The Comparison Conundrum

Awhile back, a friend posted on Facebook that an “acquaintance” sent her a photo of an overweight woman with the note; “she looks just like you! I’d love to have you join our weight loss group and will even drop off some free samples of (whatever diet product she was selling) to your home!”  Naturally, offended by the photo of her chubby doppelgänger and the accompanying miracle diet offer, my friend took to social media to air her grievance. She was hurt and offended that this person, 1. Thought she looked like another person who was clearly overweight and, 2. Thought she was being helpful by inviting her to join her weight loss club and buy her products.

She received plenty of support as dozens of Facebook friends rushed to her defense and denied the notion that she needed to lose weight. And rightly so. Anyone raised with any semblance of responsible parenting knows that it’s incredibly rude and inappropriate to criticize, compare or otherwise attempt make someone feel bad about themselves. Even (and maybe even more so) under the guise of “being helpful”.

The responses to her posts offered heartfelt support, ranging from “you’re beautiful just the way you are” to variations of  “want me to beat her up?”  I chimed in with a comment about how no one likes being compared to others and how we all want to feel like we are unique. Funny. Because that was the subject of a talk I gave at a women’s event I participated in (That’s What She Said). And ironic, because it’s a concept I still struggle with.

Telling it like it That’s What She Said, 2016

My talk focused on comparison “the C word”, and how it affects self image. I explained why it’s so hard to measure up to unrealistic standards and shared some of the methods I used to stop comparing myself to others.

One of the conundrums about comparison is that it is so natural to jump to the defense of others when they are wrongly compared (judged) and yet so hard to jump to our own defense when we compare (judge) ourselves.

Most of us would never dream of telling a friend that she is not thin enough or that her home is not clean enough, yet I would venture to say that most women tell themselves those things on a daily basis. We jump to the rescue of a girlfriend who is being too hard on herself while inwardly we tally our own inadequacies.

When I gave my talk about comparison, I shared some of the ways that I attempted to stave off the “C word”;  focusing on appreciating the good things in life no matter how small helped put things into perspective, realizing that everyone has insecurities and that measuring your life by other people’s yardsticks is pointless.

And also, lets be honest, scrolling through social media doesn’t help when feeling bad about yourself. Seeing photos of someone’s Caribbean vacation or their perfect kids accomplishments will only magnify feelings of “not being enough” – so why torment yourself? But these suggestions can come across as simple solutions to a complex question.

Why is it so hard to not compare?

The short answer? Because we are human and we are wired to compare ourselves to other humans. It has a lot to do with our survival instinct and how we evolved. There are a lot of research and articles that back this up (try googling it) but that isn’t to say that we can’t override these instincts. Or at least deflect them.

After all,  “Comparison is the Thief of Joy” – as Teddy Roosevelt so eloquently put it.

Since I gave my talk on comparing, I’ve continued to work on additional ways to derail the comparison train. Maybe they will work for you too.

  • Find and pursue things you excel at. I like to teach exercise classes. I’ve been told I’m good at it. The important thing is, it’s a creative outlet that I enjoy.
  • Spending time doing things you love to do, without caring if others will be impressed. If something brings you joy, that’s the reward! Love pulling weeds? The world needs fewer weeds, so go for it!
  • Don’t feel obligated to excel at things you really don’t care about. For me, its holiday decorating. I’m just not that into it. I admire those who are and don’t compare myself to them…anymore.
  • Remember, no one is good at everything! Let that sink in. No one. Is. Good. At. Everything.
  • Surround yourself with friends who are supportive and inspiring yet don’t bring up feelings of comparison or inadequacy. This can be tricky because some “friends” can be judgemental in seemingly innocent ways.
  • Allow yourself time to just be. No expectations for accomplishing to do lists, impressive projects or even being social. It’s okay to just be.
  • Be as kind and non judgemental to yourself as you are to friends. Let that one sink in a few extra times.
  • Think twice before “comparing” someone to another person, even when intended as a compliment. We all see ourselves as unique individuals and may be offended when compared to someone with attributes we don’t see (or admire) in ourselves (as in the example given a time the beginning of this post).
  • We are all unique and everyone deserves to be celebrated for they are!

Celebrate your own uniqueness and that of those around you!

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