13 April, 2011  |   46 Comments

Healing from Painful Comparison

Record Player
One of the bad feelings I work hard to overcome is the familiar pang of envy. It’s hard to not feel less than on this world wide internet.
It’s impossible not to compare.

See, there’s me, with my hand-me-downs, graham cracker spit stained pants and a digital camera from 2004.

It’s funny, the way I turn my jealousy into blasé dismissal.
(Hi coping strategy!)

I dismiss the people I’m jealous of. I don’t take their opinions seriously because, well, obviously they have it so much easier that I do.

I dismiss this person because they live in a town with their parents so they have extra help. I dismiss that person for being well-off. I dismiss that one for having a stay at home wife who raises his kids. I dismiss that one for having such a strong church community behind her and I dismiss that one for having gotten there first.

I envy that one for not having kids and that one for having kids older than mine.
I envy this one for living in a less expensive town and that one for getting to go to all those conferences.

It makes me not take their experiences as authentic because, well, isn’t it so obvious about how much better they have it than me?

Envy makes me sound like a turd.


Thankfully, I’ve been learning to deal with it through all my Artist’s Way work. Jealousy is a very accurate map as to what’s missing. When I pay attention to jealousy, I’m much happier.

So how do I get out of the jealousy trap?
I make a jealousy map.

I fold a piece of paper into three columns and write at the top of the first column, “WHO.” On the top of the second column, I write, “WHY” and on the third column, I write “SO NOW WHAT?”

It might look like this:



So NOW what?

Ariel Lots of professional success, found her niche. Find my niche.
Jenn Crazy entertaining web site that I’d never have enough time for. Make more time for my entertaining web site.
Aubrey Amazing job, regular paycheck, works with celebrities and events. Find a retainer client or part-time job. Outreach to public figures for my own career.

Some of the “So NOW what’s” come off as so simple they may sound flippant. Don’t let them fool you. It’s actually KISS at work.

Now, when I feel that familiar sinking in my stomach that means I can’t ever possibly measure up, I take it as a call to action.
What is this dismissal/jealousy telling me about what I need to do next?

This little exercise has practically dried up most of the painful comparison I do.

But let’s pretend making this list doesn’t help. You just stare at the names and the reasons and seethe that life has dealt you such a shitty hand.

I keep the following things in mind when I feel I’m not measuring up:
Rooster1. It’s all being sold to us.
We can’t sell without a need. The quickest way to create a need is to inspire a fundamental unease with your customers on the inside.

Your breath! It is bad!
Your weight is wrong!
This season’s spring fashions you just can’t be without (lest you are ridiculed)!

I work in marketing. I work with brands on blogs. I get it. But sometimes when exposed to all those images on the internet, it’s too much keep up the psychic strength. They win. They make me feel that I’m not enough without these items.

It’s also hard for bloggers because that’s the language we’ve grown up consuming. It’s the language we know how to speak in. It’s why the majority of bloggers signed up for this, to make a million dollars a year selling things to people. So we’ve got all these blogs selling their fabulously styled and presented lives to you for maximum brand acceptability.

And it’s making us feel terrible.

2. It’s easier to sell/market/talk about NEW products on your blog. Images for and links to new products are much easier to procure to demonstrate your personal taste. Mood boards, giveaways, they’re all for new stuff. New stuff you probably can’t afford. That constant churn for the need for new stuff is exhausting.

Washing Machine

3. Oh! The quote is trite by now, but everyone is having a hard time of it. Every. Single. Person I know is going through something awful right now. They are the only support person for someone who depends on them, they are having relationship issues, they are healing from abuse, they are dealing with the effects of illness, they are struggling financially. Blogs that only show the good part of life are designed to do just that. It’s only about what we choose to reveal. So let those images buoy you, not drag you down. It’s only a tiny slice of our whole, messy, complicated, and YES, difficult lives.

4. At the very least, don’t go to the sites that make you feel worse about yourself.
(But I need to see my competition! But I need to keep up! But! But! But!)
Don’t visit them.
Add them to your hosts file (how to here) so that you can’t visit them even if you want to.
Don’t go until you feel strong and whole down there in your gut about what you really need.

5. Now this is the obvious Oprah answer but it really does work. When feeling particularly useless in the face of envy, I make a big fat list of all the things I “have” that I love. Products, friends, family, pets, experiences. At least 20 but I’m hoping for more like 100. It works. I feel better. I remember the stuff I DO have that I’m not using, and I come up with better (free) ideas for how to show my gratitude.

Spending all this time consuming details about other people’s lives has not been part of our culture. It’s just a theory, but I don’t think we humans are psychologically ready to be so connected to all the humans in the world.

