The Danger of Comparison – Building Your Worth On The Backs Of Others

I wonder if Eve thought she was fat.

You know, THE Eve.  Adam’s love, the woman that lived in the Garden of Eden.  THAT Eve.  The first woman around, the first woman created.  I wonder if she thought she was fat.

Regardless of your religious stance, whether you believe the story to be God breathed or purely fiction, take a minute to think about it.  I can see it perfectly in my head.

Eve wakes up for the first time, freshly formed from Adam’s rib, formed by the hand of God Himself, takes her first breath of God-filled air, looks down at her body, and says, “HOLY HIPS, GOD.  WTF.  Looook at how fat I am.  And this pudge.  (grabs skin around middle)  I am SO ANGRY.  THIS is what you dealt me?  I could have been ANY SHAPE, and THIS is the one you pick.  ARE YOU BLIND?  LOOK AT ME.  No one in the world is ever going to want me, I’m DISGUSTING.  You might as well name me the same as that thing over there.  (points to brand new cow)  (looks around, sees Adam)  Hey you, what’s your name?  Adam?  Hey, Adam, do you think these leaves make me look fat?”

[And yes, I know the leaves came later, but you get my point.]

In my mind I can see Eve, acting out the words and thoughts I’ve had with regard to myself and my body, and I can’t stop shaking my head.

I just don’t think she’d do that.

There are a lot of reasons I’m sure this is true, but the first and most obvious reason is that Eve was the first, and at the time she was the only one of her kind.

Really take a minute and think about that.  Put yourself in that spot and imagine.

If you were the only woman in the whole world, the only female in all of existence, would you still feel as you do right now?

I bet you wouldn’t, and here’s why:

You would have no one else to compare yourself to.

Eve had no one else around to compare herself to.  She also had no one else comparing themselves TO her, no judgment, no competition.

When I think about being in that situation, I am 100% positive it would be AMAZING.

There were no other women on magazine covers to remind her that she’s gained baby weight.  There were no skinny co-workers in the office to pass treats under her nose when she told them she was trying to lose a couple inches, there were no women at the gym that lifted with the big boys while she stuck to her Stairmaster.  Eve had no other women around to ask her when she was due even though she wasn’t pregnant, no people to watch her with smug superiority as she ate an ice cream cone after lunch or snagged a donut from the break room, no women that walked by Adam and caused him to turn his head.

For a while Eve was THE ONLY, and for that short while Eve was everything every woman was supposed to be.  She WAS woman.  THE woman.  “The mold.”  She set all expectations by what she was, because she was the original model.  For a while Eve was alone, and I’m sure that being the only one made it easy for her to not doubt herself.

But then she wasn’t alone.  Soon there were others, and I bet you that Eve’s mental state shifted when the world began to fill up with other people.  Specifically “other women,” and then LOTS of other women.

I bet you anything that Eve’s mental state and thought process shifted when she started comparing.

I bet you that YOUR mental state and thought process shift when YOU start comparing.

As people we all do it.  We look at what’s going on around us, we look at what we ourselves are doing, and then make observations.  We make correlations.  It’s how we evolve and grow, and it’s how we change.  Often, it makes us better.

“Oh wow, that guy in that cave over there knocked two rocks together and the sun came out of them.  And they’re putting dead animal on it, then they’re EATING HOT ANIMAL.  I’M DOING THAT TOO.”

“Oh wow, the neighbor’s lawn looks amazing, and I just saw him putting poop on it.  I’M doing that, TOO.”

“Holy Crap, Julie looks amazing.  She’s been eating well and lost a LOT of baby weight.  I’m so impressed!  I’m still in maternity pants, and the baby just turned three.  I’m going find out what she’s doing and make some changes, too.”

The problem comes when we look at what others are doing, look at what we’re doing, and then instead of trying to learn and grow, we judge and shame ourselves.  We ridicule ourselves for not taking actions we didn’t know we should have taken, grow impatient and ashamed of ourselves for not making choices we didn’t know we needed to make, and then hate ourselves for not knowing all the things we didn’t even know we needed to know.

