comparison and competition stem from profound insecurities, and such insecurities (feeling less-than) stem from an individual's personal history. This is not only increasingly harmful to the self, but it’s also harmful to your relationships with others. You’ll relate better to others when you're neither comparing nor competing with them and when you know your true self. The need to be better than others can become an unhealthy, obsessive thought. Internally, you may end up feeling that you are never good enough, and this internal battle is far from genuine happiness.
Some people seek perfection and nothing less than what they deem as perfect is acceptable. They will judge themselves profoundly when they feel they do not meet this self-imposed expectation. The best response to this scenario is a quote from the Bible: "Let any one of you who is without sin [without imperfection] be the first to throw a stone " (John 8:7 NIV). As Brené Brown so clearly expresses, “We are beautifully imperfect.”
There’s a healthy side to competition and comparison. Someone’s triumph might encourage self-enhancement. For example, in my field of work, the publishing of many colleagues has encouraged numerous other colleagues to improve their theoretical understanding and psychoanalytic approaches,—thereby opening further explorations. Another example might be when some dancers compare themselves to other dancers; seeking to improve their dance technique or enter competitions to demonstrate their advancements. The American social psychologist, Leon Festinger, known for his cognitive dissonance and social comparison theory, hypothesized that individuals have an innate drive to evaluate their own opinions and abilities by comparing themselves to others, to reduce uncertainty. This drive, places value on continuous improvement, to do better and better. When the drive is geared toward self-enhancement, rather than that of insecurity, then a healthy attitude is the result; however, the need to always be perfect and better than everyone else is unhealthy.
Differences are needed; sameness is boring and according to Brené Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection, "Without comparison, concepts like ahead or behind, or best or worst, lose their meaning. The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity."
Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed To Be and Embrace Who You Are. Center City, Minn.: Hazelden.
Festinger, L (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7(2), pp.117-140.
Leon Festinger (2018). In Wikipedia.org. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Festinger. [Accessed 13 January, 2018].