Q. I often feel inferior to others. I struggle with where I am in life and how I measure up intellectually, financially, and socially. Sometimes I am with a group of people and I feel like I have nothing to show for myself in comparison to them. How can I feel better about myself?
Wow. Thank you for your question. It is extremely common to feel like others are more successful, popular, funny, intelligent, or attractive than you. What we also tend to do is present a false self to the world, which exacerbates these negative feelings. Maybe you’ve even started avoiding social situations because other people’s apparent confidence and success makes you feel bad about yourself.
A. Firstly, know that most people feel like they don’t measure up at times. Knowing that we all have feelings of inadequacy is important. How we respond to those feelings is even more important. Do you reflect and feel motivated to pursue your own goals, or do you get caught in a spiral of rumination, self-blame, and inadequacy? Does it feel like a confirmation of a pattern – and your belief in your own inherent inferiority? Do you always feel inferior? An important note: If you always feel this way, please seek a therapist to help you deal with this issue.
The focus of this article is feelings of inferiority related to anxiety. When we are feeling anxious it is very common to start feeling bad about ourselves and begin a downward spiral into negative comparisons. And you know what doesn’t help this? The age of social media that we live in. Instagram, Facebook, and other platforms can lead to unhealthy comparisons for people. Filtered images on Instagram can make it seem that everyone is better looking than you and enjoying a more glamorous lifestyle. Please remember that people only take pictures when life is great! No one takes a picture of themselves when they feel bad. So, you are only seeing the best moments of their life – edited and curated to perfection. And it’s not just social media. The media as a whole, especially advertising, presents us daily with unattainable images of perfection. You might compare yourself unfavorably to others because you are only focusing on their best qualities.
This is not an article about the problems of social media—of which there are many! Like everything else, social media has its pros and cons. This is just to point out that social media is not helpful with regard to how we feel about ourselves. For example, watching someone show off a beautiful, organized office or kitchen when you are standing in what seems like an apocalyptic mess (is that just me?) can be extremely disheartening.
Ok, so we know how harmful it is to compare and compete, and we know we shouldn’t do it, but for those of us who have been engaging in this destructive habit for years how do we actually stop? It comes down to changing our inner narrative – which means how we speak to and about ourselves – and reminding ourselves about that Hashem created each of us with unique qualities. As with everything, we can connect this to a basic tenet of Judaism: Gratitude. We start our day with Modeh Ani and Birchas Hashachar, thanking G-d and appreciating all the things we have. If when you find yourself beginning to compare, remind yourself about this.
If you find it hard to be grateful for everything, it can be helpful to be grateful for part. So often we have a fine day until something happens, and then suddenly we forget all the perfectly fine things that happened. Hakaras hatov, noticing the good, reminds us to accept the good as genuinely good, and not let the negative in our life so easily overshadow the positive. As it turns out, our brains are wired to notice unpleasant threatening stimulus, but we can also notice the good. If I notice someone who seems to have much more than me, I can remind myself of the good I have in my life. In the moment of focusing on someone else’s impressive career, spouse, or children, remind yourself what you have that is good.
Another thing you can do when you feel inferior is to challenge your thinking. This can be extremely effective. When you challenge your unhealthy negative thoughts, you are not allowing the comparisons to take control. For example, if you stand next to someone who has a lot of friends and you start thinking how you do not, you can challenge that thought. Maybe you have fewer friends, but you appreciate them as they are real and that is more important than being popular. This is something that therapy can help with as well.
The fact that it says in Pirkei Avos that we should be happy with our lot means it is very easy not to be happy with our lot and feel less than others. Take stock in the knowledge that this is very hard. Work on your bitachon, and with effort and prayer you can work through your feelings.
Wishing you lots of Hatzlacha!