Self-Esteem Killer #2 : The Comparison Game

Post 3 of 7 in our Self-Esteem Killers series

I am one of the least fun people you will ever meet. I love to work, organize, read and think. Last fall I drove through MSU’s campus on a game day and watched all the tailgating festivities taking place as I passed. Where most people would find the atmosphere fun and exciting, I felt anxiety and had the overwhelming desire to get out of there as fast as I could. Large crowds and chaos are not my preferred environment!

In the course of my life I’ve spent more years hating this about myself than I’ve spent accepting it. I’ve spent a lot of time wishing and trying to be different. What I’ve come to learn is that I rendered myself much less effective at filling the role I was created for because I used so much energy trying to play a different one.

The last self-esteem killer we talked about was unrealistic expectations and perfectionism—an assassin that can steal a ton of our peace in life if we let it. One of the contributing factors to the strength of that killer is this one—The Comparison Game. This assassin seems to get its power from our strong radar for noticing everything other people are good at that we are not.

It is amazing how quick we are to notice what Jane or John Doe next door do well and then quickly feel shame because we can’t measure up. So we add their ‘good’ ability to our internal ‘should’ list, as in, “I should be doing or good at_______.” As the internal should list builds the unrealistic expectations we put on ourselves increase and the assassin stealthily creeps in the door.

The entire marketing industry is based on making people think they need something more in order to be…stronger, prettier, smarter and happier. All around us the message is we will be better or happy when we have or are______________.

So how do we fight such a prevalent assassin? I suggest changing your mindset in four ways.

  1. Popular doesn’t mean better.

I’ve done a lot of personality tests in my life but one experience stands out among them; a very odd one that I participated in as a youth leader with a group of middle school students. I’m sure it had its roots in some established test but for the audience’s sake it categorized people into four animal groups—otter, beavers, gold retrievers and lions (I think). Otters were fun, outgoing, talkative and gregarious, while beavers were workers, organized, studious. Golden retrievers were loyal and lions were take charge leaders, the details of both I don’t remember. What I do remember, is how large a number of people were standing in the otter’s corner when we were told to go group with the others who claimed the same animal personality…and how few were with me on the beaver’s side.

What was an obviously inaccurate result because of the age and priorities of the participants still makes for a good illustration of something that feels true in life whether or not it’s is valid. Some traits are more popular because the people who have them are usually more popular. Gregarious, talkative, outgoing people will attract a crowd. While media and society seem to promote the idea that these traits are better, the reality is they are just the gifting and strengths of one person that can do greater things when working with the quiet, studious, organized gifting of another person.

We will fare much better in life if we recognize that all of our strengths will always accomplish more when we combine with others of different strengths. When we have an accurate idea of our gifting but also the corresponding weakness that accompanies the strength we are better able to recognize where we are vulnerable and seek others to fill in our weak spaces. It’s when we think we are ‘better’ than others and don’t need anyone or when we think we are ‘worse’ than others so we hide our weaknesses that we become a target for this assassin. Popular and better are not synonyms.

  1. Weakness is the flipside of strength.

Florence Littauer in her Personality Plus book says, “Weaknesses are just strengths taken to the extreme.” This concept has been reinforced to me through other books and life experience.

I talk some in my writing about the embarrassment I’ve felt in my life because I’m awkward in social settings. I don’t have entertaining stories to tell, can’t read people where there is a lot of banter going on and struggle to stay interested in random conversation about the everyday details of life. But I am that way precisely because I am very good at listening and talking with someone dealing with the difficult or confusing. I am good at staying focused and ignoring distraction. I am good at getting work done. I am bad at the things I am bad at precisely because of the things I am good at—and so are you.

This doesn’t give us the right to simply excuse our weaknesses with the cavalier “I am what I am” attitude. But perhaps instead of feeling shame because of them and the pressure to convert them to strengths we should simply learn how to manage them enough to keep them from hindering us.

I have learned to be intentional about asking questions and engaging in random conversation to show people I am interested in them. It is work and I’m still not very good at it but learning to manage the weakness has given me more opportunity to use the strength that coincides with it.

You will always have weaknesses because you have strengths…the only way to be perfect is to have neither and then I’m not sure you would be good for anything.

  1. We are knit together different.

We accept the idea that we are all different in theory a lot better than we accept the reality of it in our selves. It is the differences that give color and energy to life—however they often become the places we feel shame or judgment instead.There is so much that goes into making each of us who we are that to either feel shame because we aren’t like them or feel judgmental because they aren’t like us is ignorant and short sighted.

We all have ‘hardware and software’ that contributes to the person we have become. Our hardware is the things innate to our being—like personality or gifting. Ask any parent who has had more than one child and they will attest to the difference in personality between children right from the start. Gifting also shows up early as each person has a natural tendency towards certain skills and interests. The software that impacts our operating systems are things like the culture we were raised in, the experiences we had growing up, the priorities and values of the people we were close to. All of these nurture how our personality and talents play out.

We are all more complicated creatures than either shame or judgment has room for, why treat ourselves or others as if it was all that easy? We are knit together by a lot of factors in life. Learning to understand that about ourselves and others will go a long way in helping us to appreciate the vast array of differences as more than just theory. The reality is the comparison assassin loses a lot of strength when we start to appreciate our differences instead of compare them.

  1. See yourself as God sees you—uniquely crafted.

People compare people, God doesn’t. In fact one of the strongest points made in the Bible, one of the main tenants of faith, is the antithesis of comparing people.

God intentionally established a system that focuses on eliminating our ability to compare people. He knew our natural tendency is to set up hierarchies, seek power, control and the right to judge myself in comparison to another and others in comparison to me.

As much as I may want to do both in order to decipher if I’m ‘good enough’ God tells us again and again that neither is something we get to do. He alone can judge the thoughts and heart of a man. He alone knows all the components and experiences that have brought us to this very point. We want to judge each other based on ‘one chapter of our stories’ and God says, “No, it is mine to judge,” I alone know the whole story of their lives.

The next time you find yourself comparing yourself to another remember, God knows all of you, the good, the bad and the ugly, but he never compares you to anyone else. He only compares you to yourself, to see if you’re learning, growing and becoming all he has called you to become.

Who do you tend to compare yourself too?
When do you find yourself doing this the most?
What would it look like to only compare yourself to yourself?