We need a few tricks and a few reminders that we’re pretty cool the way we are.

So, how do you deal with jealousy online?
Or are you above that?
(If so, I envy you.)

46 thoughts on “Healing from Painful Comparison

  1. 1
    Patricia says:

    I just took a 2 week break from a web site because reading about people’s lives and what they have was helping to make me feel like crap. People having babies, getting engaged, falling in love, celebrating their great marriages, their kids’ milestones. Lord. Thankfully I can still feel happiness over the fact that people are happy but that didn’t mean I wanted to be witness to it every day. Because it was all just a reminder of the fact that I do not have those things and I am nowhere close to having those things. So, while working towards those things takes time, there was an easy solution for the moment. And that was not loading that web site. When I do that it makes me feel a little weak because I think that I should be able to handle everything but then I remember that I’m just me and closing my eyes for a few seconds is okay if that’s what I need to do.

    I also make a list of all the things I do have, of the things I’ve accomplished and that helps. It’s a reminder of the fact that when I focus, when I committ myself to something, I can get things done, which is comforting.

  2. 2
    rosie says:

    I feel you, sister. My most yucky envies come immediately after reading house/design blogs like Apartment Therapy. My strategy is to try to turn it into inspiration, which sometimes works.

    For what it’s worth though, I’ve always been envious of YOU…you’re cute, funny, and live in amazing wine country 🙂

  3. 3
    Danielle says:

    The Artist’s Way helped me figure this out, too. I hated feeling so, uh, hateful towards others for having or doing things I felt I was excluded from. I sat down with some friends four years ago, worked through this book, and saw in my morning pages that I was ranting about my job which I hated and people that had no bearing on my life affecting me profoundly. Once you see it on the page, it’s hard to ignore. So I started to change it. I’ve taken that approach over the years if I start feeling envious, jealous or hateful again – write my lists, do my morning pages – and it usually helps put me back on track to focusing on myself.

    I still struggle with feeling like people who have it easy in some way are less valid. I know that’s a shithead thing to say. But when I see people manufacturing problems, it adds an extra sting to my legitimate problems. I don’t know how to change that.

  4. 4
    Amy says:

    This is such a struggle, and one I think people are afraid to openly discuss. When I get too immersed in blog world, I find myself suddenly wanting to do things that aren’t even “Amy”—sew and craft and paint and things that I’m not really even that interested in, simply because I think I “should.” Like you, I try and make a map of those jealousies, and figure out how I can make it happen. The thing that’s so freeing about that is that truth be told, I *could* get there, if I wanted to. I’m in control. On the other hand, I have a small but meaningful life and I try to make peace with that, too. Baby steps.

    Great post—again, LOVING this series. Truly.

  5. 5

    i just pretend they are all either excellent at embellishing or are downright liars.

  6. 6
    whitney says:

    I can’t even express how glad I am that you’re doing this series.

    I struggle with the envy thing a lot. After having a blog for so long and watching other blogs get book deals and things like that after only a year or two, it’s hard not to feel envious. And then I remember, I don’t WANT a book deal! Sometimes I hate that the internet makes me envious of things I didn’t want in the first place.

    I already implement the “don’t go to sites that make you feel bad about yourself” thing, but I’m definitely going to start using some of these other ideas to cope with the envy.

    Thank you!

  7. 7
    Sarah Brown says:

    Mostly I just think, Wow, either the Internet has much better cameras than I do (they do), or the Internet has much less clutter in their house than I do (they do).

  8. 8
    alicetiara says:

    Another great way to block envy-producing websites is LeechBlock, for Firefox (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/leechblock/). I use it to block too-entertaining sites during the work day, but have also used it to block “scab” sites (like, I know it’ll make me anxious/upset to look at so-and-so’s profile/blog, but I pick at the scab anyway). It’s very very useful.

  9. 9
    alison says:

    I try to remind myself of something my therapist said to me once: “Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides.” The inside of my own brain, with all its fears and insecurities and negative thoughts, can never ever measure up fairly to what someone else puts on their blog.

  10. 10
    whoorl says:

    Well, this is just beyond awesome, Helen Jane. I might have to print this one out and keep it at arm’s length because I constantly feel like I’m not measuring up in the blogging community these days. Blah I suck blahhhhhh. 😉

  11. 11
    jiff says:

    Just remember this, for every enviable thing that someone puts on their site, they are probably NOT writing about 3 non-enviable things: they may have just had a huge personal or professional success, get to go to the conference, have people swoon over their cute apartment/outfit/fianc

  12. 12
    Angella says:

    What Whoorl said. I needed to hear this, HJ.

