how do I stop thinking that everyone is better than me?
May 12, 2022 5:07 PM   Subscribe

I feel like everyone’s judging me and like everyone has a better social life than me, and I want to stop torturing myself this way.

I’m in my early 20s, about to graduate from college. For a very long time I’ve struggled with comparing myself to other people my age. I think part of this might be a consequence of being bullied/judged when I was a kid. I immigrated to the US from India when I was 7 and I was treated very unkindly by some people. For example, when I was 8, I was playing on a playground and one of the white kids told me I looked like a gorilla (at this point I already had more hair than other kids my age). I felt so disgusting immediately. I think I’d probably already developed a sense of inferiority by then due to other experiences that I’m not aware of at the moment, but that experience definitely made it worse.

Flash forward to now - I’ve been growing aware that for a long time, I’ve been feeling like everyone around me is better than me. When I talk to people, I get this sickening feeling that they’re judging me for some reason - maybe my hair’s out of place or maybe I made a dumb a comment. I can’t pinpoint concrete evidence that they’re judging me, but the thoughts come in my head anyways. And then, on the flip side, I find myself comparing me to others and concluding that they’re all better than me. I experienced major friend breakups recently and my boyfriend broke up with me a few months ago, so I’ve experienced a pretty big shift in my social circles, and I’ve been feeling lonely. (This is exacerbated in times of togetherness like graduation). Everywhere I look, it feels like other people have so many more friends than I do and/or have partners and just in general have thriving social lives. And my brain likes to tell me that this is because they’re better than me in some way.

I can tell that the reason I keep thinking these thoughts is because of deep-rooted self-hatred, conditioned into me by society. I would really like to stop feeling this way. I want to love me for me but I’m feeling so stuck. I’ve been in therapy for over a year now and have definitely made progress but these loops keep continuing and I’m just not sure what to do. I would appreciate your advice.
posted by cruel summer to Human Relations (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: With therapy. can you try a different modality? If you're doing talk therapy can you try CBT? Or try a therapist with a different approach to talk therapy, etc? Group therapy if you're doing individual? Maybe EMDR if that one horrible experience haunts you?

With the loops, can you just force yourself to stop the thought? There's a Margaret Atwood novel, The Robber Bride, in which one of the characters thinks about how she has learned to stop certain bad thoughts by, IIRC correctly, thinking a phrase about "stopping the tape". I found that very helpful. With some practice, I learned to stop certain kinds of anxieties and negative thoughts. At times I visualized a big, heavy garage door coming down between me and the thought; at other times I thought about stopping the tape, like in the book. You need to not think, "oh, i should stop this thought, I should distract myself, I don't need to think about this"; you need to sort of put a brake on the thought itself. It's like cutting off a sentence in the middle.

Over time, I taught myself to do this and now I can do it pretty effectively on demand and many of the negative thoughts have stopped most of the time.

On another note, I've been able to build the habit of reminding myself that I do not constantly judge others over really trivial shit, and even on those occasions that I do think judgemental thoughts, they aren't, like, serious thoughts - so why would I assume that others are judging me? I remind myself of this fact - it's the opposite of thought-stopping, i actually go through the reasoning.

Right at the end of college is a really stressful time, too, so I'm not surprised that you're struggling.

It's good that you're in therapy now! I waited until my late thirties - so you can congratulate yourself that you're ahead of me on that metric. There, you're doing better than I was at 22, so you're doing better than someone!
posted by Frowner at 6:20 PM on May 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: There's no magic button. You can read books and watch lectures about it all day but if you want to have a better relationship with yourself, you'll have to practice until you learn how.

It can help to stop yourself when you recognize these non-productive behaviors and maybe pretend you're overhearing a friend talk about themself that way. Because you'd say something like "whoa, hey, don't be so hard on yourself" or "why are you blaming yourself for someone else's X?"

I'm not going to say that ALL this is is a bad habit, but a lot of it is just mindless habitual regurgitation of advertising and shitty people's talking points. You'll find that most of those things aren't actually things you believe if you scratch the surface. They're not things you'd insist were true to other people. They're just diseased narratives, and really easy once you decide you're going to stop to start listening to yourself and thinking "okay, that's awful, what's a true and much kinder thing I can think of to take the place of that idea?"

You just do this every time you catch it, and eventually you find it coming easier and easier. It's not about proving you're not a bad person, you know you're not, you're just reflexively parroting these ideas that are meant to keep us anxious and buying things to feel better.

