During the flaming pit of extreme heat I like to call ‘Arizona Summer’, I would take my daughter swimming fairly often. She has that kind of terrifying bravery that gives mothers a heart attack as she will throw herself into the water and get mad if you rescue her too fast. She has always been that way, and it helps that she has had plenty of exposure to water and swimming through her short lifespan.
One day we were getting ready to hop in the refreshing pool as another mother and her son were doing the same nearby. He seemed to be about the same age as my daughter, and very weary of the swimming pool. I halfheartedly attempted to put a life jacket on my kid, but it was too late because she was already under water. I got in and we began to play. I heard the other mother say to her son ‘Look at that little girl! She isn’t scared of the water. Why can’t you be like her?’
My heart sank. The look on the boy’s face displayed a wide range of emotion from embarrassment to continued fear of the water. I could see those words echoing in his head, making him feel less as he was compared to my little girl.
When comparisons are made of anyone it creates an atmosphere of ‘who is better?’. It is degrading, hurtful, and just like any kind of comparison, it is not fair. My daughter was born within 4 months of three other babies to some very good friends of mine. Our children were able to grow up together. I found myself looking at the other babies at times and thinking ‘Their baby is already rolling over. That baby is starting to crawl. Why is my child behind?’ The comparison I made to these children was absolutely unfair to my daughter. She is unique, she is special, and honestly, she was months younger than the others and perfectly on track for her developmental milestones. I sadly slipped into the trap of comparing her to others. I realized quickly how unfair I was being to myself and especially to my precious daughter.
Each baby, child, teenager, and adult are unique. Comparing one’s successes to another’s weaknesses is saying that one is better than the other. No one should be subject to feeling like they are not as good as someone else just because they are different.
The dangers of comparisons apply to ourselves as well. How many times have you compared yourself to another? How has it made you feel? During my adolescence, I fell into that trap many times as I compared my physical appearance to those around me. The damage of those comparisons led to eating disorders, depression, and low self-esteem. Looking to others and saying ‘they are better’ began to destroy me. It took too long for me to realize that I was causing myself this misery and pain by believing the comparisons I made. Sadly, I am not the only one who does this.
Did you know that on average, Facebook users spend more time viewing other’s pages than adding content to their own? In her book, ‘The Defining Decade’ Dr. Meg Jay discusses how easily we compare our lives to the fluff we see about others on Facebook and how damaging it can be. It is easy to look on Facebook and think that everyone is getting engaged, or has an amazing job, or traveling, or doing whatever. But very rarely do any of these posts show what is real. Developmental theorist Karen Horney calls it a search for glory when “somehow, we learn more about what is ideal than about what is real”. When viewing yourself in comparison to others, we are focused on that ideal. The ideal is able to help us set goals and motivate ourselves, but can be dangerous when viewed as the only way to be.
Comparisons are negative when they are used to rank. Statements like ‘why can’t you be like her?’ or ‘why can’t you look like that?’ place the victim in a lesser position. Use comparison to motivate yourself to change only when compared to yourself. When the question arises, ‘who is better?’ the answer is to shut the question up and move on to find your own authentic full potential.