  13. 13
    Ris says:

    This was so immensely helpful to read–both the post and the comments. Amen to both, and thank you.

  14. 14
    amanda says:

    This is such a great post. I think it is always good to get the reminder that we are being “presented” to – that what we consider to be someone’s “real” life may not be so – that it’s shined up for our consumption.

  15. 15
    kate says:

    Funny story: I found you via Maggie at Mighty Girl today. I recently came back to Maggie’s site after taking a long break; I just couldn’t stand reading about her PERFECT life: her personal and professional success! A wonderful husband who, you know, surprises her with a red Karmann Ghia! Darling vintage wardrobe! Curly red hair! Book deals! Artsy/fabulous life in SF! Weekend trips to Napa with friends like Dooce! And most irritating of all: her life list being subsidized by a large international corporation…AARRGGHHHH! I couldn’t take it any more!

    And then one day I stopped by Mighty Girl again and got sucked right back in by her beautiful spririt, her ability to laugh at herself, her joie de vivre….and then I learned that her life is not in fact perfect: it’s just that she has the grace and ability to focus on the positive. Wow. Epiphany!

    So I guess in answer to your question, I remind myself that every single person, including famous bloggers, has something they are struggling with, whether it’s finances or weight or health or relationships or whatever. We are all just doing our best to find peace and happiness and beauty in our lives.

  16. 16
    Franca Bolla says:

    Alison, I like what your therapist had to say. Very succinct. And, so true. This issue has become quite the topic on therapy couches across the World Wide Web.

  17. 17
    sugarleg says:

    ummm. what you said. cannot articulate anything more than a “thank you” right now. and I will be busting my Artist’s Way back out stat. happy to meet you Helen Jane, happy to be here.

  18. 18
    Willo says:

    Thank you for writing the post I’ve been meaning to write for the last few months! You are awesome, woman, and all my envy & jealousy of your awesomeness isn’t bad at all… it’s like flower petals to your door and big bear hugs & high fives. Thanks for continually sharing your wisdom and light. Love you x a billion! xo

  19. 19
    Angel says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for speaking this truth. Your site is one I would never consider blocking, it’s beautiful and inspiring and funny and real and so are you.

  20. 20
    Amanda says:

    Nailed it.

    Kind of like mean girls in elementary school (not calling successful people mean) but it comes down to how they make you feel.

    It’s unfair that wisdom is so much easier to write than practice. Sigh.

  21. 21

    Thank you for putting this out there, HJ. No matter HOW genuinely happy we are for friends’ and colleagues’ successes, it’s so hard not to wonder if we’re doing “well enough.” No matter how we measure it.

    What such a strangely transparent-yet-not environment we work in. Alison’s “insides compared to outsides” sums it up perfectly.

    I’m giving a lot of thought to my own standards of success right now…what are they and why? It’s slowly coming into focus. As I better understand my own goals, I need to chart the “how,” but I also want to talk about my goals with confidence and clarity.

    We’re masters of storytelling…we owe it to ourselves to create our own stories of blog “success.”

  22. 22

    Your “Who/Why/so NOW what?” exercise is brilliant.

    I did it on the plane yesterday, and I found that the “Who” part was painful, the “Why” part was enlightening, and the “so NOW what?” was absolutely terrifying. So now I have to do it, of course.

    Thank you for this series. I need it more than you can imagine.

  23. 23
    maile says:

    I can so relate. Love this. And you.

  24. 24
    gillian says:

    i can’t say anything that hasn’t been said. thank you for this.
    kate: i did exactly the same thing.

  25. 25
    Mir says:

    I want a “love” button on this post.

  26. 26

    […] How to stop comparing yourself to everyone else. I especially love the idea of compiling a list of things you have and love. […]

  27. 27
    Alisa says:

    Helen, I felt pretty jealous of your blog when I first saw it. Oddly, despite my initial pangs of envy, I felt I was actually learning something and gaining a relevant, fresh perspective on the subject as I read this post. It’s nice to see someone who, like me, struggles with such feelings from time to time. What’s refreshing is that you are willing to address such emotions and share with your readers how you, personally, work through them.

  28. 28

    […] Alisa:  Helen, I felt pretty jealous o […]

  29. 29

    […] of old, but I only just encountered it this week: Helen Jane reminds us to STOP negatively comparing ourselves to others (I know I do it. It’s easy in the PF world. And the fitness world. And the […]

  30. 30
    Angela says:

    Thanks for this great post! Although it’s often hard to admit, I think we are all comparing ourselves to someone else. And it’s easy to think that person has a life much easier than our own. I love your recommendation of the “so now what.” It’s a very positive thing to do with energy that could otherwise turn pretty self-destructive.

