When you were growing up, did your parents compare you to others? Were you compared to siblings or other family members? Did your parents compare you to your friends or classmates? Did you have teachers who compared you to other students? Did you have friends who compared you to other friends?
Most of us grew up being compared to others, which creates a sense of being one-up or one-down – neither of which is healthy.
I was an only child, and until I was 8, I lived in a duplex with my three male cousins living downstairs. I was often compared to them. Sometimes it was about boys being better than girls. Sometimes it was about intelligence or grades. According to my mother, I wasn’t as good as them, and according to my father, I was better than them.
My aunt, my cousin’s mother, was addicted to comparisons. One particular memory stands out for me, because it solidified for me how much I hate comparisons. My aunt was a narcissistic woman. She was ‘the pretty one’ of three sisters. My older aunt was ‘the smart one,’ and my mother was ‘the baby of the family.’ I was about 13 years old when I made the decision that comparisons were something I was determined to stay away from.
My cousin, who was two years older than me, had a very pretty girlfriend, Sheri. I was visiting my aunt when she said, out of the blue, “You have very nice skin, but Sheri’s skin is much better than yours.”
I remember feeling pleased when she said that I had nice skin – I had never actually thought about my skin – but then immediately I felt a stab in my heart when she compared my skin to Sheri’s. It was as if she was saying, “She is better than you because she has better skin.”
Looking back, I can understand my aunt saying something like that. She never did anything that really expressed who she was – never worked, never accomplished anything, and her whole sense of self was tied into her looks and to the fact that she was ‘frail’. Comparing people made her feel momentarily better about herself. I’m certain there were many times that, deep down, her comparisons led to falling short in her own eyes.
Now, when I hear people compare themselves to others, I know that their wounded self is in charge – feeling either one-up or one-down. It might feel good for the moment when they feel one-up, but since there will always be someone who looks better or performs better, the one-down feeling quickly returns.
The wounded self doesn’t know how to see people’s equality because it doesn’t see people’s essence. While we are certainly not equal in looks, talents, performance, money, status, and so on, we are equal in our essence.
Only your loving Adult is able to see that we each have a beautiful and unique essence that is an equal part of the whole that is God. It is only when your loving Adult has defined you as your wonderful essence that you find yourself no longer comparing yourself to others. Now you can admire and appreciate the external qualities in others without having to compare yourself to them, because now you define your worth intrinsically rather than externally.
It was a profound relief for me when I reached this point in life. Defining myself intrinsically has enabled me to be genuinely thrilled for others’ achievements. Now I love it when wonderful things happen for others because I no longer compare myself to them. Now their successes inspire me rather than intimidate me.