But, that said: you need to treat your anxiety and possible depression. Because that's the other root of this, and it may mean you need to consider a period of medical intervention so you've got the best possible resources for taking on this project. And if some of this behavior is trauma response from previous trauma, you may need to find a therapist prepared to work with you on that level - sometimes just narrative-based talk therapy isn't really going to get at the heart of processing trauma and understanding/defusing trauma responses.

If you really want research to do, you can look into the concept of self-compassion, and there's a variety of self-esteem and self-love books and workbooks that can help teach you the kind of patterns you're looking for and should be trying to practice.

At the end of the day, though, it's largely about working on your relationship with you, just like you might work on a struggling relationship with a family member or partner. You have to want it, and you have to decide that's a worthy pursuit even though advertisers don't want you to do it. There's some social programming that not hating ourselves is narcissism or unattractive or not-humble or stuck up, but I'm not talking about superficial braggadocio but rather just walking around thinking you're doing okay and you deserve to have standards and boundaries and nice things. It's about being your own cheerleader when it comes time to try new things or work hard for something and achieve stuff, and about placing some value on your own time, emotional resources, money, and well-being so that you know how to react when someone else doesn't respect those things, because nobody's going to do it for you. Nobody SHOULD do it for you. You're the only one who can make those decisions.

Understand, too, that everybody has ebbs and flows in their lives. You will have times where you have more friends/social life, and times when you have less. That isn't a value judgement on you, that's just how stuff works, and when you feel a jealousy about those kinds of things you should try turning it around into identifying that it's something you want to achieve, not something that's being denied or taken from you. And sometimes it will be a choice, too, that you recognize a need to turn your attention more to something that needs more management in your life for a while. But right now it may be best to first spend some time with you, being a friend to you, learning to enjoy your own company. And then start making more efforts to make friends, armed with a little less reactive skin than you've got right now, and with more understanding of who's worth making friends with and who you can recognize isn't going to be good for you and those resources you're learning not to take for granted.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:32 PM on May 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

This is a personal take but when people say “seriously, no one actually cares that much what you’re doing,” it feels like I’m being gaslit. Sure, the majority of people probably don’t, and I’m definitely over ruminating on things, but still I know some people are making comments (because I’ve even heard them before- for example, the mean kids on the playground!)

A weird thing I do when I especially feel like the social media aspects are getting to me is make a fake, secondary Instagram and make it the instagrammable version of my life. Even when I’m feeling like shit, it’s the cute pic of coffee with greenery in the background (even if it was only out a certain corner of the window and I don’t really have that view) or a fun pool pic, even if it started raining 30 min after I got there. Creating those images when I feel down emphasizes how made up ALL of those images that I see are and helps me brush away the ones that do sting a bit.

And yeah, therapy helps too
posted by raccoon409 at 7:01 PM on May 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: When I felt like this, stuck, like everyone else was having a more interesting life than me, one of the things I did was to try a lot of new things and explore interests that I hadn’t prioritized before. I took ballroom dance lessons because I always wanted to try it. I took improv classes because it scared me to be on stage and to be the center of attention. I tried things that people I admired did. I was not successful at all of the things I tried, but it made me feel like I could do hard things and it got me out of the house doing things that made me feel like I was living I life that I found interesting.

There is bound to be a beginners class for something you’re interested in and they’re not a huge time commitment. You’ll be surrounded by people who are also beginners and who might be looking for new friends too. It’s not always easy to try new things, especially if they’re out of your comfort zone. But doing these things might help you realize all the things you’re capable of. You got this!
posted by Maeve at 7:06 PM on May 12, 2022 [9 favorites]

Best answer: deep-rooted self-hatred, conditioned into me by society

This was me around your age but substitute family for society. You can unlearn and unburden yourself of this internal narrative. Therapy can help you do this. Trying new things can help you do this. Hell, graduating and getting out of that scene will probably help.

have thriving social lives. And my brain likes to tell me that this is because they’re better than me

No one is "better" than someone else based on social life, number of friends, or any of that shit. Someone can be better at something like archery or coding or race car driving, but personhood is not a competition, our lives are not popularity contests.

