Whether we’re single or in a relationship, we can sometimes feel as though we’re not as fulfilled as we expected to be. And when this happens, we then so easily fall into the trap of beating ourselves up through comparison. We imagine that we wouldn’t feel unhappy if we were in the relationship we desire, or we buy into the fantasy that all other couples are living a fairy tale life that we don’t have. Feeling down or frustrated with our current situation becomes an opening for thoughts of not being ‘good enough’ and that we’ve ‘failed’ and, next thing, we’ve hopped on that train of thought and ridden it into a comparison spiral. Each harsh thought leads to more painful feelings; a process which repeats and repeats until those feelings eventually completely overwhelm us.
It’s part of the human condition to sometimes question our lives, to feel unfulfilled and unhappy and to, yes, compare ourselves to others. There’s no light without shade or ups without downs. These add richness, texture and flavour to our lives. In more difficult times, they can help us to come face-to-face with our truth and see that we need to grow or change, even if it’s with gritted teeth. Dissatisfaction can pave the way to greater appreciation for what we do have, and can act as a catalyst for change that leads us towards more nourishing relationships and experiences.
But when we compare, we do need to remember that everything is not always as it seems. There are people who appear to be happy, who some might refer to as the ‘life and soul’, that are going through their own personal pain and struggle. Then there are those couples that break up seemingly out of the blue, sending shockwaves through those that know them. “They seemed so perfect together!”, their friends exclaim. But in fact, they didn’t actually know what was going on behind the scenes.
How to break out of the comparison spiral
Comparison is about estimating aspects of ourselves and our lives against what we think others have, are and do. Although it feels as though we’re judging ourselves, we’re also making a judgement about others too, assuming that things are a certain way in their lives. While we might think that we’re looking to others for inspiration, or because they’re doing things ‘right’, comparison supports the lie that we’re telling ourselves about why we can’t have, be or do whatever ‘right’ looks like. We want our lives to look like theirs, but secretly doubt our worthiness to achieve that. It seems easier to carve at ourselves with comparison than it does to interrogate these feelings.
Looking at life through a slightly different lens can show you that the grass isn’t always greener. A woman got in touch with me because she was single, in her late forties and childless, and her married next-door neighbour, who had kids, was getting on her nerves with her regular complaining. From her perspective, she couldn’t see what her neighbour had to be miserable about and felt that she was being insensitive and ungrateful. To her, this woman basically had the life she wanted. In reality, the perfect lesson was living right next door, showing her that while relationships and children can certainly bring wonderful blessings to our lives, they’re not a magic eraser for life’s problems and they don’t mean that we won’t face struggles and challenges.
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When you find yourself comparing yourself to others, it’s important to remember that you’re not on the same journey as anyone else. We all have our own individual stories, desires, fears, motivations, goals, feelings, beliefs and more. You haven’t been through the exact same experiences in the exact same way with the exact same thoughts and feelings as anyone else. And you also have no idea what lies ahead. Someone’s life can seem fabulous in a snapshot, but they will go through difficulties too.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t want these things; it means you shouldn’t hate yourself or others if you don’t have them. It means that you shouldn’t wait for these things to come into your life before you start living it; you should enjoy what you have now. It’s 100% OK for you to feel disappointed about any un-met desires, but perspective makes a profound difference to how much your life implodes as a result.
We can also use any feelings of disappointment to work out if there’s another, better way to get what we want. Sometimes, for example, we want to experience a feeling that we think a person or thing will give us, more than we want the person or thing itself. Identifying this provides a clue not just about our needs, but also potentially points us in the direction of other people, things and experiences that can engender that same feeling.
Much of our angst in life is caused by the way that we treat and regard ourselves as a result of our perceived inadequacy or failure. But we don’t have to feel this angst when we compare ourselves to others. Comparison can be a cue to become more mindful and compassionately truthful with ourselves. When you ask yourself why you’re comparing or why, for instance, you’re not doing what you know you really need to do, your answer is likely to involve feeling afraid. One of the best things you can do for you is offer yourself an ear and some self-kindness, which will help you to ultimately overcome this fear. You’re not just the sum of your flaws or what you don’t have. Instead of carving away at yourself, use what you think you know about people’s lives to remind yourself that you have your own story to continue writing too – and you can take it in any direction you want.