A few weeks ago, ultimate overachiever Spencer on Pretty Little Liars said, "I have this weird little quirk where I have to be competitive at everything. I even have to win at yoga." Her track record backs her up – she's competed with her older sister Melissa in everything from grades (she copied a history paper word for word) to guys (she stole her sister's fiancé!). The pressure to be the best at everything can be intense, but it can also take a toll on friendships. While Spencer might have the excuse of being tormented by a dangerous, anonymous stalker, we can't all say the same. So, what gives? How does competition ruin friendships and how can you cope?
The Competitive Friend: Sound Familiar?
Remember back in middle school when teachers would remind you to not share your grades with your friends? Not everyone learned that lesson, apparently.
Kate, a junior at the University of Connecticut, knows firsthand how tough it can be to deal with a competitive friend. “I have one friend in particular who always tries to one-up everyone else,” she says.
“It seems like sometimes she just wants to hear gossip so she can assert that she's either better off with her boyfriend, getting better grades or pursuing a more prestigious summer job than I am.”
While it's possible to deal with small doses of competition from time to time when your friend is in a particularly low mood, it can take a toll on an otherwise great friendship over time. “It's gotten to the point now where I censor myself to avoid her one-up attempts – it saddens me that I feel like I can't share everything with her, but the sense of competition that arises from a simple comment really unnerves me. She really is a good friend, but some things are better kept to myself!” Kate said.
It's no fun to feel like you have to keep secrets from friends, but when everything turns into a competition, that might feel like your only option to preserve the friendship.
Psychologist Irene S. Levine, Ph.D, author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Break-Up With Your Best Friend and creator of The Friendship Blog, explains, “It’s natural for people to compare themselves with others. That helps us define who we are in terms of style, ambitions, and personality. However, some people are more competitive than others if they feel deficient or lack self-esteem. In truth, they may measure up along most or a host of dimensions, but they simply don’t feel that way.”
The truth is that we all compete from time to time – but the key to doing it in a productive and manageable way is to keep in mind that competition isn't everything.