We tend to take our cues about how to act from other people. It’s human to occasionally compare yourself to others. But if you find that you’re doing it frequently regarding your recovery, you might want to pivot your attention. Recovery is so unique to the individual that comparisons are futile—and ultimately detrimental.
How Does Comparing Yourself to Others Affect Your Mental Health?
Unsurprisingly, when you perceive yourself as coming up short, it negatively affects your mental health. Recent studies have focused on comparisons via social media; these sites may be more likely to elicit negative comparisons because they tend to only showcase the best moments of people’s lives.
A study in the journal Current Psychology found that Facebook use predicted upward social comparison—meaning perceiving people as better than you—over time. “[Social networking site] use is a strong predictor of social comparison,” says the article, “which is positively related to the fear of missing out and depressive symptoms through rumination and negatively related to global self-worth, self-perceived physical appearance, and self-perceived social acceptance.”
Comparing yourself favorably doesn’t benefit you either, particularly when it comes to recovery. An addicted brain is more likely to make rationalizations in order to continue—or restart—substance use. Deciding that your addiction is “not as bad” as someone else’s can be the beginning of a relapse. Or if you believe another person isn’t doing as well in recovery, it can cause complacency.
Recovery is Not a Competition
Everyone in recovery is on their own path—and when you’re on the outside, you can’t see the full picture. There is more going on in another person’s life and mind than you can know.
Whether you’re comparing yourself favorably or unfavorably, there’s no winner. Recovery is not a competition. It may be helpful to see it as more of a collaboration. Mutual support and connection are huge parts of recovery. When one person does well in sobriety, it benefits the group.
How Do You Recognize and Pivot When You’re Making a Comparison?
The first step to changing a behavior is noticing you’re doing it. Regular meditation can help you gain awareness. Even when I have a consistent meditation practice, I can get lost in thoughts and stories—but I notice when I’m getting lost much more quickly.
When you recognize that you’re comparing yourself to others, try focusing instead on your own growth. Even comparing yourself to yourself isn’t always healthy—everyone has off days and progress is rarely linear—but focusing on your own goals is a good way to go.
My “I’m DONE drinking!” app, which tallies the number of drinks I haven’t had and days I haven’t drank, is a concrete way I redirect my attention when I notice I’m making a comparison. I know I’m not alone, as several other sober friends have said the same.
There are more fulfilling ways to identify with another person’s experience than to compare yours to theirs. It’s wonderful to connect to your support system about the ways you can relate—but remember that no experience is the same.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is hope. Amatus Recovery Centers offers high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you find peace in recovery. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.