Self-Esteem and the Habit of Comparing Yourself to Others
All the lists of depression symptoms include the loss of self-esteem, but reducing it to a phrase says nothing about how it affects daily life. For me, constant self-comparisons to other people make it all too real.
In this post, I’ll describe what I do and how I think about this habit of comparing when I’m depressed, and in the next post I’ll detail the ways I finally learned how to keep this kind of mental action from taking over.
When I’m depressed, my self-esteem is an ugly doormat. I seem to invite everyone to walk right over me. With this bottom-of-the-shoe view of the world, nothing comes more naturally than comparing myself to every friend, colleague, or famous person who comes to mind.
I never do well in these match-ups, and that’s the whole point. My depressed mind sees them all as ideal beings while, by comparison, I’ll never come close.
Without exception, I know they are smarter, more accomplished, better looking, wealthier and generally much more successful than I am.
There is only one script here: they are always better, I am always worse. How could it be any different, I think in despair, when I’m such a depressed mess of a person?
I wonder if you’ve you worked as hard as I have to push yourself by comparisons into the loser’s corner?
How about this.
For real self-torture, I show up at a college reunion.
Naturally, I can safely assume that all the classmates I’ll meet there have done better than I have. Nevertheless, I tell myself not to think that way, but comparisons are my private elephant in the ballroom I walk into. I pretend not to notice it but can’t think of anything else.
And so I greet them, wincing inwardly as I smile congratulations:
- He’s an award winning journalist (I’m not.)
- She started her own company (I didn’t.)
- He’s got a law practice (I could have been but wasn’t.)
- She’s a doctor (She has it all, I don’t.)
- He got elected to the school board. (I should have done that.)
- I don’t know what he does, but his smile is bigger than the room. (I can’t even smile.)
Even the ones who don’t say much about what they do are obviously wittier, more likable, better parents than I am.
They’re even happy (I"�m so depressed I hardly know what the word means.)
Of course, they make a fuss over me - oh you’re looking great, you’re lucky to do such interesting work, you live in such a beautiful place, you’ve always been a role model for me. But I know that’s just politeness - either that or I’ve succeeded in fooling them. I’m such a fraud!
I cringe in shame until those cringing muscles are sore, and I wear myself down with all this noise in my head. I get out of there as soon as I can to get back to my darkened life. Why did I ever try to step out of it?
Depression is boring - the thoughts and feelings are always the same! But it’s also strong when I’m in it, and I feel like I’m caught in a deadly ocean current. I can’t swim or hurl myself clear of it, and I’m swept along.
In the last couple of years, though, I’ve managed to take the power away from depression and live without its constant presence. But the old habits linger, and damaged self-esteem doesn’t go away all at once. The habit of comparison keeps trying for a comeback.
How I prevent that from happening these days has a story of its own, and I’ll post that in another week.
In the meantime, can you tell us about your problems with self-esteem?
Do you have this habit of tearing yourself down through comparisons with other people in your world?
Have you found a way to deal with it?
John wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Depression.