Why You Struggle with Comparison (and 4 Steps to Break Free)

Alicia Michelle

Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
Published May 03, 2022
Why You Struggle with Comparison (and 4 Steps to Break Free)

Ever heard the phrase “comparison is the thief of joy”? I’ve seen comparison not only rob my joy but ransack my peace, confidence and ability to be content… how about you?

I’m guessing you’ve learned too that comparing yourself to others (everything from your physical shape to your bank account) is a one-way trip to feeling less-than and not enough.

So why do we keep comparing ourselves to others? Why do find ourselves stuck in comparison when we know it’s not good for us? 

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/MachineHeadz

Comparison isn’t Always a Bad Thing

First, it’s important to note that comparison is not always bad. In fact, comparison can be a healthy form of discernment that equips us with the ability to relate to our world.

For example, comparison helps us narrow down how we are alike and how we are different from others. We often use this skill to decide with whom we have common interests, personalities, and perspectives. In our careers, we use comparison to decide which job might be the best fit for our skills and passions. 

Comparison can even be a form of discernment as we seek God’s leading toward a good, better, or best outcome for a life circumstance. Also, if we seek ongoing spiritual growth, it’s certainly healthy to compare to Christ’s example of how well we love others and how obedient we are to God. For example, are we showing our love to others by taking action as 1 John 3:18 commands? Likewise, are we demonstrating our love for God by staying obedient to His commands as shared in John 14:15?

When is Comparison Unhealthy?

Comparison turns unhealthy when it triggers its ugly cousins: jealousy, pride, discontentment, and self-pity. When comparison joins with our deep-seeded fear that we somehow don’t have enough or won’t be enough (especially as it relates to core human needs such as love and worth), these ungodly vices step out from the shadows to transform this God-given superpower into a self-sabotaging behavior.

In other words, when comparison leads us to the conclusion that somehow we’ve been misaligned or cheated, then we can be sure that we’ve crossed the line into unhealthy comparison, a form of self-sabotage.

Self-sabotaging behaviors like comparison are often the fruit of a heart that’s struggling with pain and fear. We are afraid that we won’t be loved if we don’t look a certain way. We fear rejection if we don’t say the right things in front of others. These behaviors may be amplified if, in the past, we have been judged by our appearance or behaviors. 

Therefore, while it’s not healthy to compare ourselves to others in this way, it’s certainly understandable why we do it: on a subconscious level, our brain is trying to protect us from future pain.

woman looking off deep in thought

2 Ways to Break Free from Comparison

So how do we keep our comparison skills focused on discernment instead of discontent? And how do we identify and find healing for these underlying pains and fears that fuel the unhealthy side of comparison?

First: Secure Our identity in Christ Deep in our Thoughts

When we are fully confident in who we are in Christ—especially in the areas of feeling loved, worthy, and enough—it’s much easier to avoid the trap of unhealthy comparison.

Neuroscience confirms that our brain subconsciously answers the question “what do I need to do or become in order to be loved, worthy, or enough?” around the ages of nine to thirteen. These subconscious patterns are not necessarily logical or moral but come from the primal, survival side of the brain and are formed based on our experiences. 

For example, if we’ve learned at an early age that we are only worthy when we achieve or do well, we’ll subconsciously feel the need to continually compare ourselves to what we’ve decided it looks like to “do well,” instead of leaning on the truth that we’re already worthy in Christ. 

These types of unhealthy answers to core questions around love and worth are a big reason why, for example, many women “know” God’s truth but don’t “feel” it in their hearts. 

Friend, I don’t ask this to heap shame or guilt, but I’m curious: Do your ongoing thoughts reflect that you believe God’s promises for you, or are your thoughts riddled with lies and half-truths? 

We must take responsibility for those untrue mindsets we’ve allowed inside and take practical steps to find mind renewal.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/MangoStarStudio

Second: Take Responsibility for Our Thoughts and Choose to Retrain Comparison Thought Patterns

As sinners saved by grace, our minds will never be perfectly aligned with God’s thoughts on this side of heaven (Romans 7:25). However, Scripture reminds us that we have been given the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) and the Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts into truth (John 14:17). 

Brain science and the Bible both confirm that first, every behavior starts with a thought; and second, we have the ability to decide what thoughts our minds will focus on. Because our thoughts determine our beliefs and these beliefs create our actions and results, it’s critical that we take responsibility for where we allow our thoughts and emotions to dwell.

Philippians 4:8 encourages us to take charge of our thoughts in order to find contentment in difficult circumstances. While it’s not explicitly stated in these verses, I think of it as focusing on what’s true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable (the words in the verse) so that we are not focusing on our fears. This allows us to thwart the enemy's lies that we aren’t enough or won’t have enough. 

