Many women feel like they must jump through hoops to be worthy and accepted. Our culture treasures something other than what we are. And so many get caught in the comparison trap.
Not only is comparison driving us to be something we are not, but suicide rates are also rising among teens and young adults as social media and comparison become more ingrained in our culture.
What is a Comparison Trap?
The comparison trap begins by noticing that there are differences between ourselves and other people. There is nothing wrong with that. It is how we react to those differences that become a trap.
A comparison trap is believing the lie that other people are better than we are. It becomes a trap when we want to be like the other person instead of being ourselves.
The irony is that what we see on the surface does not necessarily mean that others are really happy.
“Comparing ourselves to others is a direct path to unhappiness. Sadly, doing so is commonplace … It is rare to find people who are satisfied with what they have, who they know, how they are living, and where they are heading, regardless of their circumstances.” (1)
What causes people to compare?
It is impossible to not notice the differences between ourselves and others.
And because we all want to feel accepted, loved, and worthwhile, we try to measure ourselves against others. It is an attempt to prove we are worthy of love and acceptance.
The problem is that “in most social contexts, our vulnerabilities remain hidden from each other while our assets are on display.” (1)
In other words, what we see in others most often is not the whole story. We only see the positives.
Not all comparison is bad. But there is a dark side to it.
“Comparisons can be a double-edged sword. They can be a powerful motivator, but sometimes they can be a strong deterrent from doing something. They are also not good for our mental health in the long term.” (5)
Did you know that Comparison Syndrome or Obsessive Comparison Disorder is an actual diagnosis? Comparing yourself with others is the most toxic behavior according to mental health professionals.
“As social media sites update, they become more interactive and more ‘addicting,’ and the opportunity for social comparison increases.” (2)
And just what is the result of this comparison merry-go-round?
“When we’re reliant on others for our sense of self, only feeling good if we get positive feedback … we’re at risk for depression,” (3)
For others, it is anxiety, poor self-esteem, body image problems, eating disorders, and yes, even suicide.
The comparison trap makes us believe that we can’t measure up. What a tragedy.
What does the Bible say about comparison?
The comparison trap is nothing new. As it says in the Book of Ecclesiastes chapter 1, verse 9, “there is nothing new under the sun”.
It began with Cain and Abel in the book of Genesis. Abel presented a better offering to God than Cain did. Cain was so jealous he killed his brother.
Much later in Scripture, when it was time to select a new king for Israel, Samuel the prophet went to the home of Jesse to find the right young man.
Jesse had 8 sons. Comparison played a big role in who was presented first to Samuel. One by one, the tall, dark, handsome sons were rejected.
“The Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.‘ ” 1 Samuel 16:7 ESV
Samuel knew that physical features and quality of clothing did not represent qualifications for a good leader.
Finally, David was brought in from the field where he had been taking care of sheep. He was not dressed for the occasion and probably smelled like the animals. Though David was handsome, he also was ruddy from being out in the sun a lot.
And the winner was?
David was the one chosen to be king because of his relationship with God.
How do I get out of a comparison trap?
If you are already in over your head you may be asking, “how do I stop playing the comparison game?”
The solution is simple, but not easy. You see if we are already in the comparison trap, we are like prisoners. We need someone to help set us free. But what does that actually mean?
Solutions from psychology
What does psychology say about comparison and how to get out of the trap?
Use downward comparison
WebMD suggests that instead of comparing ourselves to someone we think is better, do like the Olympic bronze medalists who compare themselves to all the others that didn’t earn an award. (4)
The problem with this line of thinking is that we can start feeling superior or better than others.
The Pharisees in the Bible were like that. They were an elite bunch who treated everyone else as inferior. You probably have known people like that. They were a bunch of snobs.
Maintain a stable sense of self
“Ultimately, the greatest protection against falling into the comparison trap—and the best way to pull yourself out of it—is to develop and maintain a stable sense of self.” (3)
This is good advice but does not give us much direction as to how it is done.
Other suggestions from psychology
Most articles suggest limiting social media if it is dragging us down. That is good advice.
Many suggest comparing yourself to yourself, which isn’t always the best idea. So who should we compare ourselves to? We will get to that in a minute.
The one thing that psychology is absolutely correct about is our need for gratitude or “counting our blessings.”
Biblical solutions to the comparison trap
The Bible is clear about why we should not compare ourselves to others.
“But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” 2 Corinthians 10:12
“You shall not covet (envy, want) your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” Exodus 20:17 (explanation added)
The verse in 2 Corinthians might be a polite way of saying not wise or “stupid”.
1. We should compare ourselves to God’s standards
When we compare ourselves to God’s standards it keeps everyone on equal ground. No one is better than anyone else.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8
“But the fruit of the Spirit (God living in us) is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control …” Galatians 5:22-23 (explanation added)
If these thoughts and characteristics are being developed in us, we will feel no reason to compare ourselves to anyone else.
2. Gratitude is the key to unlocking the comparison trap
We should be grateful for the way God made us, as well as the gifts and abilities He has given to us.
“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” Psalm 139:14
“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them:” Romans 12:6a
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18
3. Comparing ourselves to what we have overcome
It can be a great blessing to look at where we have come from and what God has already accomplished in our lives.
“I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done. ” Psalm 143:5
Keeping a journal can help us remember how far God has brought us.
4. Live life to please God and Him alone
Our focus should be on what God wants us to do and be.
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men …” Colossians 3:23
It is with the help of God that we can accomplish these Biblical solutions to the comparison trap. His help is readily available through a relationship with Jesus.
If you don’t know Jesus, you probably have questions. The people at Chat About Jesus have answers. You can text, call, or chat with them online any time of the day or night.
Final thoughts on the comparison trap
In God’s eyes, we are beautiful. This truth was included in a song recorded by Johnny Diaz in 2009. The chorus goes like this:
“There could never be a more beautiful you. Don’t buy the lies, disguises, and hoops they make you jump through. You were made to fill a purpose that only you could do. So there could never be a more beautiful you.” (6)
Trying to be like others is toxic and the Bible warns against it.
Don’t get caught in the comparison trap.
You may also like to read:
- A fearfully and wonderfully made woman
- Biblical affirmations – telling yourself the truth
- Are your thoughts holding you captive
- How to be grateful when you don’t feel like it
- Psychology Today
- Jed Foundation (a nonprofit dedicated to preventing suicide among teens and young adults)
- Psychology Today quoting Mitch Prinstein, a psychologist and author at the University of North Carolina.
- Mind, Body, Soul
- More Beautiful You. Songwriters: Kate York/Jonny Diaz. Lyrics copyright River Oaks Music Co., Zoe Bella Music.