When we are children, we compare ourselves to others as a way of discovering “who I am,” using others as references. However, as adults, when we compare ourselves to others, it is usually to evaluate ourselves as “worse than” or “better than” or “equal to” other people.
When we measure ourselves against others, it causes us psychological harm.
Many people spend considerable mental time trying to decide, through comparison with others, who they are, what is important or valuable about themselves, whether or not they are happy. That orientation and reactivity to others, all by itself, is undermining their happiness.
Making comparisons can never bring us to a peaceful state of mind, because there is never an end to the possibilities for comparison.
For example, you may be sitting across from another person at a social gathering. You evaluate him as “quite attractive.” He is articulate.
So your first comparative thought becomes, “I’m not as good-looking as he is and he is more intelligent than I am.” Your discomfort increases. You may even feel anxious and desire to leave. Then you may notice someone who is slovenly dressed and unkempt. Perhaps she is struggling to find the words to express herself. Thinking comparatively, you say to yourself, “Oh, good, I feel more comfortable because I am obviously better looking and more intelligent than that one.” Having reassured yourself that you are better than at least one in the group, your anxiety may diminish.
When we compare ourselves to others, there is always the tendency to evaluate ourselves on the more negative side of the comparison. This reinforces our own self-doubt, our own negative self-image, and perhaps our own self-criticism. When we conclude ourselves to be less significant than others, we behave in ways which invite others to treat us accordingly.
When we compare ourselves to others, the psychological game that is played is called, “Top-Dog, Under-Dog.” We define in our heads who is on top and who is beneath. When playing this game, competition is the underlying dynamic. We compete in our heads with others. When we are enmeshed in mentally competitive relationships, we tend to ignore ourselves, and only define who we are in reaction to others. Our uniqueness is ignored, self-knowledge diminished, and personal experience lost.
When we are in competition with others, there are no winners. In a competitive battle, the winners and losers both lose. The defeated lose their sense of power, lose their self-esteem. When the battle is a war, the defeated often lose their freedom, property, families, and often their own lives.
The victorious lose any love, respect, or good will the defeated may have had. Winners of a war are left with the hatred, fear, or envy of those who have been overcome. Last year’s victors in a championship game become the targets of other teams’ heightened efforts to avenge themselves, or seek more strenuously to defeat them. In the cycle of revenge, it is just a matter of time until the situation turns, and those who have been winners become losers.
When the battle is an inner one, over who is inherently better or worse, who is happier or more deserving, we set ourselves up to lose…lose peace of mind, contentment, or any kind of happiness.
The antidote to the poison of comparing lies in turning our attention within and realizing that we deserve to have our needs met.
We deserve to be happy and fulfilled. We identify our skills at creating a lifestyle based upon our own preferences, our own uniqueness and our own worthiness.
As we grow in confidence in our own ability to create happiness within, we are then able to take delight in the happiness of others, instead of feeling threatened by it through comparison. When we take full responsibility for our own happiness and fulfillment, rather than looking to others to provide it, we no longer need to compare.
Develop the thinking habits oriented to realistic assessment of personal traits, and cherishing those traits and you heal from the affliction of comparative thinking.
About the Author: Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D. is a Life Coach and a licensed psychologist. He has been in independent practice since 1981, specializing in personal and professional coaching and behavioral medicine. For the past 28 years he has written a weekly newspaper column, “Practical Psychology,” (now called “Practical Life Coaching”) which appears in several newspapers. He recently completed co-authoring book, “Total Life Coaching: 50+ Life Lessons, Skills and Techniques to Enhance Your Practice…and Your Life” (W.W. Norton — Jan. 2005) For two years he wrote a “Life Coaching” column for The Coloradoan newspaper. He is a graduate of Coach University and his professional skills include: relationship coaching, student-development, executive mentoring; personal/corporate transformational change; preventative healthcare education; management/leadership training; achievement/success coaching, and teaching adults how they learn and how to create their desired personal and organizational outcomes. Most recently, he has completed a program, “Coaching Life Lessons” for professional coaches and clients to become facile at creating their desired outcomes.