When Anxiety Makes You Compare Yourself to Others
I was standing in a sea of college seniors, moments away from graduating. I gently caressed the pure white tassel on my cap, poised to turn it at any second.
In that moment, I did not worry about how many people were graduating with a higher GPA than mine.
In that moment, I did not convince myself that I did not belong at my own graduation ceremony.
In that moment, I moved on; not just from college, but also from the insecurity my anxiety caused, the perfectionism I used as a faulty coping mechanism for my anxiety and the vicious cycle of anxiety, insecurity and perfectionism that nearly swallowed me whole, convincing me I was not “college material.”
I turned the tassel. I resolved to never again allow myself to believe I am an impostor. I promised myself that I would no longer resort to striving for perfection to cope with the low self-esteem my anxiety caused me.
I turned the tassel. I broke the cycle. The same cycle that, when I was in college, nearly broke me.
From the moment I set foot on my college campus, I never felt as though I belonged. I had struggled with anxiety for years prior to attending college, which gradually chipped away at my self-esteem. When I began college, my anxious mind convinced me that I would be, at most, an average student. I soon resigned myself to the fact that the students surrounding me were more intelligent than I was, and would therefore become far more successful.
Every time I walked into class, I worried that I would reveal myself to be a fraud — less composed, less intelligent and less capable than my classmates. Comparing myself against my peers soon became irresistible.
Her grade in this class is slightly higher than mine, so maybe I should choose a different major.
He always answers correctly in class. He’s going to ace this midterm, and I won’t.
She just seems so… smart. I’m so stupid. I don’t belong here.
I did not understand that the harsh voice that echoed in my mind, comparing me against others and convincing me I would never be good enough, was not my own — it was the voice of my anxiety. It quickly usurped my own voice, my own thoughts and my own beliefs. It was conniving and convinced me that there was one, and only one, way to cope with my anxiety and the insecurity it caused: perfectionism.
I threw myself into my studies, determined to prove, once and for all, that I belonged in college. I belonged in my major. I belonged with my intelligent classmates. Soon, an “A-” was no longer enough to satiate my unquenchable thirst for perfection — I needed an “A.” A widely coveted place on the dean’s list was no longer acceptable — I needed straight A’s every quarter. And as long as a 95 percent on a midterm was not the top grade in the class, it was not enough.
I was never enough.
I presumed that seeking perfection would dispel all of my insecurities and mitigate my anxiety, but I was wrong. My anxiety rose steadily, like a dam about to burst, and my propensity to compare myself against others intensified as I inched closer and closer to graduation.
He received a research grant. A research grant! I’m not smart enough to conduct research.
Grad schools are practically recruiting her. Law schools don’t even know my name.
He’s a shoo-in for “outstanding senior.” I wish it were me, but I sure don’t feel outstanding in this major.
The voice of my anxiety crescendoed to a roar, convincing me I was a failure, warning me that I needed to run away before I exposed myself as a fraud — to leave college forever because I did not belong. As the harsh whispers of my anxiety melded into a shout, constantly pelting my mind with criticism, I nearly obeyed my mind’s taunts, mistaking my anxiety’s voice for my own.
But I refused to listen to my anxiety. At long last, I decided to listen to myself.
I finished college. I earned my degree.
On my graduation day, as I stood in the homogeneous crowd of future college graduates clad in all black, I realized the truth that my near-constant anxiety had attempted to obscure: we are all at this ceremony because we have earned Bachelor’s degrees. I have accomplished just as much as my classmates. I am just as intelligent. I am just as capable. I am not an impostor. I belong here.
In that moment, I vowed to move on from my vicious cycle of anxiety, insecurity and perfectionism — the cycle that nearly broke me.
I turned the tassel. I broke the cycle. At last, I was free.
Your anxiety might wind its way through your mind, lying to you about your capabilities and your worth, convincing you that you are an impostor. It can breed insecurity, tempting you to believe that you will never belong, that you will never be enough. But if you listen to the conniving voice of your anxiety, you could become trapped in a vicious cycle. You might be riddled with insecurity, driven to prove the worth you already possess at any cost. Learn to drown out the voice of your anxiety with your own. Be gentle with yourself. Listen to yourself and you could break the cycle of anxiety, insecurity and perfectionism. You could be free.
You are not an impostor. You belong. You are always enough.
This piece was originally published on Thought Catalog.
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