THE JAWS OF COMPARISON
THE JAWS OF COMPARISON
It is a natural reaction
We all do it. We compare ourselves, what we have (and don’t have), our looks, our achievements (or lack thereof): we compare whatever we can with that of another’s. In fact, we do it so much that it has become a natural and sub-conscious process. I have always recognised that this is the way we are, but I never really gave it THAT much thought until I had my second child.
After my second child was born, the natural reaction and process was comparison. Whenever anyone asks something about the one, it is immediately followed up with a question relating to how this compares with the firstborn. From the moment they are born, their looks are compared to the older sibling or other family members. I think it is also important to add that I don’t think any of these questions are coming from a malicious place, but this does not disguise the comparison that is being cast on them, heard by them and maybe even ingested by them. Again, because it is so engrained in us, I didn’t think too much about it.
Comparison is a dangerous game
Until recently… my older son is now three years old and it is he that has highlighted the danger of comparison to me. I think that because I have never had to defend or worry about anyone other than myself, I never gave it much attention and just relied on the fact that humans will be humans. But now that he is old enough to communicate how he is feeling, it has become so apparent that comparisons, however trivial they may seem, are being heard and are shaping our kids.
Not only are they shaping our children into who they become, they are laying the foundation for their self-worth and self-identity. If they constantly hear that they are the ‘cute one’, ‘sensitive one’, ‘tricky one’, ‘easy-to-please-one’, ‘good one’, ‘not-so-academic-one’, whatever it may be… this is who they will become. If this is what the one is hearing, the other is hearing the opposite of this. Therefore, comparison is such a dangerous game, for us and others. In any game, there must be a loser- so if we are playing the comparison game, someone is going to lose. You hear all too often adults talking about their childhood years and how they were ‘labelled’ in comparison to other siblings and how much it actually hurt, and still hurts, even though they didn’t necessarily show this at the time.
Competitive or comparative
I have noticed a few times that when we say something about our younger son, the older son very quickly chimes in. If we comment on the younger son having done something like finish his food, the older one will quickly say, “I did too.” Or if we tell him that he is a good boy, the older one’s response will be, “So am I”. If we teach him to do something new, he always reminds us that he can also do it and very quickly show us. We call it competitive, but competition can sometimes just be a fancy word for comparison.
So, clearly, we all have this innate desire to compare. Why? It is important that we can reflect on ourselves and evaluate how we are or how well we can do something. The truth is, we can’t REALLY gauge how we are doing, or how well we can do something, without a benchmark. Having a benchmark, requires comparison. Let’s say, for example, you want to learn how to play a guitar. You are going to watch a professional and learn from them by continuously gauging (comparing) where you are at in comparison to them. You will probably feel down on yourself for not being as good as them, and to make yourself feel better- compare your abilities to someone’s that are lesser than yours.
Not only do we look at what we don’t have, but we also look at what we do have in comparison to others. The comparison game works both ways. The unfortunate part is that someone loses in both versions.
Highlight reels and filters
The danger is how seriously we take the comparison. How seriously do we take these differences and what affect do they have on us? Are we comparing things we can change, things within our reach? Are we comparing too often? Today, where we are constantly surrounded by social media, the answer to most of these questions is ugly. We compare EVERYTHING, ALL THE TIME. It is having such a negative effect on people’s self-worth and mental health. We forget that what we see, most of the time, is people’s ‘highlight reels’ and a real life covered in a million filters.
I have been guilty of this during this pandemic and lockdown. Lockdown for my family and I has been TOUGH. I’m not going to go into the reasons for this as I am sure that our reasons are still nothing in comparison to what others are going through. See, there I go again! But watching people on social media has been difficult.
Lockdown has been so different for everyone purely due to where they live, who they live with, the space available to them, their job and financial security, their health… and many other factors. But for so many people, at least in their ‘highlights reel’, it has seemed like a holiday. They have had a stress-free break from work and all of life’s demands and all this extra quality time with their loved ones. Bliss! I found myself constantly comparing my situation to others, to the point that I told my husband that I think I need a break from social media as it was not doing my mental health any good. It was making me jealous and bitter. It was making me ungrateful for who I am and what I have- which I am not.
I am SO grateful for everything I am and for everything that I have and wouldn’t trade my life for anything. But this is the power of social media and these are the dangers of comparison.
The young mind
Comparison is especially dangerous for the younger generation whose minds are still being moulded and lives still being influenced. The end goal is to fit in and to impress peers, which is a non-stop game of comparisons- especially given the world of social media. It is difficult to figure out who you really are when you are simply cloning the ‘guy/girl next-door.’ When off-time would usually be spent on hobbies and self-reflection, it is now spent scrolling social media and looking at all the things you are not and all they things you do not have. The good news is that as we become older and more satisfied with who we are and the life we have built, the comparison game slows down.
Given that comparison is a built-in tool, how do we use it so that it doesn’t become a weapon? How do we make sure that we playing a balanced and fair game of comparisons? EASY! Make the comparison, acknowledge the difference, and CELEBRATE it! Make sure the comparisons you make are relevant and unharmful to both parties. Comparing looks, for example, is not relevant and is only going to be harmful. Especially if you are using a digital ‘model’ as your benchmark. That is a difference that should only be celebrated. We shouldn’t be comparing anything or anyone to be malicious; if this is the case, you’ve lost already. We should only be comparing ourselves for the sake of benchmarking where we are at and using that information to propel growth and self-development.
In this way, comparison can be helpful. The inspiration you feel about someone else’s achievements can motivate you to improve your own life or a skill. Sometimes we also need a confidence-booster, so the recognition that your abilities may be slightly above someone else’s can do this. The danger to all of this is that comparisons can leave you feeling inferior and/or depressed.
When you do choose to use comparison as a self-growth tool, try the following…
- When you do choose to compare yourself, make sure it is a realistic comparison and an achievable outcome so to not disappoint yourself. There is no point in comparing your level of achievement with someone that has been playing chess their whole life and you have only just discovered the game.
- Count your blessings, always. This way, when you do find yourself comparing your life to others, you will remember what you do have and rather than feel bad about yourself, you will feel grateful.
- When measuring yourself, try to do so against yourself by looking back on your past rather than on other people. Acknowledge the road you have travelled and how far you have come.
- Make sure to only dip your toes in the comparison jar and to use it as self-growth fuel and not soul-destroying poison.
- Finally, remember that we were born to be different and that this is what makes the world a beautiful place.