comparison is the theif of joy

The Comparison Game: An Invitation to Self-Compassion

December 30, 2020

comparison

[kəmˈperəsən]

NOUN

1. a consideration or estimate of the similarities or dissimilarities between two things or people.

 

That word, comparison, seems innocent enough. However, when you think about it, it really packs a punch especially when it comes to, well…everything. Often, we are inundated with societal pressures and meeting other people’s expectations. What we expect of ourselves is impacted by others’ views, opinions, and recommendations so much that we may change our own course to satisfy other people rather than staying true to the original purpose of what we are trying to accomplish.

Full disclosure: Becoming a new mom has brought a whole new meaning to the word “comparison”. So many questions, so much advice, and so little time. People usually mean well when they ask what seems to be an innocent question followed up by what they most likely think is helpful advice. What happens next? I start to spin stories in my head riddled with words like, “should” and “why not” and “what’s wrong”.

Justin Sebastian wrote the following:

Comparison provided a valuable source of motivation and growth for our ancestors. However, in the modern world the balances have flipped. Often, comparison puts us into a tail-chasing frenzy of self-doubt. The software that once provided a survival advantage has now become a bug that destroys our peace of mind.”

Sebastian adds how we are likely to believe the stories we tell ourselves.

“The narrative part of the brain takes everything we perceive and turns it into a story that makes sense.” Unfortunately, the stories we tell ourselves are not always accurate. Despite their inaccuracies, they greatly impact our mood, behavior, and outlook.

If this is something that you are experiencing, you may be wondering what you can do about it? A good place to start is to give yourself permission to feel your feelings, whatever they may be, and begin to gently challenge the story you are telling yourself.

Cognitive Processing Therapy is a specific type of cognitive behavioral therapy that helps people learn how to modify and challenge unhelpful beliefs. The techniques taught within this framework typically focus on trauma-related thoughts; however, can be helpful for a variety of inaccurate thoughts. Ask yourself, “Is my thought realistic? Is it helpful?” Often, the answer to both of those questions is “no”. If that is the case, try to come up with an alternative thought to modify maladaptive thinking. With practice, this skill of identifying more accurate and helpful thoughts can become a habit rather than falling into the pattern of ruminating on automatic, problematic thoughts.

Everyone has a set of values by which they live. As we grow, the values that we learned from our families of origin may stay the same, may shift slightly or even change completely. When someone attempts to assert their values onto you, you may feel pressured to comply so much in fact that you have a physiological reaction. Experiencing increased heart rate, sweating, and racing thoughts are some of the symptoms that come to mind when I hear the words, “You should…”. Here is where reflecting on what is important to you may help. Remaining true to your own values can help inform your decisions rather than succumbing to what other people think you should be doing. This is often a process and involves learning to move out of a “stuck pattern” of comparisons and into cultivating a sense of internal acceptance and doing what works for you.

A colleague recently turned me on to Dr. Kristin Neff, a leading expert on self-compassion. Dr. Neff states that, Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself.” And “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?” Dr. Neff clarifies that “Self-Compassion is not self-pity…having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness.”

Find more on Dr. Neff’s website at www.self-compassion.org.

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