In the modern world, a person with ‘resource holding potential’ may look very different; someone who has more social capital or perhaps a good job. “Leaning in” to our instincts of comparison can lead to negative consequences for our wellbeing. As social animals, the human instinct of comparison serves an important purpose as we develop social cues through mimicry as children. When we grow older, and continue to develop our awareness and assimilate with our surroundings, it is all too easy to become anxious about our jobs, relationships and lifestyles.
Our environment today gives us a unique challenge. As recently as five generations ago, the average person lived in a society which provided, at most, a few hundred face-to-face interactions with different people each year. Whilst books and newspapers may have enabled some to imagine a life completely different from their own, this would have been with some significant mental effort.
Our digital age has given us more opportunities for comparison than was ever previously thought possible. Research conducted on this subject (Nesi, 2015) found strong links between social media use and increased reassurance seeking, social comparison and feedback seeking behaviours. This is particularly heightened among young people who grow up online whilst navigating their path through education, socialisation and self-identification.
What we can do to help ourselves
In an environment where interaction with social media is unavoidable, our ability to protect ourselves from harmful comparison with others comes through awareness and understanding of what causes these anxieties about ourselves. Becoming aware (through self-reflection or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) of internal sensitivities we are vulnerable to, or negative self-talk which arises when we compare ourselves to others, can be the first step to help us strengthen our resolve against the reality of the existence of those who appear infinitely ‘better’ than us. Instead, we can gain a lot more by orienting our focus towards our closest relationships. The practice of developing appreciation for what we already have, through gratitude journaling, can be very powerful. In any case, it is important to be kind to ourselves as we navigate a new and challenging environment in the online world.
Elsa Minns, Fernwood Clinic Team
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