Avoiding the comparison trap & cultivating female friendships

March 16, 2017 0 Comments

Avoiding the comparison trap & cultivating female friendships

As women we often find that we are doomed to compare ourselves against each other, to tear each other down and to feel jealous of what others have. The media encourages this to a certain extent, with its endless photos of female celebrities either “piling on the pounds” or “too skinny,” with headlines about their having taken on too much with both work and children.

It can start to feel like as women, we just can’t win. Sometimes it can seem that all of us are constantly comparing how we look and what we have against the women around us. We ladies do have a tendency to compete, though perhaps mostly in a covert fashion, where we are constantly trying to do better than the women around us, but without any of us actually saying so out loud.

As well as this, it can often seem like we are all hardwired to search for something to pick at in other women: she’s beautiful and popular, but her house is a mess. She has a great job and great kids but she argues with her husband. She earns loads of money, but she’s overweight so it’s ok; we can still feel equal or better. We do this almost without thinking sometimes but dwelling on these feelings is never a good idea.

When you stop to think about it, that woman who seems like she has everything but is overweight, she knows she’s overweight and she probably doesn’t feel too great about it. We all have things about our lives that are less than ideal, and we all see things we covet in others’ lives. Right now someone is probably looking at your life and wishing theirs could be that good.

Whether it’s a work colleague, a mum at the school gate or your oldest friend, we all feel a little jealousy from time to time. Each of us is striving to be the best we can, and if we can show more compassion towards each other this can only be a good thing. Friendships with other women are incredibly important to our wellbeing. Other women fulfil a role in our lives that a partner or family members don’t.

So how do we do that, and learn to cultivate friendships with other women, rather than falling into the comparison trap?

Commit to not comparing.
Comparison really is the thief of joy; nothing good ever comes of comparing your apples with someone else’s oranges. Try to remember that when we compare ourselves with others, it’s a losing game. Even if you catch up to that person and have what she has, there will always be someone else who has more. It’s hard to do, especially with social media putting other people’s lives literally under our noses, but trying not to compare with others is easier in the long run and will make for a more satisfying life.

Be vulnerable.
Try to catch yourself when you’re comparing your life to someone else’s, and admit to your jealousy. The first thing is to admit to yourself that when you think “how did she get that promotion over me; I’m clearly better” what you are actually feeling is just jealousy. Once you accept that there’s no real injustice in the situation, tell your friend/coworker the truth: “I am so happy for you, but I feel rubbish for myself” If you can show genuine vulnerability with other women they will respond to this.

Remember we are allies, not rivals
With the media often seeming like it’s determined to pit us against each other, it’s important to remember that we are not natural enemies. There is this cultural myth that female friendships are toxic and unpleasant, where we all secretly hate each other. Do you really secretly hate any other women? Or do you just feel a bit intimidated? Remember that we are all on the same side; there are very few people in this world who would legitimately want to gain at your expense, and the woman standing in front of you is probably not one of them.

Accept that one “best friend” probably can’t do the job
When we were in school we had that one “best friend” with whom we spent all of our time, and if you didn’t have a best friend, you felt left out. The thing is that as we grow and mature, our needs and interests become more complex. Having one best friend with whom we do everything is unrealistic and can be damaging to a friendship. Instead of putting all that expectation one just the one person, look at the qualities each individual friend brings to your life. One might be great to go to a yoga class with, while the other is more suited to a night on the town. It’s ok that your yoga friend is not also your drinking buddy.

Remember that a rising tide lifts all boats
If a friend or coworker gets something you had wanted for yourself, it can be upsetting. And you may genuinely think that you deserved it more. But feeling that way will not change anything. Instead, try to remember that women can achieve more when we stick together. Don’t worry; we’re not going to start banging on about “the patriarchy” - but women are still not as equal with men as many of us would like. When one woman gets a promotion or experiences personal success, it helps all of us. Allow your friend’s success to inspire you to greatness rather than make you feel hopeless.

Try to avoid criticism
Criticism is ugly and unnecessary. Yes, if your friend is trying on an outfit and it looks awful, it’s fine to tell her not to wear it to that event. But picking at another woman’s appearance, or any other aspect of her life, says so much more about you than about her. Our brains learn to notice more of what we focus on. So rather than looking for muffin tops and bad hair days, look for beautiful eyes and loving smiles. Find something to appreciate in everyone, and everyone will begin to look better to you.

Be inclusive
Whenever you see someone standing on their own, use it as a chance to get to know them. A great time to do this is at the school gate, but the break room at work is also good. Just make eye contact, smile and say hello. As them how their day has been. Compliment them on something they’re wearing or something you’ve seen them do lately. We can all stand to have more friends, even if they are just casual acquaintances - it’s better to have ten people you can call on for help than just the one. And as your mother used to say, being nice costs nothing.

Remember that shyness can often seem aloof
It is easy to dismiss a woman as aloof or a bitch because she never makes eye contact or talks to you, but try to remember that often behaviour like this is actually caused by shyness. Of course, we are all adults and being shy is not an excuse for rudeness; but a little compassion in these situations can really help. Perhaps that woman is always on her phone because she’s terrified of you. Perhaps you look quite intimidating.

Female friendships are important in our lives. They help us to grow as human beings, and to get through hard times. They also help to break the stereotype of all female friendships being secretly negative or toxic. You don’t need to compare yourself with anyone; you are fine just as you are. Celebrate the women around you… even if you’re sometimes quite jealous of what they have!