The other day I was chatting with my daughter about Christmas and what she would like from Santa this year and asked her to come up with a list of things that she wanted or needed (yeah I know the dreaded word!). (Click here to listen to the audio version)
As we chatted and discussed all of her wants and needs, she turned and said to me "mum I can only think of four things, that's not much. All my friends get lots of stuff for Christmas, and I won't be getting anywhere near as much as them."
My heart sank a little, and I almost fell into that rabbit hole of guilt, thinking maybe I should check out what all the other parents are buying their children and add on some extras to make her pile of presents more substantial. Instead, I tried to explain why some people get more than others and why it may appear to her, that compared to others she has less.
After a few minutes of discussion I had an insight, and thought here is an excellent opportunity to teach my youngest about the futility of comparing ourselves to others.
It got me thinking back to all those times in my younger life when I compared what I had, how fortunate I was or how intelligent I was, or how slim or attractive I was to other people and how much it held me back in life. And how now, my understanding is so different, I can see so clearly, how I missed so much joy and happiness in my life because I compared myself to other people. I was so preoccupied with trying to be as good as everyone else, and that made me an earnest, anxious and even depressing person to be around at times. The sheer hard work of striving to be something you are not is exhausting!
Over the years I have worked with many people who find themselves doing this, mostly from habit and unconscious thinking and many from a place insecurity and of not feeling good enough in themselves. Measuring themselves against others caused them so much stress, anxiety, and even depression, that it stole the joy from their lives too.
We all deserve to be happy, don't we? So why do we do this to ourselves?
The trouble with comparing ourselves to others is that it is futile! Because absolutely nobody in this world could ever possibly have the same set of experiences, circumstances, job, life or anything else that makes up your unique personality and life experiences.
In fact, the dictionary says to "compare" is to estimate the "similarity" or "dissimilarity" between two things. So the moment that you start looking at others, yes they might have things going on that are similar to you but mostly what you will find is that we are all uniquely different, and the differences hugely outweigh the similarities. In fact what separates us from each other and makes us so different is the unique way each of us experiences our world in which we each live, and no two minds are the same.
That means that it will almost always be impossible to measure who we are or what we have against someone else.
When you compare yourself to other people, it does one of two things to you; it leaves you either with an over-inflated ego or arrogant sense of who you are (unless you are doing this from a place of compassion and appreciation), which isn't a pleasant attribute. Or it can leave you feeling lacking as a person and often fill you with guilt, low self-esteem and low confidence, anxiety, and depression.
Sadly many of us are not taught the importance of avoiding comparing our selves to others as children. Often what tends to happen is that our parents or caregivers feel guilty (due to their comparisons with others) and do whatever they can to overcompensate for their perceived lack of not being able to provide as a parent in the same way as other parents or caregivers. And so we begin to learn the habit of comparison, and we grow up spending our entire life learning to compare ourselves to other people.
Even those of us with high self-esteem and healthy levels of confidence quickly fall into the trap of comparing yourself to other people, because there is no avoiding that at some stage in your life you will have been taught about comparing yourself to others. Regardless of where you pick this habit up from at some point in your life, comparisons will be made, whether it's with other children in your class at school, siblings, cousins or even co-workers as we enter adulthood. It just seems to be a habit that society has got into as a whole, and has become an acceptable part of the human experience.
It is so damaging to a healthy state of mind, especially in today's society when everybody's lives are available at a click of the button for the world to see who they are, what they have and how lucky they are. That would send even the most confident and self-assured individual into a state of stress and fear if they spent their time looking at the lives of others and comparing themselves with what they see on social media. No wonder we have the highest levels anxiety and depression recorded in history.
Now I am not saying that it isn't right to have role models we can look up to and aspire to model the qualities we see in them, what I am talking about is this unhealthy need to measure our worth and ability against other persons worth and ability.
When we do this all that happens is that it steals our joy and happiness and we forget to enjoy what we have here, right now in front of us. We miss all the special qualities we have and forget to appreciate the talents and gifts that each of us has that are unique to us.
We become too preoccupied with figuring out how to be just like other people, stressing out about how to be perfect, or earn more money or be more successful, or be a good parent. And judge ourselves against what we see outside of ourselves, never taking into account that we are unique, with our own set of unique experiences.
Or worst of all, we hold ourselves back; we don't bother doing things we have always wanted to do because we look outside into the world and see other people doing the things we want to do. We then tell ourselves that compared to us they are more capable, or better or more worthy than us, so we may as well not bother at all.
So we just don't bother. And our life shrinks, we don't grow the potential we all have inside, and we find ourselves experiencing feelings of inadequacy, and it affects our mood, our self-esteem, and self-confidence. Slowly but surely when we live our lives comparing it to other peoples lives it eats away at our happiness, our joy. And for many can lead to anxiety or depression. In the worst case of comparing ourselves to others, it can lead to bitter jealousy, and anger, power struggles and control issues and in some extremes, even hate and violence.
At times throughout my entire life, I have experienced many of these emotions due to a tendency to compare myself to others, and have even been guilty of having moments of comparison that lead to an unhealthy over arrogance about myself (I was much, much younger then!).
My understanding now as I reflect back on my life, is that I can see just how much happiness and joy comparing myself to others stole from me. I now know how important it is to teach my children and the clients I help a much healthier way to view the world. Guiding them not to look at their life from the outside in, but from inside out and how unique everyone is and no matter how similar we all may be, we also have many, many, differences that make how we shape and create our lives in so very different ways to each other.
No matter how much comparing you do of yourself to another person; you will never be able to find a perfect comparison where all things are equal.
Understanding this can help us all to focus on our unique abilities and role in the world and learn to engage in our lives in positive and healthy ways. And for children, it helps them to develop an understanding of what it means to be different, and that these differences should be celebrated and enjoyed and not used against ourselves to make us feel inadequate or worse still, full of our self-importance.
Celebrate your uniqueness, share it with the world and be proud to be you and encourage others to do the same. (Click here to listen to the audio version)
P.S You can also connect with me over at my Private Facebook Coaching Group I am in there most days for support and encouragement.
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Avril Gill, Hypnotherapist Transformational Coach & Hypnotherapy Trainer