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The Danger of Comparisons

by Dr. Ilona L. Tobin

“To love is to stop comparing.”

—Bernard Grasset

Comparing ourselves and our loved ones to others seems to be ingrained into us. We notice similarities and differences. It’s one way we learn to navigate our world.

The trouble comes when we notice differences and then use that information to feel “less than.” For instance, rather than noticing someone’s success and letting that inspire us to take the risk we’ve been wanting to take, instead we may despair, believing that we could never have that kind of success ourselves.

So while comparison doesn’t have to be a destructive practice, much of the time it is, leading to tumbling self-confidence and harming our ability to be happy in the world. And when we compare our children to others we also run the risk of damaging our relationship with our children as well as their self-esteem.

As Judith Orloff writes in her book Emotional Freedom, “Comparing yourself to others can preclude a bond of common fellowship and is a barrier to finding true worth.” In short, the habit of comparison is a good one to break.

Here are some tips to help you stop comparing yourself and your loved ones to others:

Pay attention. Become mindful of those moments when you are feeling jealously or envy or a sense of inferiority. Awareness of making the comparison is the important first step.

Try to adopt a more realistic view of others. Nobody’s life is perfect. The next time you find yourself agonizing over someone else’s good luck, try to put yourself in his or her shoes…remember that everyone has struggles and moments of happiness.

Cultivate gratitude for what you have. Look around and notice the aspects of your life that make you happy. Make a daily list of the blessings in your life.

Give to others what you most desire for yourself. If you want love, give love. If you want attention, give attention. Helping others is one of the best ways to build your own self-esteem and escape from destructive mental traps.

Redirect, build and affirm. When you find yourself engaging in harmful comparisons, redirect your thoughts to your positive traits or to the wonderful traits of your loved ones, and then compliment yourself or them. Complimenting children not only builds up their self-esteem, but it helps prevent them from adopting the habit of comparing themselves to others.

Focus on your strengths instead of weaknesses. Rather than thinking, “I’m fat and she’s skinny,” celebrate your strengths. Be proud of your uniqueness, special talents and skills.

With awareness and practice, it is possible to cultivate a life that is relatively free of comparison—a life in which you and your loved ones are much happier and content. [


Ilona Tobin has been a psychologist and a marriage and family therapist for more than 25 years in Birmingham, Michigan. For more information, please visit her listing on the Therapist Directory.

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