Those of us who need to look good for the approval of others gauge how we’re doing by comparing ourselves to others. We compare ourselves to our friends, family members, peers, colleagues, coworkers, and to perfect strangers. And before we know it comparison to others becomes our constant companion.

This comparison can manifest in one of two ways. The first kind of comparison is “looking up” and feeling beneath, not as good as, the objects of comparison. The second kind of comparison is “looking down” on others to make yourself feel better than, higher than, and above others.

We are taught to compare ourselves to others early in life…parents, grandparents, older siblings and others unknowingly teach us to compare ourselves to others every time we see them comparing us to others…our behavior, looks, skill level, or even the way we share our toys. We quickly learn that this comparison of ourselves to others determines whether or not we’re as good as they are.

Most of us learned in school how important it was to be the best — not just do your best — but be the best. The importance of getting good grades and being good in athletics or some other extra-curricular activity was drilled into us by teachers and parents.

Added to that, were the television and radio ads we watched…a constant reminder of how wrong we were. They taught us to compare ourselves with whatever it was that we were supposed to be. They told us: don’t wear that; do use this; you’re better if you do such and such; it’s this that counts, and so on right down to eating the right cereal for breakfast.

We learned to compare ourselves to the rich and famous, to celebrities and other important people who appear on magazine covers, and especially to the beautiful people. And nowadays, without knowing it, we could even be comparing ourselves to someone who has been “photo-shopped!” How impossible is it to compete with that? Evidence of this phenomenon is confirmed by a report by CNN on June 5, 2011. It was reported that the more young girls watch TV and celebrities, the more they hate their bodies.

We learned from an early age that we are only as good as our stuff. This stuff includes not only what we own, but who we know, what we do, what we have achieved, our physical appearance, and the list goes on. We were taught to compare ourselves with those who have more money than we have, who have a better career than we have, who have a better education than we have, who are more important than we are, and who are prettier than we are.

While our comparison to others may begin with the way we behave or how well we color inside the lines, eventually we end up comparing our personal appearance, material possessions, wealth, success, and other important and unimportant things. So we came to compare everything from the way we look to the clothes we wear to the food we eat and even where we go to eat it. This includes the car we drive, the career we pursue, what we do for fun, where we vacation and even the hotel we stay in.

It might not make much sense to you right now that some of the most successful people in the world have no self-esteem and are totally dependent upon the approval from others for any semblance of esteem they have for themselves. In other words their esteem is other-dependent. Why? Because the person who is other-dependent compares himself to others and sees that good enough is never quite good enough. Even the next achievement is never good enough — and the one after that isn’t good enough either — nor is the next success good enough.

When we keep raising the bar, how would we ever know when good enough is good enough? The same thing happens with earning money. When we are young, we may think success is earning $100,000 or whatever that number might be. When we hit that mark, however, the success gauge will change to $200,000 if we are dependent upon the approval of others in order to see ourselves as being good enough. There is no way to measure up when we continue to compare ourselves to other, no matter how great the accomplishment. We keep raising our own personal standards higher and higher after each accomplishment.

What’s wrong with that? Why isn’t it okay to keep raising the bar? Isn’t that a good thing? It would be if it were just for the rewards that often follow or just for the fun of it. But when it’s done to prove our worth — when it’s done because we worry about what others think of us --- when we don’t see ourselves as good enough because of our comparison to others, the rewards are seldom celebrated and hardly much fun. It’s more of a struggle than fun.

Why is it never good enough? For most of us, the way we compare ourselves works like this.

The homeless person compares herself to the person who lives in a dilapidated trailer while the person living in the dilapidated trailer begins to compare herself to the person who lives in a fixer-upper.

The person who lives in the fixer-upper compares herself to the person who lives in a low income neighborhood home. The person who lives in the low income neighborhood home compares herself to the person who lives in a home on the golf course or the beach. This person then compares herself to the person living in a million dollar mansion while the individual who lives in a million dollar mansion compares herself to someone who lives in a castle and the person living in the castle is comparing herself to the person who has a bigger castle, and that person compares herself to the person who owns two castles, and on it goes.

I’m sure you get the idea that comparing ourselves to others has little or nothing to do with material possessions. We never see ourselves as quite good enough, because good enough is just never good enough!

Then there is the second kind of comparison. Some of us compare ourselves with those who are at the bottom of the economic ladder, those who live in poverty, for the sole purpose of elevating our own stature. We belittle the jobless and homeless without knowing their circumstance. We denigrate the uneducated without knowing their degree of intelligence. We do this to make ourselves look better!

If you are someone who makes comparisons and belittles others as a result, then it is time to take a look at yourself. Why isn’t it okay for them to be who they are, to believe the way they believe, or to see things the way they do? Remember, we all have different life experiences. Everyone doesn’t see life through the same lens.

You might not want to hear this about yourself, but the truth is . . . if you disparage others just because they are different from you, if you think it isn’t okay for them to be who they are and to think the way they think, it isn’t because there is something wrong with them. It’s because you aren’t okay with who you are. You project your inadequacies on to everyone you disagree with in order to elevate yourself. The reality is that you judge them to the degree that you judge yourself. You also criticize others to the extent that you criticize yourself.

People who feel good about themselves allow others to be who they are even though they don’t see eye to eye.

To gain true self-esteem, what I refer to as self-dependent esteem, the kind that is manufactured and produced from within you and comes from the inside out, it is important that you know there is nothing wrong with you just the way you are right now and there is nothing wrong with them just the way they are. Even though much of society has a tendency to stereotype by making comparisons, it is important to stop denigrating yourself and others. It is important to stop comparing yourself to others.

Begin by changing the way you see yourself. Stop making yourself wrong because you are the way you are, because you have what you have, and because you know what you know. Take time now to pay attention to how and when you compare yourself to others. Catch yourself in the act of making yourself wrong and change it by letting it be okay to be you just the way you are right now. I want you to embrace who you are right now. When you allow yourself to be who you are you will automatically allow others to be who they are.

When we change the way we see ourselves, our entire world changes!

Author's Bio: 

Patricia Noll is the Founder and Executive Director of Focus One, Inc., an Outpatient Substance Abuse Treatment Program, which has been licensed by the State of Florida since September, 1989. For over 25 years as a lecturer and group facilitator, Patricia has conducted over 5000 group lectures on how to feel good and overcome addictive behaviors.

She has a Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling and a degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Along with the Good With Me Book and related community, she is the author of the Focus One Treatment Manual and Workbook which has been endorsed by internationally renowned authors and lecturers Deepak Chopra, Larry Dossey, Jack Kornfield, and Jacquelyn Small among others.