Perhaps the most hideous, nightmarish mythical creature ever invented by the human mind is The Perfect Faultless Person to Whom We Can Never Compare. This person doesn’t exist and yet we persist in venerating and fearing them, and in elevating them to an untouchable status which only makes us feel worse about own lives. Sadly, although social media offers us the chance to start movements and make friends, we often find that it also traps us into hours of toxic comparison. With the ability to put filters on our photos and think carefully about what we want to share with the world, we can curate a wondrous art gallery which exhibits the most exciting parts of our lives and the most beautiful parts of our surroundings, creating a blemish-free hyperreality. Unfortunately, many of us have started to confuse our behind-the-scenes with everyone else's 'highlight reel', as Steve Furtick put it.
No one lives in a fairy tale, nothing is as simple as it seems and everyone's life is more complex than it appears on the surface.
If you're currently dealing with toxic comparison, it's important to realise that you're not alone. It's a pervasive problem which is affecting countless people in all kinds of ways, and let me be clear - I'm not blaming social media, but it sure does compound an already insidious issue!
The thing about obsessing over the ways in which someone is perfect compared to you is that it depersonalises them. It essentially objectifies them, turning them into a weird tool which you use to repeatedly beat yourself over the head. There is no truth in the idea that anyone is perfect, at least not in the sense that they are without fault, always right, always good, never conflicted, never worried about anything, never unsure.. Your willingness to see someone in those terms means that they are then reduced to a simple mirage compiled of all the things you want to be or don't feel capable of achieving. At that point, they have ceased to be a living, breathing individual in your eyes. Instead they just represent a piece of your own psyche.
No one needs that.
The person you look at with overzealous admiration is absolutely real. They fall down, they bleed, they fail, they fear and they have nightmares sometimes. It's important to realise this for your own peace of mind but also to make sure that you're not projecting your crap onto other people. It might seem like harsh advice, but there's a real kindness to what I'm suggesting. When you choose to see someone as untouchably perfect and in possession of an impeccable life, you rob them of the chance to be seen as human. You may not consider this to be especially important if the object of your toxic comparison is someone who lives thousands of miles away, does't know you and happens to have an Instagrm account full of dreamy photographs of what appears to be a lofty existence. But if you have the capacity to see a stranger in those terms then you definitely have the capacity to see people in your life that way too. It all adds to the pressure and ill feeling which is swirling around on the planet right now, making us enemies of ourselves and each other. The more you stew in envy and comparison, no matter whose direction you're looking in, you're wasting your precious life force in the process.
People use toxic comparison to keep themselves safe, small and stagnant. Perhaps that seems like a weird thing to suggest. But think about it. When you fixate on all the ways in which someone wins and you lose, you slump back into yourself. You feel defeated. You convince yourself that there are gaps you can never bridge and that there's no point in even trying. Toxic comparison is not motivating and inspiring. It doesn't energise you. It doesn't make you feel acutely aware all the things you're capable of. It stops you in your tracks. It seems to give you the excuse you need to keep playing the small game. It wards you away from your own power and authenticity. It divorces you from your agency.
Ask yourself what toxic comparison is stopping you from achieving, chasing, exploring.. How far would you go if you weren't held back by its weird bondage? What would you attempt? What would you build? The truth is that it takes guts to live a bold life. It takes courage and heart to make the most out of it. You need to be prepared to fight your fears and face your insecurities, to make yourself vulnerable and to be open to a plethora of possibilities. Toxic comparison is a big distraction, taking your attention away from all that wonderment, keeping you in a crappy little cycle.
Although many people claim to want to stop comparing themselves to others in this highly destructive way, there is a reason that they struggle to let go of the habit, and that reason usually has something to do with fear. As human beings we fear success, we fear failure, we fear disappointment - we fear the gravity of our pure potential. If we tell ourselves that someone else will always be what can never be and have what we can never have, we get to stand still with our hands in our pockets, staring at the floor, subdued in our own sense of powerlessness. It doesn't feel great, but there is a gooey, warm familiarity to it, for sure. It will not help us to thrive as human beings, but it will keep us from getting hurt. That's a sure-fire reason why some of us keep doing it. Over and over again.
Letting go of toxic comparison means opening the door to life on a grander scale. What could be more delicious than that?
One last thing. Comparison itself isn't always negative and shrouded in self-loathing. On the contrary, we use our minds to compare so that we can get a sense of what we like and dislike, what we're trying to achieve, who to hire and who to fire.. But there are healthy and not-so-healthy ways to use the art of comparison. Try comparing yourself to who you were a week ago, a month ago, a year ago.. Examining your former selves and considering how to improve your outlook, your abilities etcetera can be a much more functional way of bringing comparison into the proceedings. This isn't about trying to escape who you are in the moment. It's just about realising that true self-development lies in the art of showing up as the main character in your own life, not being a relentless, jealous extra in someone else's.
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