This last year has been rough for me in many ways. A lot of long-term aches have bubbled up and festered in sickening ways. Nothing that you let fester can do you any good. But I’m going to talk about one particular infection that I believe to be a top killer of growth and happiness: making comparisons.
Not going to lie, this has been really bad for me lately. To give you a story as an example, here’s something that resurfaced in my life this last week. I had a talk with my husband about a strange fact about myself that I hadn’t really admitted before:
I have a fear of sleepovers.
If that made you laugh a little, that’s fine. The sentence makes me smile, too. It sounds weird, but after doing some googling I learned that this is a pretty common fear. While I may not have been able to realize or articulate it before, ever since I was a child the mention of a sleepover would suddenly cause sweaty palms, a tight chest, a knot in my stomach, and, occasionally, nausea.
I remember being six or seven and sitting on our swingset outside, anticipating going to my friend’s house to sleep over that night. The longer I sat the more ill I felt, until eventually I was certain that I had suddenly caught the flu.
I remember being so excited about finally going to summer camp, until the day finally came and I became so anxious that I threw up.
I remember the feeling of relief that friends would want to come over to my house so I wouldn’t have to go to theirs.
In and of itself, this anxiety isn’t the worst. It’s limited to specific events, usually subsides greatly once I’m at a friend’s house (and realize it’s not actually that bad), and disappears completely once said event is over. But it wasn’t ever the fear alone that was the real problem; it was the nasty thoughts that came along with it.
Why can’t you just let loose like those other girls?
Why do you have to be so childish when none of your friends are?
When will you just grow up and learn to cope with this? Everyone else has.
Your anxiety will be such a drag when everyone else is having fun.
Seriously, do everyone else a favor and don’t even go.
And they festered.
As I got older I learned to enjoy sleepovers more, but usually only with close, trusted friends or family. For all other slumber parties, I became skilled at coming up with other plans and conflicts and reasons I couldn’t go. But even as I stopped caring about missing out on a party, my nasty thoughts remained the same.
Why can’t you just have fun like your other friends?
Seriously, you’re 23. Why should this still be a thing when it is for no one else?
Nobody really wants you there anyway. You won’t contribute to the fun like other people will.
I bet people wish I could just be normal like all our other friends.
You still suck.
While these kinds of thoughts come and go like lightning, dwelling on them can seriously be one of the worst things that you can do for yourself. I know it is for me. These thoughts that have long accompanied my anxiety have outlasted any fear I ever felt, and still affect how I see myself today.
We all have things about ourselves that we don’t particularly like. We look at the seeming success of people around us and berate ourselves for falling short of that. Especially in the world of social media, where we put our most beautiful, successful, and insightful selves forward, it can be so easy to look through a page of fabulous photos, stories, and thoughts and then look back at yourself and think What am I doing wrong?
Why can’t I get as good of a time as that runner?
Why can’t I look as good as that friend?
Why don’t I have as brilliant of thoughts like that person always shares?
Why don’t I have a fairy-tale story like that couple?
Why is my life just not as good as it was in the past?
You guys, these comparisons are worthless and are stopping you from growing as the one-of-a-kind character that you are.
Like me, these thoughts and feelings might go back years. But they don’t have to continue for years to come. Our thoughts affect our reality. But what we perceive as real can be quite different from what is actually real.
First off, all those friends you so admire probably aren’t as fabulous as you make them out to be. Sure, our lives are full of truly wonderful people, but nobody’s life is perfect, and everyone has battles to fight that you aren’t seeing. Wishing to be like someone else isn’t ridding you of your flaws; it’s only wishing you had different ones. We need to be careful to not idealize the real, complex people in our lives and assume that always being in their shoes would be better.
Second, you have a unique story and direction that your life is headed in. Your shortcomings are part of that, but so are your strengths and talents. Ignoring them and wishing you were on a different journey is only stunting your progress. Focus on where you are now to cultivate the things that are going right for you and tend to the things that aren’t.
Thirdly, to be happy, it’s more important to be you than it is to be perfect. Imperfections aren’t the enemy. But dwelling on them and refusing to accept these parts of yourself is. We can thrive as we are without having to pretend to be someone else or hiding the less flattering aspects of our personalities. It’s when we learn to accept that we are unique, and lovable in our uniqueness, that we will find contentment.
St. Paul wrote that those who engage in “comparing themselves among themselves are not wise” (2 Cor. 10:12). I write this post so that we may grow in eradicating these thoughts of comparison that hold us back.
Likewise, I hope that we as people can learn to be more comfortable with ourselves and sharing not just the airbrushed, edited versions of us but the truth of who we really are. In fact, being open with sharing your imperfections can be one of the best ways of learning to cope with them, and learning to accept our friends for who they are. I write about less-than-happy things like anxiety and bad thoughts because I don’t want to be just another blogger who looks like she has it all together. I want my writing to speak honesty, to show that I’m someone who’s learning and growing through these things just like anyone else.
Reader, whatever it is you’re struggling with, whatever there is about yourself that you wish would change, I pray you won’t let it hold you back. Don’t fall into the trap of wishing yourself away. Instead, I hope you continue confidently on your unique journey while I continue on mine.