Might only happen in a therapy practice in a small town.
I had a female patient. A mom. Had her kids in a local private school. She had come in to work on abuse from her past. What she hated about herself was how she worked so hard to stay away from painful feelings.
“When I take my kids to school, all I do is wave and say hi to everyone. I have to be right in the thick of things. But it’s not because I am that outgoing. I’m scared others won’t like me.”
“There is this woman who brings her child to school. She quietly walks in. Looks like she’s meditated all morning, she’s so calm. They hold hands and walk to her classroom.”
“I wish I was like that. But not me. I am way too insecure for that. I would be afraid others would think I was snobby or something.”
I had another female patient at the same time. She was struggling with anxiety. Moderate depression. A tendency to isolate.
One day, these were her words.
“When I walk my daughter into school, I am so self-conscious that all I can manage is to cling to her hand, my head down, and get her into her classroom before anyone says anything to me. My heart is racing but I try to hide how nervous I am.”
“There is this woman there. She is so comfortable in her skin. She obviously knows everyone. I am sure her kids are always invited to play. I wish so much I could just say hello to her but I wouldn’t fit in. So I get out of there as quickly as possible.”
I kid you not. I couldn’t tell them they were talking about each other. But I knew.
What we project onto one another can be mind-boggling. We see others as possessing the very attributes we wish we had. And put ourselves down because we don’t. Or it doesn’t come easily. We may never realize that they have their own struggles underneath whatever they display.
So much in our world pulls for comparison. Your work may urge you constantly to perform at the top of your game. May give bonuses to only those that reach a certain level. Neighborhood associations pass out warnings if your yard isn’t groomed well enough. Parent organizations have contests for bigger and fancier contributions.
I baked a pumpkin pie one time for a cake walk at my son’s elementary school. When I saw the other desserts, I gasped. Beautifully decorated, mile-high visions of sweetness. My little ole pie didn’t stand a chance. I asked my son and a couple of his friends to do the walk until they won. Promised Chick Filet if they picked my pie.
Competition isn’t a bad thing. If you win, keep winning in perspective, remain humble, it’s wonderful. Then sometimes you lose. You learn to handle it. Hopefully to keep trying. Or move onto something else if you wish.
Comparison is different. When it is used to find fault with yourself, it is not helpful.
Here are 5 things to consider.
1) We are all on a spectrum. [tweetthis]There is someone, today, that is looking at you. Seeing things in you that are worthy.[/tweetthis] You may never be aware of it. You might want to adopt traits or habits you see in others. Yet you are being admired as well.
2) We can grow, by emulating that which we admire. Just as long as you don’t see yourself as “less than” because you are still learning. If you can compare and learn. Be objective. Use it for good. Fine.
3) Comparison can turn competitive. Sometimes viciously so. That can lead to doing things or saying things that will demean you in the long run. Coveting what someone else has or is? Wanting to take it away from them? Not healthy.
4) Realize that you may not have a clue how others see you. We think folks know our insecurities. Probably not. Folks are, as a whole, too self-conscious to analyze you. They are thinking about themselves. They are likely to project onto you things you would never imagine. Just think how many times you may have laughed with a friend, “When I first met you I thought you were….”. That happens all the time.
5) Admitting your insecurities is a path to decreasing comparison with others and accepting yourself. If you state openly that you are vulnerable in an area, then your own tendency to dislike that trait in yourself will diminish. It’s not that bad that you are shy. Or hesitate to take risks. Talk a lot or avoid conflict. Worry too much or struggle to make goals. Weigh more than you want or don’t feel desirable. If you accept it and want to change, then it’s more possible if you can talk about it.
I still bake pumpkin pie. But I will never be an elaborate dessert maker. I am not patient enough to sift. Measure carefully. All that stuff that true baking entails.
I admire others who can.
And their patience.
I will keep working on my own.
If you enjoyed this post, or know someone who struggles with comparing themselves to others in a negative way, please share! SUBSCRIBE to my website and you will get a free download of my new eBook, “Seven Commandments Of Good Therapy”. It’s a basic guide on evaluating your therapist – to know if you are receiving good therapy – or what questions to ask a potential therapist before beginning. Any questions or comments can be sent directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, thanks for reading!