[Yes, that is convoluted.  Just go with it.]

Instead of looking at what others are doing, finding inspiration, and then making a change in ourselves, we COMPARE, and we get angry.  We get defensive, we feel ashamed, and we punish ourselves.

“That guy is cooking with fire, and I’m here eating raw meat.  GOD WHAT A LOSER I AM.  That guy is awesome, I am lame.”

“The neighbor’s lawn looks green and lush, but on this side of the fence it’s brown and dying.  MY LAWN IS WORTHLESS, I AM SO WORTHLESS, WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME.”

“FUCKING JULIE, she looks so good and I look COMPLETELY DISGUSTING.  What a worthless slob I am.  I can’t even get out of my maternity jeans, and she’s lost thirty pounds.  WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME, I HATE this.  I shouldn’t even try.  EFF THIS, I’m going to go eat my feelings.  EVERYTHING CAN GO TO HELL.”

It sounds silly when I write it out that way, but it’s not so silly in our heads.  And it IS in our heads.  In one way or another we all do it, even if we don’t always notice we’re doing it.  We don’t notice every time.  Sometimes the comparison is so subtle and automatic and subliminal, the comparison doesn’t even register on the level of conscious thought.  Sometimes the comparison is not verbal and out loud, sometimes it’s even less than words and has no intentional structure.

Sometimes the comparison is nothing more than a sensation made of feelings and impulse, a corporeal urge and gut reaction based on perception-filtered reality.

As it is, those are the most dangerous kind of comparisons.

The most dangerous kind of comparison is the one made deep inside the dark parts of our head, the ones we don’t even notice happening.  The ones in our guts, underneath intentional thoughts.  The subliminal ones are the most dangerous, because they slide in under the radar of logic and reason and are accepted as fact.  Subliminal comparisons never stand trial in the court of consciousness, are never dispelled, and wreak havoc on our confidence and worth.

Comparisons run rampant among humans, and as much as it grieves me to draw attention to any sort of gender difference, comparison is particularly prevalent among women.  If you don’t believe me, dress in your very nicest, most slimming, most attractive outfit, put on great makeup, feel confident and strong, and walk into a PTA meeting.  FEEL THE STABBY EYEBALLS STABBING, jabbing you in the face and back.  Don’t worry that you’ll miss them, or that they’ll slip outside your awareness.  You WILL FEEL THEM, because there will be a LOT.

This last week I took my youngest son to his kindergarten screening test at the school.  I showed up a bit late (day planner operator error), walked to the back of the room full of moms, and sat down.  After the presentation had finished and our kids had been taken away, there was a bit of time set aside for volunteer sign up and mingling.  As I filled out my paperwork I ran into a snag, so I got up to ask one of the PTA board members for some clarification.

The rudeness I was met with was overwhelming.

At first I thought “Wow, she’s having a bad day.”  I carried on the conversation with my normal, casual level of kindness.  I do not have it in me to be an asshole (Even if I try, I can’t.  I can’t even squash a spider in my own house because I feel bad.), so I know the amount of irritation and aggression I was presented with was not warranted.  I was being kind.  I brushed it off, assumed there was something going in behind the curtain of her life that caused an outward rift, and carried on with the conversation.

As the negativity continued, though, I started to notice things.  The woman gave me a dirty look, walked over to one of the other moms, POINTED, and kept talking.  Some of the other moms were huddled together in their normal way; when I approached the conversations stopped.

It took about thirty minutes, but eventually I had a glimmer of thought, “Huh.  I think *I* am the problem.”

Now, I know that I have in the past created in my head negative attention that wasn’t actually there.  For a long time I lived behind a “filter of judgment,” and I streamed reality through it so I felt I was being picked apart and hated, even though I wasn’t.  I liked to think “everyone is out to get me,” even when they weren’t.  I acted as a textbook case of self-victimization, and my believe that “no one likes me” was the typical, woeful song of a self-conscious, perpetually insecure person.

