Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Compare and Despair

 It really should be “Compare and make-yourself-feel-like-shit” but I think Jenni Schaefer summarized it a little nicer and in a more public friendly kind of way.

It’s really hard to go through life without comparing ourselves to other people and things around us, but who is it really benefitting? Absolutely no one. Comparing lessens or completely abolishes our accomplishments and even worse, leaves us feeling like we aren’t______( fill-in-the-blank) enough. There will always be someone who does something better/worse than you, has more/less than you and is better/worse off than you but in all honesty what does it matter? 

I used to be a master comparer. In fact I could have a Phd in the subject of compare and put yourself down. Everything I did was compared to what other people were doing or had. I didn’t feel right sharing my cancer story because so many people have had it so much worse. I didn’t feel like my eating disorder was that bad because I wasn’t passing out every day and as thin as others with eating disorders are. I didn’t think that I was doing as well in recovery because I knew people who were further along. I didn’t think I could be considered a good student because I didn’t have a 4.0.I didn’t think I was a decent athlete because I wasn’t headed to the Olympics. And I could continue this list all day long. I constantly compared myself to everything around me and always fell short. I continued to push myself harder but it never felt good enough.

A few years ago (ok maybe like 6) I was taking Calculus 3 with a few friends. This class was the ban of my existence. I have done really well in every other math class that I have taken but for some reason Calculus 3 just went way over my head. I spent all of my free time in the teacher’s office hours, getting all of the help that I could get. At the end of the semester it came down to the final exam and I was told that I needed to get a certain score just to pass the class. I studied my butt off. When the teacher handed back the test I was ecstatic, I had gotten 2 points higher than I had needed. I was pretty much on cloud nine and may have even given my teacher a hug. And then my friend (not trying to be arrogant, at least I am giving her the benefit of the doubt here) came up and showed me her test score. Not only had she gotten 25 out of 25, but she had gotten the 5 point extra credit as well. There went my excitement. I no longer felt good about my grade and instead felt like a failure. As soon as I compared myself to her, who by the way, had done amazing in the class the entire semester, the grade that I received just wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t good enough.

This is just one example of many that I could use to explain how present this has been in my life. Just a few weeks ago I was talking to a friend about our eating disorder recovery experiences and I instantly felt bad about myself. We weren’t sharing stories, we were comparing stories and it wasn’t helpful to either of us. 

I used to compare my body to every women who passed by me. Not only was this harming me, but it also wasn’t fair to them. Some would call it judging and that is because it is. When we compare, we are hurting the other person as well. We are undermining their successes and accomplishments and projecting our insecurities onto them. I was angry at my friend for weeks after she showed me her test score, instead of giving her the congratulations that she deserved. 

We really don’t gain anything by comparing ourselves to others, except maybe some bitterness, resentment and a lot of shame. Accomplishments, standards and even setbacks are all relative. What is painful to someone may not be painful for you or vice versa, but that doesn’t make the pain any less real in either case. Early in my recovery I kept so many of my struggles to myself because I was ashamed of them. I compared myself to someone who didn’t struggle with an eating disorder and was upset with myself that I couldn’t do some of the things that “normal”(as in people who don’t have eating disorders) could do. I have mentioned on here before how going into the grocery store sent me into a full blown panic attack. Yet I wouldn’t tell anyone this or let anyone go with me because I felt this was ridiculous and something that I should just be able to do. During some of my cancer treatments my memory was completely awful thanks to the meds. I simply forgot a lot of everyday tasks that I had been doing my entire life. In the beginning I would get so frustrated with myself because I was comparing myself to my pre-cancer days when my memory was pretty decent. This only made the problem worse.

Open up a magazine or turn on the television and you are bombarded with a certain image. An ideal of how you should look, speak, dress, exercise, work, parent your children etc. But these” ideals” are only harmful to us if we let them be. We get in trouble when we start comparing ourselves and our lives to them. We like to blame the media and other people for our doubts, low self-esteem and lack of self- worth but really we are giving them too much credit. By comparing ourselves to these “standards”, we are setting ourselves up for failure. We are allowing someone else to run/ruin our lives. Take your power back. Next time you find yourself comparing, stop. Appreciate what you have. Be proud of your accomplishments. Acknowledge your pain.  Share your experiences. Listen to others. When you stop comparing, everyone is at the same level. And this is when you will truly feel _____ enough and will be able to understand and connect with others and yourself on a much deeper level.

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