By Elizabeth Fedrick, PhD, LPC

Do you ever have one of those days where you just don’t feel quite good enough? Not pretty enough, not smart enough, not funny enough, not social enough, and on and on it goes. You pull up your Snapchat and see your friend in a brand-new outfit, the one you both saw on Instagram the other day and just loved. You think, “of course she got the new outfit before I did. She always gets the cutest new clothes.” And you are left feeling jealous about her new clothes and insecure about your old clothes.

And then what about the end of the semester, when you are looking forward to showing your parents how hard you worked in all your classes. You end up with mostly As, a couple Bs, and a C. You feel proud of yourself and excited to tell your parents. However, before you get the chance to, in walks your older sister, handing over her report card of straight As to your parents. You think, “Well, never mind then. I’ll just show them later. Why can’t school come as easy to me as it does to her? It isn’t fair.”

Or what about how you feel when you hang out with your group of friends and there is that one friend who is so outgoing, so confident, so pretty, so funny. Everyone is always laughing at her jokes and asking her for help with their hair and makeup. She is actually really nice, but being around her often leaves you thinking, “Why can’t I be prettier? Or funnier? Or better at doing hair and makeup? Why can’t I be more like her?”

If you ever find yourself in one of the above scenarios (or something similar), it is important to know that this is completely normal and that all humans get stuck in the comparison trap. The Social Comparison Theory was developed by Psychologist, Leon Festinger, who suggested that it is very normal and natural for people to frequently compare themselves to others. He proposed that we have a tendency to compare ourselves to others in order to evaluate and understand ourselves better, and that we often make this self-assessment by seeing how we “measure up” to other people in our social worlds.

According to Social Comparison Theory, there are two ways that we compare ourselves to others, including downward and upward comparison. With downward comparison we will compare ourselves to others who we feel are less fortunate or worse off than we perceive ourselves. We use downward comparison as a way to feel better about ourselves or our current situation. In upward comparisons, we compare ourselves against others who we feel are better off and who have more advantages, such as in the above scenarios. In both downward and upward comparisons, they might assist with valuable self-reflection and to possibly challenge ourselves toward self-improvement. However, if we aren’t careful, both forms of comparisons also run the risk of leading to feelings of insecurity, low self-esteem, and unrealistic expectations.

The reality is that comparing ourselves to others is part of human nature and not something that can be stopped doing altogether. However, it is crucial to be aware of when these comparisons are not helpful, and instead are leading to negative feelings about self and others. If these comparisons are causing us to question our own beauty, intelligence, sense of humor, or any other amazing traits, this is not beneficial or productive. In these instances, it would be valuable to switch your thinking to the things that make you special and unique, and maybe even consider making a list of all your wonderful traits. At the end of the day, remember that there is only one of you, and that alone makes you pretty great!


Dr. Elizabeth Fedrick is a Licensed Professional Counselor and owns a private practice, Evolve Counseling, in Gilbert, Arizona. She specializes in various areas, including depression, anxiety, trauma, relationship issues, and personal improvement. In addition to providing therapeutic services, Elizabeth also teaches Behavioral Health courses for Grand Canyon University.