The Hidden Consequences Of Constant Social Comparison
Published on 6th November, 2023
In today's digital age, where social interactions are often curated and presented through carefully crafted online personas, the propensity for social comparison has reached unprecedented levels. Social comparison, a natural human tendency, involves evaluating oneself in relation to others in various domains, such as appearance, achievements, and social status (Festinger, 1954). While this phenomenon can sometimes be motivational and inspirational, its constant presence in our lives brings forth many consequences, affecting our well-being and interpersonal relationships.
Below, we will explore the concept of social comparison and how it can impact both your self-perception and your relationships with others.
What is Social Comparison?
Social comparison, as defined by social psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954, is the process through which individuals determine their own social and personal worth by measuring themselves against others in society. This innate inclination to evaluate ourselves in comparison to others can occur consciously or unconsciously, shaping our self-perception and influencing our behaviour and emotions.
For children and adolescents, the pressure to measure up to societal standards can be overwhelming. The advent of social media amplifies this pressure, exposing young minds to idealised images and lifestyles. Negative social comparison among children and adolescents can lead to feelings of inadequacy, low self-worth, and even social isolation. In an educational context, academic achievements and peer relationships often become the focal points of comparison, further intensifying the stress experienced by young individuals.
This constant evaluation against societal benchmarks can yield both positive outcomes, such as motivation and personal growth, as well as negative consequences, including feelings of inadequacy and strained interpersonal relationships (Nortje, 2023). Social comparison is a double-edged sword, impacting not only how we view ourselves but also shaping our interactions and connections with others, often in ways that are both subtle and profound.
Benefits of social comparison on self
1. Enhanced motivation and personal growth
Positive social comparison can serve as a powerful motivator. When individuals observe others' achievements and successes, they often feel inspired to set similar or higher goals for themselves (Eatough, 2023). Witnessing someone else's accomplishments can instil a sense of determination, encouraging individuals to work harder and pursue their aspirations. In this way, social comparison can act as a driving force, propelling personal growth and development.
2. Realistic self-evaluation and goal-setting
Social comparison provides a valuable external benchmark for self-evaluation. By comparing their abilities, achievements, or progress to others, individuals can gain a more realistic perspective on their own strengths and weaknesses. This self-awareness is essential for setting achievable goals and making informed decisions about personal and professional development (Cherry, 2022). It helps individuals identify areas where they excel and areas that require improvement, leading to a more balanced and well-rounded self-concept.
3. Fostering a sense of belonging and identity
Social comparison can contribute to a sense of belonging and identity. When individuals find others who share similar interests, experiences, or challenges, it creates a sense of camaraderie and community. This shared connection can boost self-esteem and provide a support network, reinforcing the idea that one is not alone in their journey. Feeling understood and valued within a social context enhances overall well-being and strengthens self-identity.
Benefits of social comparison on interpersonal relationships
1. Encouraging empathy and understanding
Comparing experiences and challenges with others can promote empathy and understanding. When individuals recognise similarities in their struggles, it cultivates compassion and empathy for the experiences of others. This empathetic understanding enhances interpersonal relationships by encouraging mutual support and cooperation. It fosters a sense of unity and encourages individuals to be more considerate and supportive of each other's emotions and needs.
2. Conflict resolution and cooperation
Social comparison can play a positive role in resolving conflicts within interpersonal relationships. By comparing perspectives and finding common ground, individuals involved in a conflict can gain a broader understanding of the situation. For example, in a workplace setting, employees often have differing opinions on how to approach a project. By comparing their perspectives and acknowledging each other’s strengths, they can collaboratively identify the most effective strategies. This understanding paves the way for effective communication, compromise, and resolution.
The dangers of social comparison
Dangers on self
1. Erosion of self-esteem
Negative social comparison, where individuals perceive themselves as inferior to others, can erode self-esteem. Constantly comparing oneself to others and finding perceived shortcomings can lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth (Psychology Today, n.d). This diminished self-esteem can impact overall mental and emotional well-being, hindering self-confidence and self-acceptance.
2. Jealousy and envy
Unfavourable social comparisons through social media and in real life often give rise to jealousy and envy. Seeing others' successes and achievements, especially when one feels they fall short in comparison, can trigger intense feelings of jealousy. These emotions can be toxic, leading to resentment towards others and potentially damaging relationships. Jealousy and envy can also create a cycle of negative thoughts and emotions, affecting overall happiness.
