Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Tastes Like Chicken

Oh, Reader, what a day...

Today was a day of comparisons.  

I don't enjoy comparing myself to other people...  I don't enjoy it because I suffer with many cognitive distortions, and tend to see myself in terms of how I fail to be other people.  Did that make sense?  It shouldn't have, because it doesn't make any sense.  I look at other people, and feel like I don't measure up.  I feel the need to adapt myself to their personality, their interests, their identity in order to "fit in".  I've been this way for so many years that sometimes I can't even figure out where my "original self" has gone...  I even got a tattoo of a chameleon to represent this issue.  And the really neat part?  We all do this!!!!!

Each and every one of us goes around comparing ourselves with other people.  We have to.  Our brains are hardwired for comparison and analysis.  We view everything new we encounter in terms of something we're familiar with.  Don't believe me?  What's the first (cliche) thing someone says when they try a new meat...  Ah good, you've got it!

Tastes Like Chicken.

So, comparing ourselves to others is not just normal, but necessary.  It's all part of Social Comparison Theory.  We grow and develop by comparing ourselves to people we perceive as being "better" than us.  We maintain our self esteem by comparing ourselves to people that we consider not to be as good as our own selves.  As long as we have a healthy understanding of ourselves, an awareness, these comparisons are an effective way of improving ourselves, and others!  Through downward social comparison we can identify a fellow human being that needs help, and then offer it.  Upward social comparisons can be used to inspire us and propel us forward.

But note, I said this only works if we have a healthy understanding of ourselves.  So if you're like me, and prone to bouts of debilitating insecurity, then when someone asks you casually in conversation whether you've seen a movie, you'll find yourself close to tears thinking that you're stupid.  And yes, this honestly happened to me.  I'm not proud to admit it, but someone out there in the world needs to know they're not the only one having silly thoughts like this.

And they just said "but my thoughts aren't silly..."

Today I compared myself to a person who lost a sibling.  Today I compared myself to a person who suffered a sudden stroke.  I compared myself to people that are experts in their fields.  I compared myself to people who were asked to leave their fields.  I compared myself to the organized, the competent, the angry and the mean.  The loving.  The humorous.  The enlightened.  And you know what I found out?

Hate to disappoint, but I didn't find out a thing.  I just realized that everything is relative.  Nothing is permanent, and it's all an illusion anyway!  I don't mean this in a depressing or self-pitying way.  I mean it in a freeing way.  

The take away here is that you are going to compare yourself to other people-- get used to it and get over it.  I'm not going to suggest that you stop doing it!  I'm just going to suggest that you don't read too much into it. It's like peeling an onion...  you uncover layer after layer trying to find what's underneath it all, only to find yourself in tears with nothing to show for it.  

I'll leave you with this final glimpse into the mercurial mind of Melephant.  I often criticize myself for being sloppy and disorganized.  My system of note taking, for example, is something I often try to "improve".  After today's round of comparisons I realized there's nothing to improve.  My note taking works for me.  

Would this work for you....?

Until next!


Veronica said...

Just checking to see if it works :)

pixiekhatt said...

I am overly critical of myself and how I compare to others, but I also don't have a good self-image. I compare more than just myself though -- I tend to compare anything and everything. I was always under the impression that most people don't compare things as much as I do, as I've been accused to being overly analytical and told to just accept things as they are. Ah well.

I also loved this: "It's like peeling an onion... you uncover layer after layer trying to find what's underneath it all, only to find yourself in tears with nothing to show for it." I've heard the onion analogy before, but the ending of being in tears with nothing to show just made it awesome.

Veronica said...

Yay, it worked! My first attempt failed because I had selected to reply with my Google account and wasn't signed in to it. Instead of prompting me for it, it just jipped me. Oh we'll, nothing lost...

Anyhow, I really appreciate what you say here, and I agree, we all do it. Your transparency is both encouraging and enlightening. I like what you say about not needing to stop the comparing, but simply to stop reading into it too much. A lot of people could benefit from hearing that it's inevitable, that it's human, and that it doesn't mean anything. Also, my notes aren't too far off from yours, just to answer your closing question. Haha! :P

Veronica said...

Pixiekhatt, the more I get to know people and dig deeper into the lives of friends, the more I realize that we are all secretly critical of ourselves as a result of looking at the world around us. Social networking, while super fun, has not helped this issue... we are now comparing our behind the scenes to everyone else's highlight reel. (That's something I've been saying a lot lately, hehe!). I'm sure some of us do do it more then others, though, and that's where Melanie's advice about not reading into it too much comes in handy! :)

Mel L said...

Thank you both for the kind comments! The onion analogy is one I've used before... I probably stole it from someone.
Veronica, I like what you're saying about comparing our behind the scenes with everyone else's highlight reel-- really puts things into perspective!

And Pixiekhatt, my dear friend, I am often told I read too much into things. Being analytical is a great quality to have, we just have to learn where to direct it!