Social Comparison: Are You Falling Short?

When Karen’s boyfriend Kurt pushes her buttons, she blows up. He knows that she can’t stand comparison with other women, so he tells her about Mary down at the office and what a great conversationalist she is.

Karen is angry at herself, as if this praise of Mary implied that she was deficient in some way, and that it was her fault for not identifying and correcting this deficiency a long time ago. Her anger at herself spills over and she rages against poor, “innocent” Kurt, who says, “What did I do? I only said that Mary was a great conversationalist.” Kurt may or may not be conscious of the fact that the last twelve outbursts were triggered by comparing Karen unfavorably with other women who are doing something “right.”

In counseling Karen is learning to identify some of her vulnerabilities to Kurt’s provocation. She is learning to say, “It makes me angry when you compare me to Mary.” When he says, “You’re too sensitive,” Karen is ready for his antagonism. She was taught to give these comments all the seriousness and attention they deserve, none. But saying nothing makes her feel like a doormat and lashing out didn’t work either. Karen was learning about the power of choice and choosing a third option.

Instead of being passive or aggressive, she can choose to say, “I don’t know what to tell you”. She has also learned to disengage from his pleas of innocence and denials of hurtful intent. She is learning that she doesn’t have to respond to these absurd remarks. It is not her responsibility to make him understand. Instead, she can say, “I feel hurt, you have a choice and either way there will be a consequence”. And if he persists, she can put on her coat and leave.

Karen is learning that she is not “wrong.” She is merely imperfect. She learned certain lessons about herself a long time ago, and she is unlearning them by making choices for herself in the present. Not only is she disengaging from Kurt’s antagonism, she is also catching herself asking counter-productive questions like, “Why would you say that?” or “What’s the matter with you?” and choosing to stop doing it.

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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