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The Idealizing Tendency That Compares and Despairs: A Path to Self-Acceptance

In the age of social media and the need for constant connectivity, it's easy to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to what others present themselves to be. This tendency to compare and despair is not new, but it has been magnified by the curated lives we see online. As a therapist in LA, we often treat clients who struggle with feelings of inadequacy, low self-worth and low self-esteem due to this pervasive idealizing tendency. In this post, we'll explore what it means to compare and despair, why it happens, and how to break free from this harmful pattern and shift into embracing self-acceptance.

Understanding What It Means To Be Idealizing

Idealizing, which compares and despairs, refers to the cognitive and emotional pattern where individuals constantly measure their own internal worth against others' perceived successes, looks, or happiness. This tendency involves two key components:

  1. Idealizing Others: This is when we view others' lives through a lens of perfection. We see only the positives and assume their lives are devoid of the struggles we face.

  2. Despairing About Ourselves: When we compare our own lives to these idealized versions, we often come up short. This leads to feelings of inadequacy, jealousy, and despair.

The Impact of Social Media

Social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok are hotspots for this idealizing tendency. These platforms encourage users to share highlights of their lives, which can create an illusion of constant happiness, joy and success. As we scroll through our feeds, we may see friends traveling to exotic locations, exchanging smiles and kisses with their partner, celebrating promotions, or showcasing picture-perfect moments with their family and friends. Rarely do we see the behind-the-scenes struggles, failures, or mundane aspects of daily life which excludes the humanness that we all are.

This skewed perspective can lead to several negative outcomes:

  • Decreased Self-Esteem: Constantly comparing ourselves to others can challenge and erode our self-worth.

  • Anxiety and Depression: Feelings of inadequacy can contribute to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

  • Social Isolation: Believing we are less successful or happy than our peers can lead to withdrawal from social interactions and feelings of inferiority.

Why Do We Compare?

Several psychological theories explain why we engage in comparison:

  1. Social Comparison Theory: Proposed by psychologist Leon Festinger, this theory suggests that we determine our own social and personal worth based on how we stack up against others. This is a natural part of human behavior as it helps us understand our standing in a social context. Our brain likes to make sense out of everything and find places for all of our parts.

  2. Self-Discrepancy Theory: This theory posits that we have different types of self-concepts: the actual self (how we see ourselves), the ideal self (how we would like to be), and the ought self (how we think we should be). Discrepancies between these selves, especially when fueled by comparison, can lead to emotional discomfort and despair.

  3. Developmental Influences: From a young age, we are unfortunately conditioned to compare ourselves to others through educational systems, media, and even familial dynamics. This ingrained behavior can be difficult to unlearn.

Breaking the Cycle

Breaking free from the compare and despair cycle requires conscious effort, self-compassion and gentleness. Here are some strategies that can help:

  1. Limit Social Media Use: Reducing time spent on social media can help decrease exposure to idealized and external images. Consider setting specific times for checking social media or taking breaks entirely. One technique that clients have successfully utilized is setting their phones to black and white instead of color. This is less stimulating which deters the constant scrolling.

  2. Practice Gratitude: Focusing on what you are grateful for in your own life can shift your perspective from what you lack to what you have. This shifts our mindset from lack to abundance. Keep a gratitude journal and make it a habit to write down a few things you are thankful for each day.

  3. Cultivate Self-Awareness: Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings when you find yourself comparing. Slow down when you realize you are having negative thoughts and implement something positive. Our brain believes stuff through repetition so repeat positive mantras. Recognize the triggers and the impact they have on your mood and self- esteem and lessen them.

  4. Challenge Negative Thoughts: When you catch yourself idealizing others and despairing about yourself, challenge these thoughts. Ask yourself if you have the full story or if you are making assumptions based on limited information. Always look for the evidence.

  5. Engage in Positive Self-Talk: Replace negative comparisons with affirmations of your own worth and achievements. This really works! Remind yourself that everyone has their own struggles and that you are on your own unique journey. Don’t let the negative voice be the last one talking.

  6. Seek Support: Talking to a therapist can help you explore the underlying causes of your comparisons and develop healthier coping mechanisms. Therapy can provide a safe space to work through feelings of inadequacy and build self-compassion, self-love and self-worth.

Embracing Self-Acceptance

Self-acceptance is the antidote to the idealizing tendency that compares and despairs. It involves recognizing and embracing your true beautiful self, including your strengths and weaknesses.

Here are some steps to cultivate and strengthen self-acceptance:

  1. Acknowledge Your Achievements: Celebrate your successes, no matter how small they may seem. Keep a list of your accomplishments and review it regularly.

  2. Forgive Yourself: Everyone makes mistakes. Instead of dwelling on your errors, view them as opportunities for growth and learning. We need ruptures in order to heal.

  3. Focus on Personal Growth: Set goals that are meaningful to you and work towards them at your own gentle pace. Measure your progress based on your own standards, not those of others.

  4. Surround Yourself with Positivity: Build a supportive network of friends and family who encourage and uplift you. Avoid relationships that foster competition or negativity. It takes a village.

  5. Practice Mindfulness: Engage in mindfulness practices such as meditation or yoga to stay present and connected to your inner self. Mindfulness can help reduce the urge to compare and increase self-awareness. Focus on and explore your inner world instead of your external world.


The idealizing tendency that compares and despairs is a common and natural human tendency, but it doesn't have to control everything in your life. By understanding why we compare, recognizing the impact it has on our mental health, and taking proactive steps to break the cycle, we can move towards greater self-acceptance, self-love and fulfillment. Remember, your journey is yours and it is unique, and your worth is not defined by how you measure up to others. Embrace who YOU are and celebrate your own precious path.

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