I vs. Them: The Comparison Trap

Making comparison is almost involuntary, whether it is grades, jobs, dressing styles or personal lives, yet, very often it transforms into a spiraling trap of self-destruction with the constant narrative of I vs. them.

We all are guilty of it and we all are victims of it – comparing one person to another; comparison is a trap and it has become such an intrinsic part of our lives that we often do not realize that we are doing so. In some cases, even if we are not torturing ourselves with the I vs. Them narrative, an uncle or an aunt or most of the times, our parents make sure that for instance, the similarity in our ages and the differences in our marks/salaries are taken a note of. The larger consensus says each child is unique and everyone should live life on their terms, yet we can’t help ourselves from just wondering about how we are either worse off or better than others.  

Since our schooling years, we were taught to look up to others and improve upon the areas we lack. Thus, our report cards would always be adorned with the class average or highest marks, forcing us to think we could have done better, no matter our efforts and circumstances. Although the motive is to encourage students to perform better and it often does fulfil the purpose, more or less, it also leads to a lifelong habit of comparing ourselves to others, allowing them to drive our behaviour.

According to Psychology Today, more than 10% of daily thoughts are involved in making a comparison of some kind. However, the ways that we make comparisons may give us a biased account of our own skills and experiences and are never fair.  This is because we always compare others’ best with our average. There is also something called ‘Downward Comparison’, which is when we compare to people worse than us to feel good. In both these situations, it leads to letting others control how we feel about ourselves and increases the need for approval. 

An upward comparison may help in motivating and informing us about what we need to succeed, while a downward comparison may give a little sense of achievement. However, in the long run, it lowers self-confidence, damages self-impression, gives rise to negative emotions such as envy and deprives us of the ability to trust. It does not matter who subjects the self to comparison, it almost always turns out to be self-destructive. 

Since comparison is a fundamental human impulse, there’s really no way of shutting it down completely. But if we understand its mechanisms, and what to watch out for, we may be able to mitigate the negative effects and amplify the good. Research suggests some ways to deal with comparisons – 

  • Recognize that you are setting unrealistic targets :

It is not harmful to compare as long as one can distinguish the fact that they might be using unrealistic targets for evaluating themselves.  It’s like being right-handed and trying to play an instrument with your left hand. Look up to others, but just a little note at the top of the ladder. 

  • Focus on the positives :

Whenever you realize that you are bringing yourself down by going beyond admiring someone else, put a brake on your thoughts and try to focus on all the positive things. Be thankful for what you have and acknowledge what you have achieved. Make a list of all those things, however small, and you will find that the list goes very long!

  • Get away from your phone and social media for a while : 

If you feel being overwhelmed by self – comparison, put your phone down and try to divert your thoughts and energy into positive exercises like taking a walk outside, reading a book, etc. 

  • Remember that you are the best at ‘Being Yourself’ :

Being yourself is the only game you are sure to win. When you imbibe this mindset, life becomes all about becoming a better version of yourself, without stressing about where you stand relative to others. Instead, your focus and energy are placed on what you’re capable of now and how you can improve yourself.

The danger of comparing ourselves to others is that our comparisons are never fair. Each one of us is a unique individual with characteristics and life events that are unique to only us, so comparing yourself to another is a dead end. It is our entire life experience that makes us vastly different from those around us. Sure we may have things in common, but everyone treads and has trodden very different roads. By comparing ourselves to others we’re negating our own road and demanding that the past be different than what it was. But, that does not mean that you ignore thoughtful opinions; just be mindful of not making it about others. 

It should never be I vs. them, rather I vs. I – this morning or the previous year and lastly, I ‘and’ Them. By redirecting your energy from envy to developing a growth mindset, every single day will turn out to be enriching and life will become more fulfilling. 

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Featured Image Credits – Andertoons

Ipshika Ghosh


Journalism has been called the “first rough draft of history”. D.U.B may be termed as the first rough draft of DU history.Freedom to Express.