When you struggle, does it feel like everyone is thriving except for you?
Most of us can relate to this sentiment. We’ve grown up hearing the adage that the ‘grass is always greener’ somewhere else.
Neil Barringham, an Australian community worker said, “The grass is greener where you water it.” How do we water the only patch of grass we have in this lifetime, appreciating the diversity of others’ experiences, even getting inspired by them without losing ourselves to the cycle of comparing and despairing? It’s tough.
I want to validate that comparison is really natural to human beings and documented as a real phenomenon within social psychology. I also want to validate that avoiding comparison is harder than ever with the fact that we live so much of our lives online.
Even a decade ago, our tendency to compare ourselves was limited to the lawns in your neighbourhood (to keep using the ‘the grass is greener’ metaphor). But now, even if I even Google how to make my grass greener, algorithms will flood my social media with the greatest and greenest grasses from all over the world. If I were to consciously seek out green grasses on social media, the comparisons would be endless. I could spend the rest of my life looking at other lawns, neglecting to water my own.
C.S. Lewis famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Even worse, though, comparison robs us of something much more fundamental — the gift to be in the present moment. Technically speaking, every thought or emotion can take us out of the present, but comparison steals our attention away from everything we have to be grateful for right now.
Comparison is an unreliable narrator because we actually have no idea how it feels to be in the life of others. As Brene Brown says in The Gifts of Imperfection “Stay in your own lane. Comparison kills creativity and joy.” Looking at the grass that looks greener does not make your grass greener — it makes you less grateful for the grass you have.
Comparison is a troublemaker even when used to compare our pain and suffering. Many folks reading this blog may be struggling, languishing, but hey, you think, I can’t complain because some people have it worse. This may be one of the most common phrases I hear from clients in my practice, followed shortly after disclosing something traumatic they went through. I also say this a lot myself.
When we diminish our own reality by citing those that have it worse or better than we do, we are trying to justify our pain. When in reality, it’s just a distraction from dealing with our own. Comparison robs us of our chance to heal. Of course, someone has it worse. But comparing yourself to those who are worse off does not make them any better.
None of this is meant to diminish how it is critical to move through the world with a perspective of the privileges we embody and a commitment to build awareness of how this impacts those around us. This how is how we contextualize ourselves within society.
When it comes to your own healing, we all deserve to have privacy with a therapist, the pages of your journal, the company of a loved one, or within the privacy of your own heart that can fully grieve every loss, every disappointment, and every time someone did not see the worthiness within you and you mistakenly believed them.
If you are given the opportunity to cultivate that space within yourself to fully validate the gravity of your own suffering, and the depths of your shame and pain, please take it. Not despite other people having it worse, but precisely because some people have it worse.
Not taking chances to heal yourself heals no one. It also leaves you more likely to walk through life with gaping emotional wounds that are likely to be projected onto others. Being present with your pride and your pain requires releasing the instinct to compare. That way you can admire the grass of others without it taking from the appreciation of your own grass.
You deserve it.
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