Stop Comparing, Start Blooming

 “A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms.”
~Zen Shin

My recent counseling session reminded me of how I was constantly compared and contrasted with my older sister. Our closer age gap and similar looks made us look like twin; we went to same school, were in the same grade, sat on same bench, and were close friends.  We used to receive different comments as to how one of us was better than the other on our looks, intelligence, attractiveness, body shape, height, weight, character and relational tendencies.  Since, I loved my sister so much and wanted her to look or be better than I was in every sense; people’s comments never bothered me nor made me feel inferior.  In fact, we teased each other based on the comments we received.  However, listening to my client, I realized that she had the exact opposite of my experience.  She told me how she had felt awful about herself because she grew up being compared to her peers, sibling, neighbors, classmates, and others but never measured up to their standards. This prompted me to reflect on the pros and cons of social comparisons.

Whether we like it or not, we all compare ourselves with others with respect to what we have accomplished in life, our opinions and feelings, abilities, situations, health, wealth,  looks and relations.  At times, we compare how our children are doing compared to other family members’ children or friends’ children or school peers.  Children, teenagers or young adults constantly see how they are doing or looking or feeling as compared to their peers.  As we get older, we compare our aging process to our classmates in elementary or high school. 

Comparison is reinforced by school grading system.  Ranking students on their school performance will lead to place one better than the other at least academically.  Hence, students are eager to know who is number one in the class, the in between and who is the last one.  However, the 21st century educational assessment acknowledges that students are not to be compared with each other and ranked.  Each student needs to be his/her own barometer and comparison is made with past self-performances.

Some researchers conduct their studies based on comparing and contrasting their subjects.  Hence, comparison is one way of acquiring knowledge about our subjects.

There is nothing inherently good or bad about comparison.  However, in raising children, this may have devastating effects for they would be constantly bombarded with the message that they were not up to high standard of society.  For many children, this has negative implications for they learn not to accept and love themselves.  Others may be discouraged even to try for they believed they would never make it anyway.  Some may push it and become achievers to prove to others that they are “somebody”.  Even the ones who achieve feel that is not good enough for their internal bell rings as if they are not good enough.    Those who do not accept themselves try to be somebody else or a person they are not created to be.  They seek to find love and acceptance from others, and not by first loving themselves.  These children learn to unconsciously reject themselves.

Leon Festinger theorized that people have an innate drive to evaluate themselves, often in comparison to others.  This is the way people make judgments about themselves by analyzing the self in relations to others.  This assessment includes skills, abilities, beliefs and attitudes. Research shows us that comparing ourselves to others is one of many strategies utilized in the process of coping with threats, building resilience and establishing our identity.  The evaluation of the self against social environments is perhaps an unavoidable human trait, and provides information about an individual’s current situation.

An upward social comparison happens when we think so and so is much happier and better than us.  We compare ourselves with those who are “better-offs” and suffer from feelings of helplessness, jealousy, inferiority which jeopardizes accepting oneself as we are.   We feel useless and less of what we deserve in life.  Even those who manage to keep those feelings under control in social settings, suffer when they are alone.  On the other hand, there are people who identify common element between themselves and the so called “better-offs” and pull themselves up to grow up and master their difficulties by building upon their strengths.  They use it as a positive energy.

A downward social comparison happens when we compare ourselves with those who are worse off and less competent in an effort to boost our self-esteem.  “At least I have done this and that…; it could have been worse….”  This strategy makes us feel better about ourselves momentarily and can be comforting, but it is not a long-term solution.

To conclude, everyone uses social comparison to understand how he or she is doing, or feeling. Using others as a basis for evaluating one’s attributes is not an objective yardstick with which to evaluate the self.  I suggest that we accept our nature, uniqueness, beauty, capacity, achievements so far and work towards taking ourselves to our next steps.   Similarly, we redeem the generation if we accept the uniqueness of our children and use positive encouragement techniques to help them improve their performances than using social comparison that instigate “not good enough” messages.

Would you be comfortable with yourself and bloom?

Seble Hailu

June 19, 2016