3. Perfectionism and self-criticism
Constant comparison with others can fuel perfectionistic tendencies. Individuals may set unrealistically high standards for themselves based on others' achievements, leading to chronic self-criticism. The relentless pursuit of perfection can cause stress, anxiety, and a constant sense of dissatisfaction, impacting both mental and physical health.
Dangers on interpersonal relationships
1. Social isolation
Excessive social comparison can lead to feelings of social isolation (Mansoor, 2023). When individuals perceive themselves as inferior to others, they might withdraw from social interactions to avoid the discomfort of unfavourable comparisons. This isolation can further reinforce negative self-perceptions and hinder opportunities for positive social experiences.
2. Increased conflict and resentment
Negative social comparison can breed resentment and hostility in interpersonal relationships. When individuals constantly compare themselves unfavourably to others, it can create a sense of injustice and frustration. This resentment can lead to conflicts, arguments, and strained relationships, as individuals may express their frustrations in unhealthy ways.
3. Breakdown of empathy
Comparing oneself negatively to others can diminish empathy. Instead of understanding others' struggles, individuals engaged in negative social comparison may focus solely on their own feelings of inadequacy. This self-centred perspective hampers the ability to empathise with others, leading to strained relationships and a lack of emotional connection.
How to cope with social comparison
Recognising the pervasive nature of social comparison, it becomes crucial to develop coping strategies that promote well-being and self-compassion:
● Practice self-compassion
Self-compassion refers to the practice of treating oneself with kindness, understanding, and acceptance, especially in times of failure, disappointment, or suffering. It involves recognising that imperfections and setbacks are part of the shared human experience and being gentle with oneself rather than overly critical or judgmental. Embracing self-compassion involves acknowledging that everyone has unique strengths and weaknesses. By fostering self-compassion, individuals can counteract the negative effects of self-comparison.
● Develop emotional resilience
Emotional resilience enables individuals to navigate negative emotions effectively. By accepting setbacks and failures as part of the human experience, individuals can bounce back from the blows dealt by social comparison, emerging stronger and more resilient. Counselling for adults in Singapore provides valuable support in this journey, helping individuals develop the necessary coping strategies and emotional tools to face life's challenges head-on.
● Limit social media exposure
In today's digital age, social media platforms often serve as breeding grounds for social comparison. Limiting exposure to idealised representations and consciously engaging with social media can mitigate the adverse effects of constant comparison.
The consequences of constant social comparison on individual well-being and interpersonal relationships are profound and far-reaching. While it is impossible to completely escape the urge to compare ourselves to others, understanding these consequences equips us with the knowledge to navigate this complex terrain. Seeking professional help, such as couple therapy or consulting a child psychologist in Singapore, can provide specialised guidance in managing these challenges.
By cultivating self-compassion, emotional resilience, and mindful engagement with the digital world, individuals can mitigate the adverse effects of social comparison, fostering healthier self-esteem and more fulfilling relationships.
References Cherry, K. (2022). Social Comparison Theory in Psychology. Verywell Mind.https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-the-social-comparison-process-2795872#citation-1 Eatough, E. (2023). Social Comparison Theory: A Definition and Examples. https://www.betterup.com/blog/social-comparison-theory#:~:text=The%20effects%20of%20social%20comparison,accomplish%20what%20someone%20else%20has. Festinger, L. (1954). A Theory of Social Comparison Processes. Human Relations, 7(2), 117–140. https://doi.org/10.1177/001872675400700202
Mansoor, H. (2023). The Risks of Social Comparison: How Comparing Ourselves to Others Affects Our Mental Health. www.linkedin.com. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/risks-social-comparison-how-comparing-ourselves-our-mansoor-mbpss#:~:text=Depression%20and%20Loneliness%20%2D%20Excessive%20social,ourselves%20as%20lacking%20in%20comparison. Nortje, A. (2023). Social Comparison Theory & 12 Real-Life Examples. PositivePsychology.com. https://positivepsychology.com/social-comparison/ Psychology Today. (n.d) Social Comparison Theory. https://www.psychologytoday.com/sg/basics/social-comparison-theory