Your mental health is worth it
Tania was constantly comparing herself to others. She looked at their follower numbers and read about how much they were earning. She thought her work was good but looking at the top people she could tell she wasn’t anywhere near as smart or as skilled as they were. Every time she read someone else’s successful post she felt like a complete failure and would come away from it feeling depressed and defeated.
Ranking ourselves against others like this is natural. We can’t avoid it completely, but as society leans further into environments that encourage us to rank each other— wealth lists, social media likes, followers and fans —experts say we are getting out of balance. Ranking has a place in our lives, but its place should be small.
One of the leading researchers in relationship psychology, Elaine Aron talks about ranking in her book The Undervalued Self.
“Almost all of the people you feel bad around are those by whom you feel ranked”
This could be in a small way, or even what looks like a positive way on the surface — such as a friend saying “You’re so much better than me at that!”
It could also be an all-out competition. There is a place for competition and drive. It’s great to fight for a win in sport, work hard to compete for a job, etc. Competitiveness in relationships, however, can be damaging.
“Relationships that are largely about ranking tend to make us more anxious about our worth and far less happy,” says Elaine.
How we rank ourselves
We rank ourselves in many ways and it seems our environment is becoming more and more set up for ranking each other. Whether it's trying to impress people with our appearance, connections, skills, fame, or our wealth, we are in ranking-mode whenever we try to push up our status or respect from those around us.
“In our incredibly competitive society, being average is unacceptable. We have to be special and above average to feel we have any worth at all,” says self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff, PhD.
Some of us perpetually rank ourselves as less than others. We look at how well other writers are going, how beautiful our friends are, how many followers another person has, or how much smarter our siblings are than us, and we decide we fall short.
“This idea that we need to feel better than others to feel good about ourselves leads to some pretty nasty consequences,” says Neff.
Ranking yourself low and comparing yourself to others can lead to feeling defeated, depressed, ashamed, or lacking self-worth.
Even if you rank yourself as high on many scales, trying to maintain that and basing your self-worth on your high ranking is dangerous. Any failures or perceived drops in rank will feel all that much worse. It’s also much harder to make real connections with others because you see them as being below you and respect them less.
Some people with high ranks can find it hard to trust that others really like them for who they are. They worry that people want to connect just to lift their own rank. We all need a genuine connection with others. We need to feel we are liked as we are and not just because we’re rich, famous, successful, beautiful, or in some other way ranking highly.
“If we see life as a series of competitions and comparisons, we are going to suffer more downs than ups,” says Elaine Aron.
The antidote to ranking?
Aron describes it as linking. Linking is making connections with others without any ulterior motive to lift your rank, compare, or compete. It’s genuinely liking other people and knowing they like you. It’s thinking of each other as equals.
“Linking is our innate balance to ranking. We are drawn to others, enjoy them, want to know and help them if we can. Love is simply linking amplified.”
Put simply, if you want to be happier — rank less, link more.