Is this you?
A client called me last week really upset. He opened a small business and was at a networking meeting talking with a business associate who is also in the same industry. His associate was naturally happy about the upturn in his company’s sales and like lightning striking, my client began comparing his own fledgling business’s sales with the sales of his associate’s long- standing regional sales company.
Result: A re-energized worry for my client is that he isn’t good enough, successful enough, strong enough, capable enough, driven enough, and never will be. He completely overlooks his courage (it’s a hard business), self-discipline (he saved for five years to start his business), honesty (he keeps all of his commitments), organizational skills (he is one of the best managers of time I have ever met), love of the field, and grace dealing with the practicalities of starting and growing a new business.
Another client, solidly in the later years 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, personal integrity, and the fabulous life he built for himself and his family.
The seemingly innocent act of comparing one’s self with another is a major trigger for a stellar crash in self-esteem. That’s a shame reaction, by the way. 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. And the rub is that most of it is just crap. You rarely remember the good things, focusing on the bad, or difficult…or actual failings.
When you enter the state of comparison-making, your view is distorted. Sometimes disastrously distorted. You quickly grow blind to your own value; you devalue or completely dismiss the real worth you have.
Comparing is Learned
This ugly comparing of ourselves we come by honestly. After all, we are raised in a society that taught us to compare ourselves with everyone around us. In many families parents use comparisons to try to manage and develop the behaviors of their children, usually they think for their own good. “Look at the grades Janet got. You could do as well if you put more effort into it.” Or “Pamela is so pretty and thin. Wouldn’t you like to lose those 20 pounds and look more like her?” And don’t even get me going on social media, where you compare yourself to people you wouldn’t even let in your house.
We are raised in a society that
taught us to compare
ourselves with everyone around us.
Not only parents, but school settings also try to encourage students to do “better” than the others. Peer groups form around those who have more or “better” qualities of this group or that group. Jocks are thought to have more athletic ability; the nerds, more technical and/or intellectual abilities; beauty queens, more beauty and popularity…and on it goes. Just try and change groups.
Then too, there’s the media, showing us how we are supposed to look, what we should think, and be like. Plastic surgeons have had a run on Angelina Jolie lips. Anorexia sufferers plaster the tabloids. Just imagine the number of scalpels in Hollywood!
But here is the real problem; comparisons disconnect us from others.
All the comparisons we make of ourselves with others separate us from the very human connectedness that we all need, and sometimes desperately crave.
When we compare ourselves, concluding that we are less than… whatever, we feel worn-out and depressed. Feeling that way makes you want to withdraw, hide, and get away from everybody so they won’t see you as unlovable or incapable as you see yourself. The human connectedness feels severed. We are alone, self-exiled. And we let it happen to ourselves… we even participate.
When you compare yourself, and conclude that you are better than another, you might feel superior, contemptuous, and dismissive. What is known as a pompous asshole. You probably don’t want connections with people “beneath” you. Again, the thread of human connectedness is sliced. And we are once you’re again alone in your superiority.
Comparing is a Choice and You Can Unlearn It
When you are committed to your own well-being and recognize the harm we do mainly to ourselves by comparisons, you can decide to stop. When you recognize the way you erode your own internal security, you can decide to stop. You just have to take a moment and look around at the life you live and those around you. You can commit to telling yourself something like this:
“I refuse to be so mean to myself (or another). I am just different from _________. I, too, have my own unique value.”
And if you are in the superior mode you can add:
“And they, like me, have their own unique value too.”
When you recognize the way
you erode your
own internal security, you
can decide to stop.
At first it’s going to be a struggle to replace your self-talk with something healthy for you and those around you. Yet with practice, you can end the hurtful comparisons. But you first have to recognize that you are making them. Like you learned about crossing the street:
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.
How are you feeling about yourself?
Schedule some time and we can talk about how things are going.