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What is social comparison? 

Social comparison is a mental process of comparing ourselves to another person, whether known or unknown. Social comparison is essentially a way we collect information. For instance, young children compare themselves to other individuals to learn about things such as gender roles and cultural norms. As social beings, we continuously process social information by way of comparing ourselves to others in order to broaden our worldviews. We compare ourselves socially, in order to understand things like race and gender expression, but we also use social comparison to understand things like career goals, achievement, and body esteem. For example, athletes may look up to other, famous athletes as inspiration for where they would like to be.

How does social comparison affect me?

Social comparison is not inherently a negative thing. At its core, social comparison is neutral; it’s a way we collect information. However, social comparison can become a very negative trait in certain situations. For instance, many people find themselves overwhelmed with social comparison, which impacts their self-esteem and self-worth leading to anxiety and depression. People may compare themselves to magazine models, famous individuals, or their successful friends and family. They then set unattainable expectations for themselves and become depressed and/or anxious when they cannot meet those expectations. In turn, this may make them feel like a failure or that they aren’t good enough and may even cause them to become resentful and envious of the people in their lives.

How does social comparison come up in therapy?

Social comparison comes up in many ways in therapy. For one, you may find yourself comparing yourself to your therapist. The relationship you have with your therapist is a very intimate bond, and it is a natural desire to want to know more about them. You may become interested in how their lives match up to yours. This is a normal part of the process of bonding with your therapist as long as this doesn’t take away from the therapeutic process and the main goals for treatment. Further, the way you compare yourself to others in your life may come up in therapy.  You and your therapist can work together to identify the ways you compare yourself socially and the benefit you perceive to be gaining from that comparison. Chances are, there is no real benefit being gained and that comparison is detrimentally affecting your self-esteem. Your therapist can also provide activities that help you challenge and tackle these problematic thoughts. Some things you can do if you find yourself being affected by social comparison is to practice gratitude and self-compassion. This not only helps you feel grateful and proud at everything you’ve accomplished, but it also helps you be kinder to yourself even when you can’t meet some of your expectations.

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.