How to Escape the Toxic Trap of Comparison

I have a relentless habit of comparing myself to others, which undermines my self-worth and erodes the quality of relationships. What is the root cause of it? Does everyone else have it? How can we move to a better way of relating to people without constant comparison and competition?

When meeting my friends, including those I haven't seen for years, I constantly compare them to myself in fitness, social standing, and wealth. If I'm doing better, a sense of superiority creeps in, and I realize I'm gloating. If I'm inferior, I feel inadequate and worthless.

This concerns me, not because it's morally wrong, but because it feels like I'm trapped in a prison of my own making, filled with comparisons and expectations. It's a never-ending cycle of putting people in a hierarchy, and I desperately want to break free from it. It poisons friendships and distracts me from authentic interactions. I want to find a way to eliminate the parasitic voice in my head that pushes me toward constant competition.

I want to live by my beliefs and follow my intuition, doing what's right for me without constantly measuring myself against others. I want to pursue my path, focusing on what makes my eyes light up and what sets my soul on fire, regardless of how much money I have or how others are doing. Also, I would like to deeply connect to people close to me, and the constant comparison makes me focus my energy on my ego and its insecurities.

Why am I doing it? What made me so insecure that I'm constantly establishing superiority?

The brightest example I remember is my friend from the high school. He was meek, friendly, and attentive when he perceived me as superior. However, if he had an upper hand - he didn't hesitate to tell me how much I sucked. I got disillusioned in our friendship rather quickly, but since I was dating his sister, I was continuously exposed to his toxic personality.

Human societies always focus on comparison. Who is the most handsome? Who is the wealthiest? Who is the smartest? These logical categories allow you to quickly assign value to people and move on with their lives. Quick, logical judgment makes life easier because it doesn't waste valuable time thinking deeply about people and their potential. A transactional society encourages competition.

In "Sane Society," Erich Fromm explains the idea of Social Character, an idealized set of behaviors and emotional attributes that society values. For example, in a society that values competition and individual success, the social character might include emotional attributes such as ambition, anxiety about status, fear of failure, and a strong desire for achievement. In a society that values community and cooperation, the social character might include emotional attributes such as empathy, solidarity, and a sense of belonging.

People internalize Social Character under the pressure of upbringing, economic incentives, education, and popular culture. Essentially, people are taught that there's a right set of personal traits that makes them more valuable and successful. The problem is that these values may not be what each individual authentically wants. In this case, the social character is forcefully implanted over the person's authentic disposition.

French philosopher Rene Girard created a concept of "mimetic desire," the idea that our desires are not innate or original to us but are instead imitated by others. Girard's theory suggests that our habit of comparing ourselves to peers is rooted in this mimetic desire. We constantly look to others to determine what is desirable or valuable, and we measure our own worth and success against those standards. This can lead to feelings of envy, inferiority, or superiority, depending on how we perceive ourselves compared to others.

Alfred Adler, a famous Austrian psychologist, makes competition a central theme of his Individual Psychology, brilliantly described in "The Courage to Be Disliked" by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga.

Adler thinks that when most people treat the world as a competitive place where we constantly compare ourselves with others. We often find ourselves inferior to others in certain aspects, which leads to the "feeling of inferiority."

Most people have these feelings; the question is what you do with them. You have two options. You can use this feeling to fuel your personal growth. Or we can succumb to fear and develop an "inferiority complex," a conviction that we are damaged and all attempts to move forward are fruitless.

Some people with the inferiority complex also develop a "superiority complex," a feeling that they are superior to others but are held back by some injustice, like a lack of money, education, or luck. People with a superiority complex can often be recognized by constant bragging, name-dropping, or complaining about their misfortunes.

As an alternative to the world of competition, Adler suggests the world of cooperation, a different philosophy that treats everyone equally. There are no winners or losers, no fear of being inferior, and no need for judgment. Following this approach, people transition from "vertical relationships," where you constantly define a competitive hierarchy, to "horizontal relationships," where people see themselves and others as equals, without constant comparison or competition. In horizontal relationships, individuals can cooperate and support each other, leading to a more fulfilling and harmonious life.

More importantly, stepping away from competition opens up our personal freedom. We usually compare ourselves to others from the perspective of external categories. For example, competing in wealth means adopting the external category of total worth as my internal target. I stopped being free and became a slave to other people's opinions, who think that having more money is cool. Hence, the name of the book "The Courage to Be Disliked" explains freedom as an ability to ignore other people's expectations and live a life of our own choosing.

The question is, how can we practically apply Adler's philosophy?

Joe Hudson's methodology of connection, taught in Art of Accomplishment courses and the podcast, offers a practical approach. By changing your mindset to focus on connecting with others rather than competing, you can shift from a competitive to a cooperative approach.

The method involves adopting the VIEW framework, which stands for Vulnerability, Impartiality, Empathy, and Wonder. These four principles essentially describe the same thing - connection - from different perspectives.

Vulnerability means openly expressing your fears and truths and taking risks by sharing your authentic self.

Impartiality is refraining from controlling others and accepting them as they are without trying to change them.

Empathy is being with others in their own emotions without judgment and without losing yourself in their world.

Wonder is seeing the world with a sense of awe and appreciation, approaching everything with a beginner's mind.

These principles are more than just techniques; they're a mindset. It's about deeply embodying these values in your daily life, which can be challenging but rewarding.

By living these principles, you naturally move away from competition, focusing instead on connecting with others. It's about shifting from an adversarial mindset to one of connection and collaboration.

Joe Hudson describes the VIEW framework as a form of unconditional love. It's about loving others without conditions, much like a mother's love for her newborn child. It's a powerful way to move away from competition and towards a more loving, connected approach.

In modern society, the desire for competition and comparison seems to be built into us. This is because society, influenced by culture, economic conditions, and trends, decides what behaviors and emotional qualities are desirable. These ideals are then embedded in our minds, and it's tough to escape them without disconnecting from society altogether, which isn't really practical.

We're naturally inclined to imitate others, and society provides plenty of examples to compare ourselves to. For instance, if I want to play soccer like Cristiano Ronaldo, I might start comparing my skills to his or my friends. This tendency to compare is common; it's part of who we are. But is it beneficial? According to Alfred Adler, not really. He suggests that comparison can lead to feelings of inferiority, superiority complexes, and ultimately, suffering and stagnation.

So, what's the alternative? Adler proposes shifting from a competitive mindset to one of cooperation. This sounds great in theory, but how do we apply it in practice? Joe Hudson offers a framework that emphasizes connection with others. By focusing on a mindset of connection, we can move away from competition and appreciate others beyond superficial societal labels. Since this state of connection is essentially love, it brings us to the intriguing conclusion that, as John Lennon once said, "All we need is love." And that's where I'll leave it.