Killing Yourself by Comparison?

Let’s face it: You’ve been doing it your whole life.  You may be doing it right now, even as you are reading this article, and if you’re not, you probably just finished doing it, or you will do it again in a few minutes.  We all compare ourselves with other people, and it’s a habit worth breaking.From our earliest years, we look to those around us to learn how to act or behave in certain situations.  This is a great learning tool, which allows us to acquire new skills and incorporate ideas through observation rather than direct experience.  Where the car comes off the tracks is when we use these observations to make negative judgments and comparisons with other people.  Most of our earliest experiences with comparisons come from our parents: “Why can’t you be good like your brother?” or teachers, “Johnny is the best student in this class,” and eventually friends, “Sydney is so much better than you.”Comparing two or more physical objects or ideas can help you to make good choices and in many ways the decision making process helps to define who you are.  But can you really compare two people? In most scenarios, people are just too complex for simple comparisons.

Comparisons with other people are especially harmful when they are used in an emotional or creative context.  As a therapist, I often hear people make inappropriate comparisons and I am constantly trying to discourage them.  For example, I recently worked with a painter who was actively making work that made him proud, but was having a hard time finding an audience.  He came into my office and told me about a friend of his, another painter, who had just gotten a solo show and sold several of her pieces: “What’s wrong with me?  Am I that untalented? Is she that much better than me?”

Of course it is never that simple, yet we do it all the time.  You can never really know what another person has been going through.  By using his friend’s success to tear himself down he denigrated both of their accomplishments.

Comparing yourself to others, especially in the creative or emotional realms, is almost always a tool for self-flagellation.  Respecting others’ accomplishments does not require that you dishonor your own.

If you can’t help yourself from looking at what your friend, neighbor, or colleague is doing or has accomplished, keep in mind that there are two ways that you can gain from looking at those near you:

1. Charity.  The main value in looking at your friend’s plate is to ensure that he has enough to eat.  If he does, wish him well, and go on focusing on your goals and life.  If he doesn’t, then share your food with him, it will enrich both of you.

2. Inspiration. By honoring others’ accomplishments with without negative comparisons you let the light that shines on them reflect on you.  Let it inspire you to do great things in your own unique way.

Stop comparing. Start creating.

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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