THIS TIME, though, I was not imagining it.  (And to be honest, I am slow on the uptake because it took 45 minutes for me to realize that I was the problem.)

I guess it’s fair.  I have lost a bit of weight in the last few months.  I have purple hair.  I was dressed professionally, dragging my three (mostly) well behaved kids in tow.  I was late.  I was working on my laptop and shuffling papers around for work after the presentation and while I waited for my son, and the principal (who also happened to be my sixth grade teacher) came to sit with me for a few minutes and talk about life and my family and my parents.  My son is the third kid I have to go through the same screening, I have filled out the required papers so many times I could do it with my eyes closed, and I finished the required work about twenty minutes before everyone else.  I am confident, I do not hesitate to ask a question, and I NEVER say “Sorry” before I ask anyone anything.  I’m not sorry I’m asking, I do not  humble myself at the feet of others, even (especially) a PTA president at an elementary school.

Nothing that I’ve said just above should cause anyone to think I’m amazing or great.  Nothing that I’ve said should make anyone feel that they are LESS, or that I am BETTER.  That’s just who I am.  I am me.  I have cried, clawed, and fought my way to find myself, there is no way I am going to shrink to make other people more comfortable.

And that therein lies the problem.

Not a lot of other people feel that way.  Not many WOMEN feel that way.  “Yet,” maybe, and maybe “at all,” but the fact they don’t feel that way and then they see me, they compare.

And I know they were doing it, because I did the same thing. I was GOOD at it.  I was the queen of comparison for a long, long time.

I WAS the woman at the PTA meeting comparing myself to those that were different, picking apart women to make myself feel better.  I saw those stronger-prettier-kinder-more-popular-skinnier-more-elegant than I was, felt threatened, felt insecure and “less,” and I compared.

This behavior is so common there is a name for it in mental health dictionaries.  They call it “psychological leveling,” and it’s the practice of changing the way we see people in order to make them our equal.  In other words, when someone is doing really well we take them down a peg (“She’s lost so much weight, too bad she’s neglected her kids to do it”), or if we personally are doing poorly we inflate ourselves in comparison of others to get a leg up.  (“I put on a couple pounds this Christmas, but Becky put on FIFTY.  I’m so glad I’m not her.”)

I LEVELED THE SHIT OUT OF PEOPLE.  I could (and still can, probably, if I tried) change my perspective of any other person’s success in order to make myself feel better.  It’s what we do when we’re hurting or lost.

It’s what we do when we COMPARE.

If we stop comparing ourselves to anyone else, if we focus solely on our own performance and no one else’s, if we worry only about our own performance and improving our own standing in our own lives, the comings and goings of others makes no difference at all.  We celebrate the successes of those we care about, we mourn their failures, but the success or failure of others have no bearing on our own worth.

We stand on our own legs, not on someone else’s success or failure, we move on our own steam.  We make our own path and drive our own speed.

Most importantly, we need not stand on the backs of others to define our worth and Greatness.  We find those things ourselves, which assures that the success we find is truly because of US.  Not due in any part to the failure of someone else.

I bet you Eve never thought she was fat for a lot of reasons.

It would never have entered her consciousness, partly because there were none that had come before her, so she had no one to model.  Eve was IT.  She WAS the model.  Naked, full-figured, carefree, unashamed.

Partly because back then, “fat = fed” and the only thin people were the ones that couldn’t catch enough food, partly because she had direct access to the manufacturer and was able to lodge complaints to the Creator directly.

Partly because I’m pretty sure Adam was so enamored with her he showed her with action the way he felt in his heart, brought her flowers for no reason, protected and treasured her, he wasn’t an asshole, didn’t stare at other women in shorter animal-skin-skirts, didn’t leave the toilet seat up, didn’t text random women late at night, and took out the garbage without being asked.

Mostly, though.  Mostly I’m sure Eve lived a life of joy and fulfillment because she never questioned anything about what she was “supposed to be,” she just WAS.  She was so busy being exactly what she was created to be,

she didn’t spend any time worrying about what she WASN’T.


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