Source: Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash
I think most young people can relate to that feeling when you realize you are three years deep into another person’s social media feed. It’s a combination of self-loathing and emotional numbness. For some, it’s as though they can’t stop scrolling down. As if they can’t stop themselves from learning more about this person’s life: what they wear, what they eat, who they hang out with. Sometimes, the fixation can become so intense that we lose ourselves in the process. When this happens, an emotional disconnect follows, where we lose touch with reality and begin to focus on the other person. This is what a Psychology Today article so brilliantly called “the comparison trap”.
I relate to this experience all too well. In fact, I had to recently unfollow someone on Instagram because I was devoting too much of my time checking their feed and what they were doing. Time which could have been spent listening, pursuing, and advancing my own passions, was wasted envying a person I didn’t even know. Researchers call this my comparison-target, a term to define how we tend to compare ourselves with people who are most similar to us rather than those we consider as “superior” (and the reason why Beyonce’s Instagram feed doesn’t perpetuate my self-loathing).
For Lucy Sheridan, a UK-based comparison coach (the first and only, in fact), felt this “comparison trap” was beginning to affect her self-esteem. “I’ve compared myself since I was little. Whether it was school, grades, my body. I am the case study in comparison,” she mentions, “(comparison) was like a warm bath, and I kept going back to it over and over again.” It wasn’t until she was looking at a stranger’s photos on social media (any resemblance to real life is mere coincidence), that she decided it was time to stop. “It was the ultimate wake up call. I knew I wasn’t in a great place and I thought to myself: if I could think myself into this, can I think myself out of it?”
Recognizing your comparison triggers
We all have comparison triggers, which refer to the themes we seem to envy or resent the most in other people. It can be wedding announcements, career promotions, body image, relationship status, pregnancies, among others. “Comparison is trying to move you somewhere else, but because we are bombarded by envy and fear, we never get there,” Lucy explains, “we need to observe and not judge what that might be.” But, where might comparison be trying to lead us? For starters, self-awareness.
When we are faced with something that wounds our ego, we begin to set up a series of defense mechanisms to protect it at all costs. These mechanisms aren’t necessarily bad, but when we fail to become aware of the way (and frequency) in which we are using them then it can become troubling. Projection is one of them, and it describes precisely what Lucy explains above. It happens when we attribute our own unwanted thoughts, feelings or impulses on to someone else. When I find that someone is constantly irritating me, I need to stop and think what’s really going on with me. When a person irritates you, it can reveal more about you than it can about the person.
According to Lucy, a similar situation applies to these “comparison traps”. These comparison triggers or the pitfalls in which we keep falling into may be alerting us to an inner frustration that prevents us from pursuing our goals. “There’s a constant culture of fear affecting us, making us loathe our uninstragammable life”, she explains. How do we learn to love how “uninstragammable” all of us truly are? Especially in a time where influencers bombard us with their “instragammable” lives and who, as Lucy describes it, “have democratized attention”?
Social media cleanse
A social media cleanse isn’t only helpful, but also necessary. After I realized that this person made me feel envious due to my own insecurities, I decided to unfollow her. It wasn’t easy. Quite the opposite, it was hella hard (and I admit I occasionally snooped through her Instagram stories afterward). But, it was necessary. I asked Lucy if I made the right decision. “Absolutely! I always tell my clients to unfollow everything that doesn’t lift you up, but not unfollow everything that’s challenging you”, was her response.
Lucy is referring to that sweet spot between the people that make you feel bad about your own life because you’re setting yourself unattainable goals, and the people who inspire you to achieve more. As she puts it, “you want to surround yourself (online and offline) with people who challenge you in the right ways.” So, before you go on to an unfollowing frenzy, ask yourself these questions:
- Does this type of content aspire me to be a better version of myself?
- Is this type of content relevant to the person I am? Is it relevant to the person I want to be?
- How does this person challenge me to be better?
When we allow ourselves to answer these questions wholeheartedly, only then can we set a path to our authentic self. That messy, quirky, unique self that is incomparable.
Being okay with your uninstragammable life
One of the biggest takeaways from my conversation with Lucy was the term “uninstragammble”. In essence, that is real life, right? Real life doesn’t have the carefully selected filter or properly produced breakfast table. Yet, we are constantly seduced by these carefully curated lives, and forget to remember that social media is not real.
Lucy’s coaching focuses on helping her clients “switch fears, regrets, and drift into confidence, happiness, and action.” She helps clients break free from these comparison traps both personally and professionally, and learn to own their uninstragammable lives. These are the tips she shared with me:
- Be careful how and who you choose to share your ideas/content/experiences with. Not everyone has your best interest at heart, and similar to your online life: surround yourself with people who challenge you in the right way.
- Be careful what we put value in. Is it money? Fame or notoriety? Popularity? These are all things that come and go, but deep and meaningful connections stand the test of time.
- With love and judgment at the center, reclaim yourself.
- Our crappiest lives are some people’s best lives. Always have gratitude at the forefront of each of your achievements. It keeps you grounded and allows others to see your authentic self.
Loving yourself in a time where the media industries profit from your insecurities, is a rebellious act. But, it speaks volumes to the authenticity and connection we are so desperately craving. As Lucy mentioned to me, inspired by a quote on Dr. Wayne Dyer, “when something is special to you make a temple in your heart and don’t let anyone near it.”
Lucy Sheridan is the founder and creator of Proof Coaching and the “Comparison-Free Classroom.” Read more about her story and services here.