Individual differences in Psychology asserts the fact that each individual is born different with a different set of skills and complexities. It is just like our fingerprints, everyone is raised with a different style and meddling with the natural pattern can only create problems.
So is true with comparison. I’m sure each one of us has been a victim of those conversations where we compared with others around us. Our cousins, friends, siblings and classmates are some common sources to whom we are compared and in return, they are compared to us. Let me give you a very basic example. A toddler who has one type of toy sees that its sibling has a different type which looks very appealing and right over there, the tendency to compare begins. Serious attempts of showcasing his feelings would be either by crying out loud or just snatching away the toy.
You see, it is very human nature to compare ourselves with others. According to psychologist Leon Festinger, who in 1954 proposed the theory of social comparison, comparing ourselves to others is an innate human tendency and humans tend to determine their social standing and their worth through making comparisons with others in our surroundings. People make comparisons for all sorts of things, be it money, health, fitness, house, romantic partner, a college degree and so on.
Although comparison in some situations can make a person, however, in most of them, it breaks the person from inside. The wound isn’t visible but the cut is so deep that even medicines fail to heal it. This is especially true during the teenage years.
We as adults often tend to ignore the kind of issues teenagers go through thinking that it is just a phase and all of us have to go through it once. I guess this is also because as adults we were never taught to think about what kind of damage it could have on somebody. This whole act of comparison becomes a part of ‘identity formation’ for teenagers. They compare themselves to their peers and evaluate their beliefs, ideologies, and abilities.
Moreover, they make comparisons in areas of perceived physical attractiveness, popularity, academic grades and sports and co-curricular activities achievement. Though social comparisons inspire and motivate teenagers, however in the majority of cases, these social comparisons have more negative than positive consequences. In a study done by Stanford University, researchers found that teenagers who indulged in a lot of social comparisons experienced more jealousy, envy, defensiveness and guilt.
For understanding the depth of this issue, we present you two stories that will help you get an insight into what goes in a teenager’s mind.
“By the time I reached class 10th, people asked me if I was doing a job. I never took it in any negative way because I didn’t have any background of why they were asking me this. Once, after such an encounter, my Nani pointed out to me that this is not a good question and that it means I “look old”. It made me feel wasted. It made me feel less worthy. It made me feel shameful of my face, my body and my inner self. My younger self immediately noted that “looking old” is not “ok” and it means “being old”.
Years later, I came to know that this is a patriarchal trap and that I’m very great the way I am. I literally had to mentally tell myself on different occasions to be who I am and not to feel less of myself. And the moment I accepted myself and changed the mental note, I stopped hearing words like “Aunty”. MAGICAL! And even if I did come across it once or twice, I laughed it off.
My Nani would also always praise my aunt’s daughters for their beauty. So, the moment I entered their place I would start feeling less. But, now I know better of myself and I am proud that I was never either jealous of my sisters nor did I do anything unfair because of how I was made to feel.”
Well, human beings are obsessed with finding beauty most of the times in the colour of the skin and the shape of the body. The unrealistic standards set by so-called perfect people and big brands tend to play with the fragile mind of teenagers wherein, they struggle with body images and their skin colour.
“As a child, my parents used to compare me with a friend who used to get more marks in the exam. But they kept on trying to push me to perform better. If I’d get 75% they would push me to get more marks and often tell me about those who ended up doing better than me. Throughout my schooling, I faced this. Because of this, I started feeling that I am not good enough. I would often feel disinterest in my studies because somehow I had developed a mindset that no matter how much I try, I am not going to be successful. To date, I struggle with my confidence level. “
We know that our performance in a particular exam is always targetted and often ends up becoming a hot topic at home. Competitive exams further create this tension where students feel insecure about their own capabilities and panic over failing. 99.99 percentile and nothing less than that is desirable. While we need people who can score this much but we also need to understand that getting that score is one in million and that not everybody would be interested in following the same path. Because of comparison issues like low self-esteem, no boundary or volatile boundary, public fear, pressure, poor emotional regularity, poor diet, low self-confidence, low self-acceptance, and poor judgement crops us and in some cases leads to suicide.
Once the damage cannot be completely rectified but definitely can be controlled to an extent. Here are some ways that can help us to mitigate the damage comparison does:
a) Focus on your strengths: Each one of us, have a strength, a talent, be it cooking delicious cookies or being an empathic listener. Focus on building these strengths up to and trust me, you’ll definitely feel more confident in yourself.
b) Accept and embrace your imperfections: Always remember that nobody is perfect, even that perfect figure girl or that handsome hunk has some flaws and insecurities. As humans, each one of us has to accept our limits, imperfections and weaknesses.
c) Appreciate others and get inspired: It’s very common for us to start comparing and start feeling jealous or envious. But maybe perhaps we need to change our approach, instead of feeling negative emotions, start appreciating that person’s talents and strengths, get inspired and motivated by them, ask them for tips and maybe perhaps even you’ll be able to develop those amazing skills.
d) Gratitude: Try making a gratitude journal, or simply make it a habit to be grateful for just 1 thing in a day. These practices will help you to stop making negative comparisons and help you feel more happy and satisfied with your own life.
These methods are easy said than done. And this why as adults, it becomes our utmost responsibility to question the kind of young adults we want our children to be. It is easy to raise a child who is completely self-focused but very difficult to raise a child who is not only socially conscious but also shows his or her own vulnerabilities to the world with a hint that at the end, we are all humans and only strive to be the best version of ourselves.
(This article is a joint effort by Muskan Mehta, Manasi Baindur and Murali Krishna who are providing online counselling support in our Mental Health Internship Program.)
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