It’s hard not to compare myself with all y’all out there living your best life despite the virus, the wildfires, the earthquakes and flooding, and all the other nasty things that have piled up since the beginning of the year. From the newborn sourdough starters to the books being read to the languages being learned to the viral campaigns being waged, you guys are pretty dang impressive.
But when I look back onto my life at the moment, what do I see?
- Well, I have grown a little bit in the emotional department. Not a huge leap for many of you out there, but when you’ve been repressing feelings for as long as I have, this is a wonderfully scary step in the direction of feeling things other that joy and anger.
- Another part this growing has opened up is the possibility for me to be me. No longer is this frightened tomboy hiding xyr sketchbooks and stories and crafts, trying to be the straightest straight to ever straight; I’m letting my freak flag fly, and I’m putting my created things out there for the entire world to see while being delightfully queer in the process (yeah, those links go to my stuff! that’s on the internet!! for everyone to look at!!!).
- I’ve always been a wallflower, waiting for someone else to initiate first contact in the friendship department, but no more! Breaking out of my hard candy-coated shell, I’m being open and friendly to strangers. Holy Moley, is it scary, but I haven’t had any of the bad experiences that my brain says I will most definitely have if I try to start up a conversation with someone else.
Even though I have made so much progress since this whole quarantine ordeal started, I still can’t help but look at others out there and wish that I was doing things differently. Seeing someone post about all of the soul-searching and self-realization they’ve been doing through meditation on their back porch makes me want to take up meditation again… even if it’s something that’s never come easy for me and drags up all sorts of things I don’t want to deal with. Or maybe it’s someone who used to hate exercise running five miles a day while I’m over here struggling to run even three miles a week… no matter that the schedule I’ve set for myself is full. I want to do better for myself but I can’t seem to do it because [insert overused excuse that really shouldn’t stop me from doing any of this].
Comparing myself to other’s perceived accomplishments only makes me frustrated and angry. It stops me from being me because I’m too busy trying to fit into someone else’s box. It also squashes my motivation, obliterates my ability to rationalize the differences in lifestyles, and completely and utterly ruins my entire mood. But when I find something that I’m better at than someone else, I feel like a badass, and want to help those who can’t do the thing right to do the thing better.
People who actually study this sort of thing explain it so much nicer:
On the surface, downward comparisons may seem harmless, even healthy, but they have several drawbacks. First, to the extent that these comparisons form a basis for self-esteem, it’s a fragile one because they depend on the continued misfortune of others. Downward comparison can also put a strain on our relationships. When we focus too narrowly on others’ negative attributes, we may miss the complete picture of their strengths and successes, which limits our ability to empathize and support them in good times and bad.
Upward comparison can also be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can provide inspiration and hope, motivate us to improve our own situation, and provide useful information about how to overcome an obstacle. It can also give us a self-esteem boost, such as when we bask in the reflected glory of a successful close friend or family member.The Perils of Comparing Ourselves to Others by Juliana Breines, Ph.D. Psychology Today
And really, I’d like to blame all of this on social media (such an easy, massive scapegoat), but in reality it’s my own fucking fault for latching onto my flaws and shortcomings and trying to ram them into a space they weren’t meant for. I do this no matter if I’m on a social media site or reading a book or watching TV. My mind wants to compare itself with the rest of humanity, whether fictionalized or not, and that’s okay as long as I don’t let it get out of hand.
In that same article from Psychology Today, researchers also noted that:
In one analysis, researchers proposed that when we identify with those who are less fortunate and recognize our own vulnerability, downward comparison can increase feelings of compassion and concern for others.
Upward comparison may be less likely to elicit destructive emotions when we remember that even the most successful people struggle in some ways and are just as human and fallible as we are—and that, for all our foibles and shortcomings, we are just as capable of greatness.The Perils of Comparing Ourselves to Others by Juliana Breines, Ph.D. Psychology Today
So what I take away from this site (and several other articles that I perused while writing this post) is that comparison can by okay in terms of what type it is and where my self-esteem level is at. Both can be really beneficial, as long as I don’t overdue it to the extent that I’m binge-buying whatever products the person I’m comparing myself to is using ,and treating myself like garbage after the fact because my thing doesn’t turn out like their thing.
It takes practice to pull yourself out of the hellhole of comparison long enough to really appreciate the things about you that are uniquely you. Flipping the script and finding the good that can come from comparing yourself to others is hard and frustrating at times, but it can be done. I’m not the best at remembering to do it, and it’s so fracking easy to fall into that trap of shining the light on all my own faults. But I’m trying, and that’s better than what I was doing before now.
It would also help if I stopped buying allllll the yarn, but that’s a post for another day.