Monday, September 28, 2015

The burden of comparing

It was a hot and humid day, but this little girl wasn't bothered by it. She was determined. In third grade, braided pony tail, and sneakers, she was ready for the challenge. The game on the playground was cops and robbers. More so, it was
a chance for the boys to catch the girls and the girls to run and scream and hope that the boy she liked tagged her. But this girl, she wasn't going to succumb to this "boys are faster than girls" game. She was gonna beat them at their game. If they were fast, she was going to be faster, because she wanted to be the best. In the classroom, she worked hard to create the best art projects, read the most books, and achieve the highest grades. Much of it was because she wanted to make her family proud. But more so than that,  it was due to the burden she carried...the burden of comparing. When she did well, she received more attention. And although shy about it, it made her feel valued and good inside. Even in moments of sincere joy for the success of others, she still carried the burden of comparing her inadequacies. Not knowing how to properly deal with it, she continued to carry it. She carried it into her teen years, college years, and adult life. Although she tried to do her best, both in success and failure, she always found a reason for comparing herself. And when there was no real person to compare herself to, she created a person... her perception of someone better.

This girl happens to be me, but I'm sure you already guessed that. The truth is, I often tell myself, "Stop comparing yourself" or "God made you for a unique purpose." But these thoughts hold little weight to the load of negative thoughts that have been built up through the years. The thing is, I know I'm not the only one who struggles with it. But maybe my struggle is worse...but to say that would then again be comparing myself.

Some have blamed social media as a reason for this "increasing problem." They say pictures hide the complete reality and force false perceptions to be created. I know there is some truth to this, because I am guilty for doing it and I am guilty for believing that the one perspective I am seeing means x,y, and z, when I really have no idea what lies outside that square frame. And as much as images can tell great stories, they don't always tell the full story. We just see a person who would win best dressed every day, looks the perfect skinny, has a home that could be published in Better Homes, has a marriage without conflict, travels to Europe every holiday, and has a big aspect of what we think "the romantic life" or "the happier life" is like. But I don't think we can blame social media or any media for this problem, because then we would just be using it as an excuse or a scapegoat from really dealing with our inner thoughts.

I've learned that the more time I spend comparing myself, the more I miss out on living the life that was given to me. And the more I compare myself, the more I try to make my life become like someone else's. Of course it doesn't mean I should ignore the lives of others. I find I learn a lot and am positively influenced when reading about the lives of others. But I mean that there should be self-awareness that provides us with boundaries so we can protect our heart.

To be honest, there is a part of me that believes there is some good to comparing. Sometimes it does challenge us to work harder, shows us where we need to grow, or normalizes things. So more than comparing, I think the problem lies in two areas: (1) how we value ourself when we begin down the road of comparing and (2) how we think about those we are comparing ourselves to.

If we don't choose to value ourselves and respect ourselves, we make others miss out on knowing who we are and we prevent ourselves from positive growth. It can rob us of our joy and cause us to be sad or disappointed, which limits our ability to serve and love others fully. It can also cause us to reject the authentic love and care that others may have for us. Secondly, when our comparing results in us thinking ill thoughts about others, we wrong those who may also struggle with comparing. In addition, we misjudge them or wrongfully judge them as we try to find some fault in them to make ourselves feel better. But responding in this way only creates unhealthy barriers and limits us from caring and respecting them from a pure heart.

So I can't say I've found "the remedy" to this dilemma. But I have found that it does help when I examine my heart and its intentions. It also helps to talk to someone close. I talk to my husband, who sometimes finds it incredibly hard to believe that there could be so many areas open to comparison. But most importantly, I pray and ask God to remind me of His grace and love for me and to fill my mind with thoughts that are pure and loving. I also try to remember to thank Him for the blessings he has given me. I say try, because I, unfortunately, often fail to do so.

Do you also struggle with carrying the burden of comparing? What are some ways you have found to be helpful in dealing with it?

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