  31. 31

    How refreshing, thanks for sharing. Envy and jealously stem from different thoughts. If I’m envying someone it is a wake-up call to me to see what else I can do to make my life happier. It has to do with me and not the other person. The other person is living by what makes them happy? No? It’s about getting to know yourself better and what makes YOU happy.

    Jealousy, on the other hand, can be detrimental. I find myself comparing but do I have this other person’s life, what if they are going through something difficult and hard. Do I really want to be like them? Probably not. Again, it is reminding yourself that you have your own strengths, weaknesses, and accepting them. Is that enough? Only you can answer that.

  32. 32

    […] Posted on November 5, 2011Filed Under interestingly | Leave a Comment via helenjane.com […]

  33. 33
    Sarah C. Brown says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I’m printing it off and keeping it next to my computer.

  34. 34

    […] Helen Jane Hearn showed us how to use online jealousy as a tool to get what we want. […]

  35. 35
    jive turkey says:

    Your jealousy map may be the most brilliant solution I have ever seen when it comes to turning something destructive into something constructive. I almost can’t wait until the next time I’m consumed with jealousy from ogling someone’s carefully-presented online life to try it out. Heh.

  36. 36

    […] might like this related post, too, in which Helen Jane delves more deeply into using Julia Cameron’s “Jealousy […]

  37. 37

    This is brilliant & beautiful + something I think we can’t dive into and explore enough. Envy thrives on the silence in our own minds, once we pull it into the light it loses so much of its power over us so we can see it for what it is. One thing that always works for me when I hear my mean girl putting me down or comparing me to others is remembering that I don’t know what anyone else is going through. I don’t know what they may be struggling with or what demons they do battle with when no one is looking. So when I feel myself allowing that sneaky envy into my mental space I step back and try to remember that I only know my own story. It might not be all unicorns and cupcakes but it is mine and that is enough:)

  38. 38

    […] jealousy didn’t last long. I am no Egan. I am cool with that. But I can use my jealousy as Julia Cameron suggests in The Artist’s Way, as a divining rod. To focus even tighter on what I want from this crazy […]

  39. 39
    theStylistQuo says:

    This is so excellent and real. I struggle with the same exact things, thinking, “Oh, clearly I could never be as instantly successful as X, because, I mean, did you see her first post? I can’t afford two pairs of Louboutins in ONE POST, therefore, I am roughing it.”, or if I happy to run across Wayne Gretzsky’s daughter’s Instagram, I think, “Well, I just give up.” Or, on a particularly feisty day, “Well, she has nothing else to do but work out and get a boob job (they ALWAYS have boob jobs, when I’m jealous), and she’s probably dumb as a rock, and looks fade anyway so HA!”

    I LOVE your jealousy map. It’s one of those things that might seem so elementary we dismiss it, but it’s so perfect because it’s elementary.. it gets down to our emotions, which are so basic that they don’t always stand to reason. Working it out from the bottom up is an excellent way of going about it. Yours is a blog I will not be avoiding from jealousy, but embracing from admiration. Bookmarking this page, for when that damn blonde girl shows up on my Instagram.

    Thank you for not being frivolous.

  40. 40

    This is funny, applicable and poignant for me today, as I am getting ready for a podcast about this exact subject and was feeling so vulnerable. Thanks to you and Claudine Hellmuth for paving the way, I feel much easier about this conversation now. Will return!

  41. 41

    […] struggle from this a lot! Loved this post about envy and how to heal from […]

  42. 42
    alicejane011 says:

    This was such a great post! I struggle with it a lot, like “I can’t write as well as Blogger X so why am I trying?”. However, I really do think that making a chart like you did will work because it serves as motivation to always try harder.

    Thanks so much for this post! Also, I love the illustrations!

  43. 43

    […] talk about the crippling effects of online jealousy a lot because I think it’s something we all wrestle […]

  44. 44

    So much truth in this post! Found you via Joy the Baker one of my favorite dessert bloggers. We all deal with envy and have to find a way to put it aside. When I see someone else doing well, I try to turn my focus back to my goals and what I want out of my blog/business. When I focus on the life that I want to live, my attitude immediately gets better!

  45. 45
    Sandra says:

    Sometimes I just have to step away from Houzz for this very reason!

  46. 46

    […] peep has something to say about blog envy so don’t forget to visit Helen Jane’s ‘Healing from Painful Comparison‘ which started the discussion on Sister Diane Google Plus’ […]

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