Typical scenarios- do you recognize yourself?
A client called me today in despair. She's opened a small dress store and was at a networking meeting talking with a business associate, who is also in the retail industry. Her associate was happy about the upturn in her company's sales and my client began comparing her own fledgling shop's receipts with the sales of her associate's long standing national company. Result: A revived worry for my client that she is not good enough, successful enough, strong enough, capable enough, driven enough- and never will be. She overlooks her courage, self discipline, honesty, organizational skills, love of women, and aesthetic sense.
Another client, nearing the end of his life, compares himself now with how he was when he was 30 years younger. Result: despair. He completely overlooks his brilliance, generosity, artistic talent, sense of humor and integrity.
The activity of comparing one's self with others is a major trigger for a plummet in self esteem, a shame reaction. Shame fills the gap between what- ideally- we would like to be, do and have, and what we see ourselves as actually being, doing, and having. The bigger the gap, the greater the pain.
The trouble is that when we enter the state of comparison-making, our seeing is distorted. We become blind to our own value, while devaluing or dismissing the real worth we have.
Comparing is learned
This comparing of ourselves, we come by honestly. After all, we are raised in a society that teaches us to compare ourselves with others. In many families parents use comparisons to try to control the behaviors of the children. "Look at the grades Johnny got. You could do as well if you put more effort into it." Or "Josie is so pretty and thin. Wouldn't you like to lose those 20 pounds?"
Not only parents, but school settings try to encourage students to do "better than" others. Peer groups form around those who have more or "better" qualities of the group. Jocks are thought to have more athletic ability; the Nerds, more technical and/or intellectual abilities, Beauty Queens, more beauty and popularity.
Then too, there's the media showing us how we are to look, what we should think, and be like. Plastic surgeons have had a run on Angelina Jolie lips. Anorexia sufferers plaster the tabloids.
Comparisons disconnect us from others
All the comparisons we make of ourselves with others separate us from human connectedness-which we all need, and sometimes crave.
If we compare ourselves and conclude that we are less than, we feel depleted and depressed and then we want to withdraw, hide, get away from others so they won't see us as unlovable or incapable as we see ourselves. The human connectedness feels severed. We are alone, self-exiled.
If we compare ourselves and conclude that we are better than the other, we may feel superior, contemptuous, and dismissive. We may not want a connection with someone so beneath us. Again the cord of human connectedness feels sliced. And we are once again alone in our superiority.
But comparing is a choice and can be unlearned
When we are committed to our own well being, and recognize the harm we do to ourselves by comparisons, the way we can erode our internal security, we can decide to stop.
We can commit to telling ourselves something like, "I refuse to be so mean to myself (or the other). I am merely different from ____. I have my own unique value." And if you are in the superior mode you can add, "And they have their own unique value too."
At first it may be a struggle to replace your self talk. But with practice, often the hurtful comparisons will stop as soon as you recognize that you are making them.
If YOU have found ways to stop comparing yourself with others, I'd love to hear what you did. I'm always looking for ways to help people with this issue.