My heart broke into a million pieces when my 13-year-old niece said that she wanted to kill herself. I remember sitting up straighter, my head and heart spinning with emotions. Tayla* told me that she wasn’t pretty enough, good enough, tall enough . . . and so the list went on. With each word, I wanted to cry. Did she not see how lovely and sweet she was? What was wrong with her?
Then she blurted, “I’m nothing like Isla!* She’s so beautiful.” The disappointment and longing in her voice was tangible. That was it! She was so absorbed in comparing herself to her cousin Isla that she was unable to see just how amazing and special she really was.
There are those who believe that the “epidemic” of comparing yourself to someone else only happens to teenagers. They say that, as adults, we are exempt from the deadly comparison games. Not true.
In an article written for Forever Woman magazine, children’s book author Karen Collum says, “Everywhere I look, I’m bombarded with images of perfection. Airbrushed beyond recognition, stick-thin, wrinkle-free models with perfect teeth tell me I’ll be desirable, clever, beautiful, and the envy of women, if only I eat/drink/wear/buy a particular product. And then I go home and look in the mirror. Reality bites.”
We live in a fallen world, a place where the devil, a being the Bible describes as “the Enemy”, heightens our insecurities and makes us all doubt ourselves. He uses advertisements, other people, television and social media to make us feel inadequate.
We scroll through Facebook and admire the frozen smiling photos of “perfect” families and impeccable homes. We cringe when we see yet another filtered, glowing image of one of our friends at an Insta-worthy location, holidaying with friends or family. Our insecurities increase and we suddenly feel depleted, knowing we will never be able to reach that kind of “perfection”.
But let me remind you of something: only God is perfect, no-one else. Not me. Not you.
The night Tayla confessed her feelings to me, I decided to stay at her house for the night. We talked until dawn and came up with a list of how harmful comparison really is. It’s poison. A deadly cycle.
The deadly cycle
1. You will always fall short. When you compare yourself to someone else, you will always fall short. You will never feel good enough because you are comparing yourself to that person’s attributes, skills and looks, not valuing your own. When was the last time you actually wrote down your God-given qualities?
2. Comparison is unfair. It’s unfair because you are comparing yourself to other humans who are just as flawed as you. Nobody is perfect; therefore comparison will never be fair. Just imagine how the person you compare yourself to really feels about themselves. I’m sure they also feel imperfect at times. It’s not fair or right to put anyone on a pedestal.
3. The comparison cycle is never-ending. In fact, it’s a vicious circle. When you finish comparing yourself to one particular person, you will then find another person to compare yourself to. Once bored, you move onto yet another person to adore or envy. I guess it’s like finding a new trend or changing your fashion according to the seasons.
4. Comparison steals your time. How many times a week, how many minutes and hours a day do you spend fantasising and wishing that you were like someone else? Just think of the wonderful things you could actually accomplish if you got your mind and eyes away from them and their social media accounts!
5. Comparisons end in resentment. Resentment that builds from making comparisons is a major impediment to meaningful communication and genuine friendship. This creates isolation for both people.
6. Comparison robs you of joy. Comparing yourself to others never makes you joyful. We usually compare ourselves to another person because we are admiring their best qualities and measuring them up against our worst ones. As former US president Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy!”
The comparison game is depressing and dark. It’s toxic to our minds and will eat away at our hearts and relationships. We have all been victims of this at some stage or other. Maybe it’s a pastime that you are stuck in at this very moment; a labyrinth of lies and cobwebs entangling your thoughts and preventing you from seeing clearly.
The more I talked to Tayla that night, the more she opened her eyes to the truth and the more she realised that, although she loved Isla very much, she was beginning to resent her.
As the sunrise peeked over the horizon, Tayla and I wrote down a few tips to help her battle this comparison game.
Strategies to END the comparison game
1. Gratitude. In all things, find joy. In her article, “The Importance of Being Grateful”, child psychologist Deborah Jepsen puts it into perspective: “Gratitude promotes optimism and helps us to develop a more positive outlook. It lets us pause for a moment to reflect on something we have in our life right now instead of always striving for more . . . the next goal, the new dress, the new toy, the new car or the house renovation.” Keep a book or journal and practise gratitude daily, writing three to five specific things that you are grateful for. At first this might be hard, but the more you practise the easier it will flow.
2. Take a stroll. When those negative thoughts start to crawl into your mind, take a stroll in your backyard, around the block or even around the room. Walking releases chemicals called endorphins that interact with the brain to improve your mood.
3. Only compare yourself to you. If you want to compare yourself to anyone, compare yourself to you! Develop a skill or health practice. Go for your “personal best” like athletes do and, in the end, you will see improvement. Family and wellbeing researcher Dr Deborah Carr says, “By focusing on self-improvement rather than one-upmanship, we’ll have a more realistic and insightful strategy for reaching our goals, and ideally, our friends and loved ones will be there to support us along the way.”
4. Ban negativity. When those dark thoughts make their way into your mind, stop, refocus and say a quick prayer. We have the capacity to control our thoughts. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
5. Go on a social media fast. If you struggle with Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook or whatever, and you are constantly on these sites comparing yourself to others, then go on a fast. Stop immediately. Stay away from it. As hard as it may be, it will get easier. It takes approximately 21 days to break a bad habit, but it’s achievable. However, if going on a complete fast doesn’t work for you, then start with baby steps and do a social media detox. (Google it!)
6. Focus on your potential and strengths. Write a list of all your great qualities. Put down on paper all the things that you’re good at and focus on them. If you’re not sure what they are, ask family and friends. You will discover strengths you didn’t even know you had!
7. Find a hobby. Get busy creating! Painting, drawing, playing an instrument, planting a garden, baking, taking photos. . . . All of these things can keep your mind alert and focused on something other than the things that deplete you emotionally. Having a hobby challenges you, keeps your mind busy and gives you the opportunity to develop a new skill, giving you a confidence boost.
8. Get involved in charity work. Helping others really helps us focus less on ourselves. This might not be possible if you have a young family. However, together with your family, you can dedicate an hour or two a week to visiting sick friends or lonely people in nursing homes and hospitals. You could also organise a charity drive from your home and have friends and family drop food baskets or clothes to your house. Later, with some friends or family members, you can give to the homeless or other charities you choose. The busier you are helping make a difference, the less time you will have to think about yourself in a negative way.
9. Seek professional help. If you are in a dark place—you’re not coping and have spiralled into a deep depression—seek professional help. There’s nothing wrong with seeing someone who can help you and give you tips and strategies to improve your emotional health.
So what happened to Tayla? She worked through this list for many months and it helped. It was slow progress, but with God’s help and a good support group surrounding her, she reached her goal. When she stopped focusing on her weaknesses and on her cousin Isla, she started doing great things.
You too can shift your vision and focus because, as Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Grace Thomas writes regularly for various Christian magazines. She lives with her family in Queensland, Australia.
This article is adapted with permission from a piece that first appeared in GIGI magazine.
* Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the people involved.