Paul shares a few verses later in Philippians 4:10-14 that he’s trained his mind to be “content with whatever he has”, whether that’s living with plenty or little, and that it’s Christ’s strength that allows him to find this contentment. In order to keep his mind from the trap of unhealthy comparison, Paul has taught himself to focus on the promises of Scripture as the source of his contentment.

friend supporting another friend over coffee

4 Steps to Stop Unhealthy Comparison in the Moment

What are some practical ways we can break free from the ugly side of comparison when it strikes? Let me teach you a 4-step method I use with my coaching clients with the acronym "INCTRL" that you can start using today when you find yourself stuck in unhealthy comparison.

Step 1: Intentional Noticing (IN)

The first step to addressing any form of self-sabotage is paying attention to our thoughts and noticing when we’re tempted to self-sabotage. It’s important that we notice from a detached perspective, almost as if we are a scientist taking notes about an experiment so that our inner critic doesn’t immediately jump in and offer judgment. At this stage, we aren’t here to deem the behaviors right or wrong but to simply begin to understand why they’re there. 

We can ask ourselves:
    —When does this comparison tend to happen? 

    —What are the things that tend to trigger unhealthy comparisons in me?

    —What am I tempted to do as a result of this comparison? 

    —How do I feel after I engage in this unhealthy comparison and any related actions I take? 

Step 2: Compassionate Curiosity (C)

When we get curious about a behavior (while still remaining detached and non-judgmental) we’re able to see the situation in a much clearer way. We can not only see what’s true and what’s not true about the situation, but we can invite compassion and understanding for why the situation is happening. 

We can acknowledge why it makes sense we’re tempted to compare. We can begin to uncover how the comparison is our mind’s attempt to find comfort and safety for a core need that feels threatened. We can also confess how we may play a role in not addressing or taking care of this core need, and we can simultaneously surrender those aspects of the core need that are outside of our control.  

We can ask ourselves:

– What might be the core need that’s feeling threatened right now (love, worth, validation, feeling good enough)? 

– What am I really attempting to give myself through this unhealthy comparison (safety, comfort, assurance, self-esteem)? 

– Is the comparison behavior helping or hurting me at this moment? 

– How may the unhealthy comparison be partially filling this need (which is why I stay stuck in this cycle)?

– What can I take responsibility for in this situation? What can I release to God as outside of my responsibility? 

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Step 3: Transform Your Response (TR)

Now that we’ve discovered the unmet need or pain behind the comparison, we can begin to formulate a different response when we’re tempted to compare. 

We can support this change with what I call “maintenance strategies” (ongoing actions we take to keep ourselves strong overall) and “in-the-moment strategies” (specific actions to take when the trigger strikes). An example of a “maintenance strategy” might be to regularly spend time in God’s word, to get plenty of sleep, and to eat a balanced diet. Meanwhile, some “in-the-moment strategies” could be to walk away from the trigger or to have a specific biblically-based affirmation you can recite that supports the core need involved.

We can ask ourselves:

– What are some healthier ways that I can respond to the trigger behind the comparison? 

– What can I do differently to meet the need when this trigger tempts me to compare? 

– What is a promise of God that I can meditate on to empower my mind with truth when I’m tempted to lean on comparison for validation?

Step 4: Leave It at the Cross (L)

We want permanent healing, not one-time fixes. That’s where the power of our intentional actions to address comparison pairs beautifully with our surrender to God. Battling unhealthy comparisons takes time and partnership with the Holy Spirit for growth and change.

I mentioned before that our actions are driven by our thoughts, and that our subconscious thoughts (especially those around identity) run the show when it comes to how we handle triggers that can lead to comparison and other self-sabotage behaviors. 

This is why I highly encourage you to get to the root of what’s going on in your subconscious thoughts, specifically how your mind may have answered what I call the 3 Big Questions: “Am I worthy?” “Am I enough?” and “Am I loved?”.

I am passionate about helping Christian women understand these “thoughts behind their thoughts” and leading them through a specific process called brain priming to help them replace any subconscious lies (the root behind the comparison behavior) with God’s powerful truth in my Christian Mindset Makeover program (ChristianMindsetMakeover.com). It’s a great next step in your healing journey from unhealthy comparison. 

No matter what you do next, here’s a prayer you can pray to help you release unhealthy comparisons to God: 

God, when I find myself wanting to compare myself to others, please help me first to notice the behavior and to pay attention to it as important. I pray that you’d give me your loving, compassionate eyes to help me understand what areas of my life need deeper healing. Help me not rush to self-condemnation but to acknowledge why it makes sense that I compare. I pray you’d help me find healthier ways to meet these core needs inside myself, and that specifically, I could strengthen my ability to believe (with every fiber of my being) all of your promises which fully meet my core needs. Wrap your loving arms around me, God, as I remember that I live and breathe for an audience of one—and that audience is You.

Alicia Michelle is a certified NeuroCoach and host of the award-winning Christian Mindset Coach Podcast. She loves equipping Christian women with practical brain-and-biblically-based tools to overcome anxiety, perfectionism, and self-sabotage so that they can cultivate godly confidence. Get her free training on how to overcome negative thoughts and manage anxiety at VibrantChristianLiving.com.

Originally published Tuesday, 03 May 2022.