Self-image and comparison are an over-worked topic, but I feel like a lot of us are still miserable in it.
I’ve been looking into how to get to the bottom of this with fear and trembling as a first time mom, because I’ve heard that it only gets more intense comparing mommyness. And I really can’t let that happen. This must end.
But dissecting the issue of self-worth has been painful and ultimately, very surprising. The process for how to get started was predictable, but the end discovery of the root issue, at least for me, was not.
Let’s get going on the right foot with a list of things that are not very helpful in the conversation on comparison.
1.”Social media pictures are just a highlight reel that we shouldn’t compare with our behind-the-scenes.”
This seems very helpful on the surface, but it vaguely implies that we can compare highlight moments and they will seem equal. Or that if we saw someone else’s behind-the-scenes, we would feel better. Bad advice, yo.
2. The idea that you should just be comfortable in your own skin and “flaunt it.”
If you’re like me, this message is pretty offensive. It’s like saying most women’s “real” problem is sadness that we can’t get attention with bare skin because we don’t fit a certain mold…and the answer is to do it anyway?
If you want that kind of attention, go ahead – it WILL work. Because big shocker: women of all shapes and sizes are beautiful and get attention when they display their bodies. But let’s not pretend that’s the cure for self worth or act like it’s a better model for younger women than the other messages out there! It’s just a way that more people get to play the game. Comparison goes much deeper than wanting attention for what we look like, so this is another surface feel-good idea that will leave us empty.
I know that I’m not a wise old sage who can answer an issue as old as time itself in one WordPress post – but let’s just pretend that I am for a moment. Because I have spent nearly my whole life guilty of poor self-image, and a significant part of those years analyzing the pahooey out of why it’s so difficult to stop comparing when we know it’s bad for us!
So here’s me, your very wise sage.
In a subsequent post, I will complain about the BLATANT sexism present in the Google image results for “wise sage”. There were zero women.
So as your sage, Carissa-Wan Shernobi, I will talk about a legitimate approach to tackling self-image and comparison that is more painful that reading nice memes about how special you are – but also works a lot better.
Perspective is the essence of stuff. So we have to see ourselves more clearly, like we’re stepping outside and watching someone else. Pretend that you are someone else you can observe for a minute. Even if looking at yourself feels like seeing this beached sea lion.
1. Shift point of view…and feel the burn
Warning: this is going to feel like “too small” a step, but it’s extremely important.
We have to change the belief that we could have what we want if someone else changed.
This doesn’t make our comparison issue feel any better at first, because it means we stop shifting the bad feeling to someone else and face ourselves. Full disclosure: this phase made me feel like a horrible, horrible person.
Things to look for while observing yourself:
- Thinking you’d be happy if your spouse or loved one did things differently with money, time, interests, behavior, etc.
- Thinking you’d be happy if you had an intimate relationship with someone, a significant other or even an ideal friend
- Seeing someone else’s success with relationships, image, work, or creative endeavors and believing it’s due to their support system or environment, and that if you had the same, you’d be happy
- Even the thought that you could be fulfilled if your body was healthy/able like other people belongs in this category. We can view our body like someone “else” who takes opportunities from us.
When we think that bad feeling we get after comparing can be ascribed to someone else, it can almost feel like a noble sacrifice we bear, living without what we want because of that other person. Or, we just resent them and act like a jerk because in our head it’s their fault.
While it might be technically true that someone else’s choices prevent us from having X, Y, or Z in some cases, it is not the reason for dissatisfaction with ourselves.
Ask yourself if you have dealt with your insecurity by believing someone else stands between you and feeling better about yourself.
2. Face the symptoms
Now have an honest look at how comparison makes you feel.
When you see something that you measure yourself up against, does it make you frantic to get dolled up so you’ll feel better about how you look?
Does it make you feel like a failure in life because of some accomplishment or lifestyle you can’t have?
Or does it make you feel desperate to do something cool enough to snap a picture for posting to social media?
Is that post like a high that has a let down when it doesn’t give you the fulfillment that you thought it would?
If you tend to compare more at work or in person with friends, ask yourself what the influence is after the fact.
Do you spend money or time on things you don’t really have extra for after being around your comparison “triggers”?
Remember: we’re doing this necessary process to arrive at a surprising conclusion, so don’t think of it like the answer is never getting to be a part of social media. You haven’t arrived at the root yet. We’re creating space for a new idea.
3. Track expenses in your time and exposure “budgets”
Notice how often you find yourself casually, almost subconsciously, flipping through social media to look at pictures or get information about things that …aren’t very relevant to your life. I know keeping up with people has the potential to be very positive, but think about the sheer volume of information you receive.
Everything our eyes take in is a huge amount of data for our brain to process. It takes up mental space, or worse, it’s so useless that it takes up time and then the brain essentially shreds the information. Which is horrifying, because ain’t nobody got time for that. But in the case of comparison, our brain does hang on to and spend energy on what we see. We are going to need that energy for where the real root issue lies.
4. Take your medicine
Make a decision, based on your self observation, that will help you eliminate as much temptation from your circumstances as possible without going into unrealistic long-term territory, like canceling accounts that are useful in daily life. Think of how you would eliminate distractions to study, work, write, or anything else, and come up with some practical ideas.
You might even ask someone close to you if it sounds reasonable. Maybe don’t ask the person who can’t put their phone down or talk about anything but what their lab partner from high school does on Snapchat.
The idea is to make ROOM for reprogramming. Make spaces in your life where you can code truth about yourself into your motives and thoughts. It takes time and commitment.
And that will open you up to the shocking truth that we often miss. This is something I can speak to as someone who has grown up in, and currently lives in, an environment where I am waaaaaay more encouraged and complimented than criticized, and who has a very positive social environment.
The loudest messages are from our own thoughts.
That’s why cutting out the noise is important. We have to face the truth outside of our excuses – that we’ve done it to ourselves.
The real issue is that all of the loud stuff, the millions of signals we bring in on a daily basis, enable us to avoid the pain of our core beliefs about who we are, where we are lacking, and what it takes to “fix” that feeling.
We develop addictions to things that help us deal with that pain, like drugs that keep us in the dark about our real self image. The drugs are different for everyone. I’ll be honest and say that one of mine is being anal about cleaning our house and running things like a sergeant. I’ve been this way ever since we got married even though it’s the opposite of my natural personality – because somewhere inside, that’s how I found a brain chemical high that fixed feeling like “less of a woman”.
We admire stories where women overcome all this criticism and rejection to rise above and succeed. We want to be like that. But the problem often isn’t that someone outside is forcing us to see ourselves poorly through their persecution. It’s our own internal priority. And that’s what keeps us down.
If we’re down BEFORE the outside criticism comes, what in heck will we do when it does? We haven’t developed the inner strength that will weather it. We actually know this deep down, and it causes us to run from the success we think we desire. We run up close to it – and stop. Because the shame we hear from our own inner thought pattern is so painful, we know that we couldn’t survive the next level.
Try to find a picture of yourself when you were really young. Look at yourself from an outside perspective and think about how you speak or think/feel toward that person.
If you knew the child in that picture today, would it make you angry to hear what she thinks she has to live up to? Get a little angry about it. Cry a bit.
You are still that priceless and lovable person, and that message has to be put on repeat more often than the others.
Are you ready to do what it takes to make that happen?