Therapy is the place where you can define the questions and goals and begin to un-hypnotize yourself. It probably saved my life and certainly saved my sanity.
posted by vrakatar at 8:06 PM on May 12, 2022 [4 favorites]

I find that paying attention to my internal narrative, and noting, in a neutral way, every time I realise I'm ruminating, helps to a surprising degree.
I have several non judgemental labels I use like "I'm rehearsing" (when I catch myself preparing for a potentially stressful situation by going over it again and again) or "I'm spiking" when I have an argument with an imaginary person.
Then I try to distract myself.
Also, spending a limited amount of time coming up with a plan for dealing with the thing I'm worrying about, eg, making a list of things I have to do, deciding on one thing to try out today.
posted by Zumbador at 9:07 PM on May 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

Everyone might be better than you. Learn to not care about that. You do you, as that is all you can do. I know that is simplistic, and trite, but if you are a good person, don’t do the comparison thing.

We are all flawed in one way or another. Just be a good person, and focus on that. Get some therapy if you can’t do that.
posted by Windopaene at 9:42 PM on May 12, 2022

I'm so glad you're in therapy.

I think there are generally two ways that people deal with depression and anxiety whether it's their own or someone else's:

1. There's the logical approach where the response is "you should start a dream journal," "you should do yoga," "my aunt was depressed too and she went on a cruise and it fixed everything!" It's not really helpful, IMHO.

2. There's the emotional approach where the response is, while sweeping you into a giant 👻 the responder says, "awww honey, I'm so sorry you're sad, what can I do to help you?" And if you can respond to your own feelings with the 👻 and the kindness that'll be a huge help and eventually lead you to answers to "what can I do to help you?"

PS. My computer auto-corrects the word "h ug" to the ghost emoji. ❤️
posted by bendy at 10:56 PM on May 12, 2022

I'm sorry you're dealing with this. It sounds like there are two issues to address, the first being these habitual negative thought loops, and the second is a deeply held belief about yourself that you are inferior. I have a similar issue, so here is how I approached it:

The first issue can be addressed with CBT. Check out the book Three Minute Therapy and do the exercises. Please note that BiPOC are not really represented in this book, and that the very real trauma of discrimination is not specifically addressed. However, the habit-breaking techniques do work and can give you some breathing room to work on the deeper issues. It does take a while to get the new thought patterns to click. It took me about 3 months.

I was using the 'STOP' technique (where I would say 'stop' out loud when I started thinking negative thoughts about myself) and the counter-thought technique where I would think a positive thought for every negative one, or reframe my emotional story with something positive or at least neutral (i.e. being excited vs anxious). At first I was doing these things hundreds of times a day. But gradually my brain caught on and the negative thoughts eventually went away almost completely.

The deeper issues need to be addressed specifically with trauma-informed therapeutic modalities. CBT can only change the surface pattern, it cannot restructure deeply held personal beliefs. The best results I've seen for this come from EMDR, which absolutely can be used for situations like this (as opposed to a single traumatic event) it just takes longer. A practitioner who also uses Internal Family Systems (aka Parts Therapy) is preferable, because this will help you access internal resources that facilitate deeper work without you getting retraumitized.

Best of luck. This is a difficult thing to overcome but I promise it is worth it.
posted by ananci at 3:50 AM on May 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sounds like you adopted the "less than" narrative at least fifteen years ago and have been pounding it into your own head every day since.

So a single year of therapy is an excellent start, but it really is just a start. There’s no shortcut here, there is just healing and building up habits over time.

Personally I tend to think of these unhelpful parts of myself as little, isolated entities. They have no senses, they have no experience with the real world, they’re just a living wound stuck in a loop. They need compassion, and healing and integration but the message they have stuck on auto-loop can and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Ultimately finding a better message as well as calling yourself out every single time you find yourself taking life advice from a wounded animal will help a lot. But it will take time.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:41 AM on May 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The fastest way to stop comparing and contrasting your life to is to live your life. What are your hobbies? What do you like to do? What are you working on, and what are your goals? Start doing instead of thinking too much about what other people are doing, and what they think. You sound stuck and this too will pass.

I like the advice to be the observer of your thoughts. When you start ruminating, are triggered, or go into a shame spiral, observe. Notice and say, "Interesting, I'm ruminating again". "Interesting, that interaction just gave me a pang of shame. That's fascinating."

Engage and take action in your own life. When I idealize others and feel bad about my life (my abilities, my looks, my intelligence) that's a signal that I'm not living or taking action to do the things that make me happy. I want the things they have but I am usually sitting and isolating and looking at social media instead of living and doing.
posted by loveandhappiness at 2:55 PM on May 13, 2022

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