comparisonitis and envy on social media

Do You Have Comparisonitis? How To Beat Envy On Social Media

7 mins

Looking at everyone’s perfect lives 24/7 – no matter how photoshopped – has led to a rise of social media comparison and envy. Here’s how to to conquer the Green Eyed Monster online

Jealousy has always been an ugly trait. But growing up we might have only seen the Green Eyed Monster occasionally – when we realized how many more toys our best friend received for her birthday, for example, and that their parents treated them to riding lessons, or they had better designer clothes as a teen – now we have a comparison to everyone’s lives 24/7 via social media. And that can lead to a new modern kind of envy: comparisonitis. 

The launch of Facebook in 2004 thrust us into a world of Social Comparison and a new kind of jealousy was created. While the initial purpose of Facebook, and the platforms that followed, was to connect people with each other social media evolved at such a fast pace, it made it simple for humans to create content, share opinions and, well, brag. Suddenly we were overwhelmed by envy. 

From the best kitchens, to the cutest kids, most desirable designer handbag, exotic holiday and perfect lives, no matter how edited and photoshopped, we can all feel more than a twinge of jealousy as we scrolled.  

The Rise of Social Media Envy

woman on social media looking unhappy as she has envy about content she is seeing online

Jump forward 20 years and the toll of social media has been documented (even by Facebook itself) and it all shows the same thing: the negatives far outweigh the positives. 

Nearly 60 per cent of us view our friends as having a better life because of what they’ve posted on social media, a recent study on discovered. This feeling of inferiority – and jealousy – is amplified the more we use social media, and we’re on it more and more. Usage leapt by 20 per cent during the pandemic, and keeps climbing as more and more platforms – TikTok, threads etc – are launched. 

This compulsion to compare our accomplishments to another’s to judge ourselves and determine relative importance is fuelled by social media which, studies show, make us more depressed and anxious

The Royal Society for Public Health, a charitable organization dedicated to improving our wellbeing, has proof of higher depressive and anxiety scores, poor sleep, low self-esteem and body image concerns with greater social media use. 

The Scurge of Comparisonitis

Woman in front of computer with social media image coming out of laptop
Now we can surf online 24/7 no matter where we are we can all suffer social media envy. Shutterstock

It is what Windy Dryden, one of the UK’s leading cognitive behavioural therapists, named ‘comparisonitis.’ This compulsion to compare our accomplishments to another’s to judge ourselves and determine relative importance is fuelled by social media which, studies show, make us more depressed and anxious. So it’s a vicious self-limiting circle that spills over into every aspect of our lives.

It’s why psychologists and therapists are seeing more and more people with comparisonitis or envy in their consulting rooms. ‘These are people who can’t achieve the lifestyle they want but which they see others have,’ clinical psychologist Rachel Andrew told The Guardian. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, she insists, amplified this ‘deeply disturbing psychological discord.’ 

‘Envy is wanting to destroy what someone else has. Not just wanting it for yourself, but wanting other people not to have it. It’s a deep-rooted issue’

‘I think what social media has done is make everyone accessible for comparison,’ she explains. ‘In the past, people might have just envied their neighbours, but now we can compare ourselves with everyone across the world.’ But because we carry this unrealistic reality around with us in our phones 24 hours a day, and can access it at any time, the emotional force of envy grows exponentially.

‘What I notice is that most of us can intellectualise what we see on social media platforms – we know that these images and narratives that are presented aren’t real, we can talk about it and rationalise it – but on an emotional level, it’s still pushing buttons,’ says Rachel. ‘If those images or narratives tap into what we aspire to, but what we don’t have, then it becomes very powerful.’

And it’s this, some experts argue, that has led to the darker, destructive force of envy: trolling. ‘Envy is wanting to destroy what someone else has. Not just wanting it for yourself, but wanting other people not to have it,’ says Patricia Polledri, psychoanalytic psychotherapist and author of Envy in Everyday Life. ‘It’s a deep-rooted issue, where you are very, very resentful of another person’s wellbeing – whether that be their looks, their position or the car they have. It is silent, destructive, underhand – it is pure malice, pure hatred.’  

Criticising others behind a keyboard is easy to do, but has long-lasting consequences. So we need to learn to manage our envy as social media is here to stay, and unless we decide to step away from the screen, we need ways to scroll without letting the Green Eyed Monster rear its ugly head. Here’s how to conquer your envy with expert tips so you’ll be free to enjoy every aspect of your life without comparing it to other people’s online and in the real world. 

How To Conquer Envy 

Be Inspired Not Transformed

Looking at others for inspiration is not bad – the problem is trying to turn into them. You don’t need to be dramatic and press unfollow. You can still enjoy their posts and aim for a similar goal, within reality. Allow the content to give you a boost somehow, no matter how small. It’s much healthier than indulging in envy.

Psychologist Jennifer Lerner says that one way to avoid envy involves appreciating the collective good. She explains: ‘A writer whose colleague wins a literary prize could focus on the fact that any advance in literature is ultimately an advance for all of us. After all, we all get to read the book!’

Bloom Your Own Flower

A flower doesn’t compare itself to the flower beside it in the garden. It doesn’t try to be taller, prettier or the owner of the most petals. It just is. Your goal isn’t to be better than other people. Just try to be better than you were before. If you’re feeling jealous of other people’s accomplishments, you’re not focused on the right thing. You’re off course. So choose your own path and run your own race along it. 

Go Off Line

Step away from the screen and spend time with new connections or make stronger bonds with old friends. You’ll never connect with a person in real life if you’re envious of who they are or what they have, like you might online. Once you enjoy that person’s company, you’ll find yourself engaged rather than jealous. Find a common ground. Learn something from them, and in return, allow them to learn something from you. Or just have a good laugh about that thing you both find hilarious. 

Talk To Your Younger Self

Write them a letter, even. Tell yourself what you have now and remind them of how much you wanted it back then. Your teenage self was desperate for freedom, a job, a partner, so tell them how it works out. Sure, you might not have everything you desire…yet. But look back at a time when you were insecure and remind yourself of how far you’ve come.

Newsletter signup