Am I being seen? Am I being recognized? Am I good enough? These are just three questions that come into play when we start to compare ourselves to those around us. Questions that can leave us feeling anxious, depressed, or otherwise absolutely miserable. As part of my winter tide introspection, I am tackling my own hangups regarding social comparisons and the ill-effect they have on my mental health and my personal practice as a Witch. Because if there is one surefire way to buzz-kill your Craft, it’s to start comparing yourself to others.
First, it must be said that comparison is an inherent human trait and in many ways it can be helpful. For example, I can compare which route will help me get to work faster. I can compare which sweater will offer me the most comfort. And when it comes to personal goals, I can compare where I am to where I started and where it is that I’d like to go. In other words, comparison can help increase positive growth.
However, it becomes dangerous when we compare ourselves to others, specifically when we start to attach judgement to those comparisons. In the world of psychology, we call this social comparison theory – when we compare ourselves to others in order to determine success (whatever that success may be). As such, there are two kinds of social comparisons, an upwards type and a downwards type. When we make an upwards social comparison, we are comparing ourselves to those we consider more successful than ourselves. Likewise, when making a downward social comparison we are comparing ourselves to those we consider less successful. Both types of comparisons have their pros and their cons – and much of this has to do with our mindset. For the purpose of this article, I’d like to focus specifically on upward social comparisons as it is with this type that I’ve been experiencing the most difficulty.
When comparing myself to someone who is more successful than I am, I am faced with two options. On one hand I can look towards that person as a source of inspiration, determining what steps they took to get where they are and if I can apply those steps in a way that fits within the context of my life. Or, I can berate myself for not being as successful as that person – essentially lowering my feelings of self-esteem by telling myself that I am not good enough. Not a good look, yikes.
Within the world of Witchcraft, I have both personal experienced these social comparisons and witnessed them being made by other practitioners. Typical comparisons are in regards to practice and discipline. For example, I know that Hannah the High Priestess meditates every morning for half an hour. Why can’t I have that kind of discipline? I must not be a very good Witch. I’ve experienced this quite a lot, comparing my daily practice (or at times lack thereof) to the daily practice of other Witches. In doing so I have a tendency to feel like a much less adequate practitioner – like I am somehow failing at my Craft. Additionally, I have seen many Witches making comparisons to others based on aesthetics – essentially posing the question of whether I look “Witchy enough.” This may sound silly, but it’s true nonetheless that we live in a world that is highly driven by aesthetics. This extends to both the clothes we wear and the way our altars and spellwork look. It is widely acknowledged that there is no “one way” for a Witch to practice – or how to look for that matter. Yet, by nature, our minds are primed to look at the negative. We look to others and then find ourselves feeling that we are somehow lacking. So how can we go about empowering ourselves and nurturing our Craft in the face of these upward social comparisons? In my experience, I have found that there are three helpful strategies for keeping myself in check…
Expressing Gratitude – Take stock of what you have and what you have accomplished. When we make upward social comparisons we often minimize our own successes. In order to combat this, try mindfully reflecting on your strengths and the path that you are on. What makes your Craft special? What inspires you as Witch? Express gratitude for these things, whatever they may be, by either writing or verbalizing “I am grateful for…” Not only will this help to boost your own sense of happiness but also magically increase your receptivity to good fortune and blessings. When we embrace the positives in our lives, we naturally attract and manifest more of the same. Some people may scoff at this sentiment, but it’s a magical fact that we are more likely to get what we give. If I spend all my time focused on what I don’t have, then my own negativity – on both a magical and psychological level – will block out the current positives and repel future ones.
Challenging Negativity – When you find yourself making upward social comparisons, ask yourself why? What is your mindset or motivation? Is it because you admire that person or because they inspire you? Or is it because you feel less than or jealous of them? It’s okay if it’s the latter! But ask yourself, is this person’s success directly impacting my own? Are their accomplishments actually taking away from my own happiness? The answer, in almost all cases, is no. More often than not, how someone else is practicing Witchcraft should have absolutely no bearing on your own Craft – unless you let it. So, when I’m feeling jealous about someone else’s success, instead of allowing it to bog down my mental health and my Craft, I gently remind myself that their success does not take away from my own. In terms of the psycho-magical, I will banish negative thoughts/emotions by simply wishing said person well – saying aloud or in my mind “Good for them!” This can be very difficult to do depending upon the person and the circumstances, but the more you practice the easier it becomes to release yourself from the negativity of upward social comparisons.
Defining Success – You may have noticed at this point that much of these social comparisons hinge on the idea of “success.” But what does success look like? There is no one set definition for success, no one way of experiencing it. For one person, success might mean having lots of money, while for someone else it means having a happy home. In terms of Witchcraft, one practitioner might view success as performing many spells and rituals in a given time period while another might view success as simply feeling an inherent connection to the earth. I like to ask myself if the comparison I’m making – and the negative thoughts/feelings resulting – are a result of trying to apply myself to someone else’s idea of success. Does that definition align with my own? What does success look like for myself and for my Craft? In a psycho-magical sense, this is a form of intention setting, just as you would do for any other type of spell. You are setting the parameters of what it is you’d like to manifest.
When applying these three strategies to your life and to your Craft, remember to be gentle with yourself. We are hardwired to make comparisons, so don’t get down on yourself when those comparisons arise. Instead, approach those comparisons with kindness.The key is not to see ourselves as lacking or no good, but instead to see ourselves as ever-changing beings who are each walking individual paths. Remember your strengths. Remember your magic.