How many times have you asked yourself, “Am I as pretty as _______?” “As successful as _______?” “As smart as _______?” “As thin as _______?” “As good as _________, or ________ or ________?” Blah, blah, blah …
Boy do I get it! I have spent a lifetime comparing myself to others and judging my worth by how I thought I stacked up. I’d either gain a little boost by feeling smugly superior or sink a little lower from judging that other person to be a little better, or more than me.
In this culture we’re trained to do it. Our consumerist, advertisement-soaked society begs and baits us to compare and to find ourselves and our lives lacking so that we will buy, buy, buy things to make it better.
And here’s the really crazy thing — most of the time in this edited, photo-shopped, airbrushed world we’re not even comparing ourselves to real people. We are comparing ourselves to illusions! What could be more damaging to our sense of worth?
In addition to the mass media pressure, many of us were trained as kids to compare. I remember feeling sad and scared but also proud when my dad tore into my little brother because he, “Wasn’t as tough” as I was. He yelled, “Your sister should have been the boy you little wimp!” I also remember feeling cut to the bone when Dad told me the neighbor girl had a much better figure than I did. For a while I took care of that by getting skinnier through an eating disorder and extreme exercise addiction.
I tried to overcome the not-enoughness by working my butt off, in my education, my career, at the gym, even in my spiritual discipline. I drove and strove to achieve success as it’s defined by our shallow culture – physical beauty, wealth, fame, being better than others.
My comparison addiction wasn’t conscious. I didn’t realize I was doing it until I went through a spectacular, public “fall from grace.” In the horrible aftermath of having so much of my life shatter many things have come clear. Getting a better handle on the damage we do to ourselves through comparison is one of the most recent. I was shocked when I realized how much this had affected my life, my peace and my relationships – especially with myself. It might not have been conscious but it was frickin’ exhausting!
The need to feel significant, important, valuable is a universal human need. And yet, as Brene Brown points out in her wonderful book, The Gifts of Imperfection, our culture usually measures a person’s value and contribution by their level of public recognition – in other words fame and fortune. It undervalues the contributions we make as ordinary, hard-working women and men. It basically deems ordinary people meaningless. This of course makes the urge to compare ourselves to the idealized illusions all the stronger and the outcome all the more disappointing.
Being loved is another universal human need. These two strong needs, the need to be loved and feel valuable, are the biggest driving forces behind our tendency to compare ourselves to others. They’re also the driving forces behind bullying.
As a result of my recent experiences I’ve been researching, writing and speaking about the phenomenon of bullying and public shaming that is so rampant in our culture. Research, and I would add, common sense, suggests that one of the biggest drivers of bullying is insecurity. We’re most likely to rip others down when we’re feeling inferior or jealous. I know this because, although I don’t like to admit it, I sometimes feel it in myself. I’ve never actually bullied anyone or spread nastiness on social media but I’ve felt that little surge of glee when a “big shot” gets “taken down a few notches”. The uncomfortable truth is when I feel that way it’s because I’m feeling inferior and jealous.
So, to all of you out there who have been or are being bullied, please understand, it’s really not even about you — it’s the terrible insecurity in the attackers. And to those who might feel that bullying, criticizing urge, stop a moment, look inside and find out why you’re judging yourself so harshly. What pain and insecurity are you carrying that makes you think you’ll feel more worthy by tearing someone else down? Getting honest about that will transform your life and our world.
So for me, I’m now doing my best, very intentionally, not to compare and recognize that those sparkly, air-brushed two-dimensional illusions don’t hold a candle to my own, gritty, beautiful Self.
I sincerely hope that this little post will help you remember that you are genuinely unique, and truly, beautifully incomparable. As are we all.
P.S. Resources to help us move Beyond Bullying can be found here.
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