The Comparison Trap: What it is and How to Free Yourself From it

Jun 18, 2021

The comparison trap is a 1,000 lb weight attached to your psyche making your journey to authenticity nearly impossible.

For years I thought comparing myself to others was causing jealousy and insecurity. Later, I came to realize it was actually what was happening in my mind after the comparison that was causing my suffering. Once I worked through those cognitive processes, I was able to put down the weight.

Understanding the comparison trap as a three-step cycle will help free you from its’ grip!

The first step, the comparison itself, is simply an involuntary observation, a neutral experience where you become aware of a difference between you and someone else.  It’s instinctual and not something you can necessarily control.

She makes more money than me.” See? Just an observation.

Next, after that initial comparison, your mind makes a judgement of some kind. You tell yourself that one of the things you’re observing is negative in some way and the other is positive.

“She makes more money than me. It must be because she is smarter/is luckier/works harder. I don’t make as much, so I must be dumb/unlucky/ lazy.”  You’ve stepped into the trap. Let the suffering begin.

Lastly, the “shoulding”. Meaning, you start down a spiral of self-talk dominated by the word “should”.  Soon, you’re “shoulding” all over yourself.

“I should be making more money/I should be further along in my career/I should be more confident/skinnier/prettier, etc.”   The comparison trap snaps shut. It’s got you.

You’re trapped because when you believe you should be different than you are, or that you should be further along in life, you disable your ability to see your authentic self and how far you’ve come. And when you lose sight of that, you interrupt your evolution as a person. Buying into a “should” gives rise to shame around who you ARE, because a “should” only highlights who you are NOT.   

“Shoulds” are illusions. They are mental constructs, imaginary rules shaming you into a false sense of self. When you buy into a “should”, you do one of two things: you either attempt to shape-shift into something you're not, or you do nothing at all.  You become static, hiding under your “shouldy” shame blanket. Either way, you’re suffering.

So, how do you free yourself from the comparison trap? Here’s where to start.

1.) Accept that observing differences between you and someone else is neutral and normal.

Stop trying not to do it.  If you’re human, you at least occasionally compare yourself to other people. It can be simply an observation, if you name it and accept it as such.

2.) Catch and question self-judgement.

Catch yourself in the act of self-judgement. This involves raising your awareness to the judgmental self-talk in your mind after you make a comparison. Judgmental self-talk is often on autopilot, so it’s hard to catch at first. It’s engrained in many of us to believe it’s humble and appropriate to talk down to ourselves. Its neither. It’s self-sabotaging.  Take self-judgement off autopilot. Start by questioning it. For example, ask yourself, “Is the way she’s doing it actually better than the way I’m doing it? Or, are we just different people with different brains, bodies, purposes and paths?”.

3.) Seek CONNECTION with others instead of ISOLATION.

The comparison trap leads us to hyper focus on our differences, then isolate from others because of them. What if comparison could lead to connection instead?  Try searching for common ground with others. Offer respect for the qualities you admire in them without putting them on a pedestal. Reach out and determine if the person has something to teach you. They likely do.  Embrace the belief that we’re here to lift each other up, celebrate others’ success AND blaze our own trail. Connection is a momentum generator on your journey to authenticity!

4.) Release yourself from “SHOULDS”.

Become acutely aware of “shoulds” when they show up in your mind. Explore their origin. Usually a “should” is based on a societal norm, or family of origin norm. Decide if it’s a guideline you have chosen to live by or one that you have unwillingly adopted into your psyche.  Decide if it serves you or suppresses you. Accept deeply that “shoulds” are just mental constructs, made-up rules to play by, invisible walls to exists inside. Are you listening, Neo? There is no spoon! Releasing yourself from the power of “should” illuminates new opportunities, possibilities and pathways to your authentic purpose!

We are trained at an early age to look outside ourselves for who to be.  We innocently start comparing ourselves to others in search of a stable identity. We want to belong and stand out all at the same time.  When we’re handed a label describing who the world thinks we are or who we “should” be, we unknowingly stick it on our foreheads in an effort to be understood.

As adults we have a choice. We can continue to define ourselves and our potential through the lens of longing, jealousy, and comparison. Or, we can seek to understand ourselves deeply and do the work of mapping our own, authentic path.  The journey is rocky at times but it’s worth it.  Pack lightly!

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