Comparing Ourselves to Others

This last week I have repeatedly, from a variety of sources, heard references to how most of us harbor deep feelings regarding lack of worth. Initially I was reminded about the pain of inadequacy and feelings of unworthiness from a book called Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach, Ph.D.. In the book the author writes; “believing that something is wrong with us is a deep and tenacious suffering. This suffering emerges in crippling self-judgments and conflicts in our relationships, in addictions and perfectionism, in loneliness and overwork – all the forces that keep our lives constricted and unfulfilled.” One of the topics I found interesting when reading the book was, “strategies to manage the pain of inadequacies.” Staying busy, holding back and playing it safe rather than taking risks, being our own worst critics, focusing on other people’s faults, and withdrawing from our experience of the present moment by incessantly telling ourselves stories about what is happening in our life, can all serve to foster and avoid our insecurities.

I think that similar to identifying personality types, we can benefit from being aware of general tendencies as a means to more easily recognize our defense mechanisms and personal ego drives. The intention is to expand awareness and acceptance not to foster a sense of separateness via judgments. Underneath judgments can be belief systems which are usually based on comparisons of ourselves to others. For instance, we can avoid the pain we are feeling due to a sense of separateness – which fosters feelings of lack of worth and inadequacy – by utilizing defense mechanisms and strategies like mentioned above, or we can learn to let go, observe, accept, and heal. As I meditated and discussed this topic with my husband, I realized how much pain and suffering we were creating based on comparing ourselves to others. For example, my husband and I have not lived a conventional life. Maybe a more appropriate perspective is to say that we have lived a conventional life making unconventional choices. In spite of growing up with messages encouraging us to play it safe by conforming, we have lived an adventurous life by repeatedly jumping into the unknown.

The trap of comparison lies in being similar enough to those people that surround us, yet very different from those we know in terms of aspects of our life style and choices we have made. For my husband and I, a shining example of the effects of comparing ourselves to others relates to retirement. If we listen to the voices of those who have built steady careers for their entire adult life, many with the same employer, we have failed. Failed to create retirement funds which means that economic disaster is sure to find us later in life, and also means that in general we have screwed up. But we know different. The life experiences that we’ve had are not ones that could wait for retirement. They required young, fit, and healthy individuals who could take risks based on a foundation of stability that came from genuinely responding appropriately to ourselves, our lives, and our economics. From that foundation, we birthed a relationship that is stronger, more authentic, intimate, and respectful. We may not have created a strong financial fund to support us without working later in life, but we also managed to take many risks without incurring debt or genuinely risk our well-being. Ultimately, there are no right or wrong, responsible or irresponsible choices that will guarantee our safety or demise. The best we can do is strive to embrace acceptance and live as authentically as possible.

Following others based on comparisons is like chasing a rabbit down the hole. Fear chases fear, pain creates suffering, denial avoids acceptance, and our world can easily become the haves or the have nots. As long as we compare ourselves to others, we leave ourselves open to either feeling unworthy and inadequate – which creates mistrust and lack of faith – or feeling superior to others who have made different choices. The end result is the same: feelings of separateness, lack of worth, and inadequacies. In turn, we can end up feeling embarrassed of ourselves and our lives. As my husband said this morning, shame leads to blame. I agree, and blame leads to suffering, unhappiness, and dis-ease. When we compare ourselves to others as a means to satisfy personal pain and diminish fear, the end result will be the opposite. Joy, happiness, and well-being will be sabotaged. Peace will be like a dangling carrot just out of our reach leaving little or no room for love and acceptance.

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