The Comparison Complex
I’ve been pondering lately on the word ‘personality’ and what shapes ours. The field of sociology and psychology would put it down to ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ – our circumstances and environment as well as the things passed down to us by our parents or those that raised us. Part of it also boils down to genetics. While all of these are definitely factors, what if there was more – something that we were sort of in control of?
There’s a famous saying that goes like this: “What you see is what you become.” I don’t know about you, but I think there’s truth to that. The things that you surround yourself with – be it TV shows, friends, colleagues, workload, books, whatever it may be, do end up in some way shaping your personality. Now I am not stipulating that if you binge watch Zombieland or Vampire Diaries that you will turn into a Zombie or a Vampire – nothing wrong with binge watching a show, but what I am saying is the things that govern your life and your time, eventually play out in your personality. So here’s what I am trying to get at: how much of our lives are determined by comparison and how much is defined by role models. Is there a difference between the two? And are we aware that if we don't understand the difference it could result in a comparison complex?
I don’t know about you, but I grew up in a culture teeming with comparison. It was not uncommon to hear words like “look at him, how well he studies, why can’t you be like him?” or in school on prize day you would be made fun of for having the least amount of certificates. Such sentences, though meaning to set a role model for us to be inspired by and look up to, often tend to do the opposite – leave one with a sense of inadequacy and disappointment. Pretty soon it becomes a part of you, comparing looks, capabilities, talents, perceived success, etc. Most of us are innately ambitious beings – always wanting more for ourselves, setting up standards and goals that we hope to accomplish. While this is by no means wrong, what or who defines those standards matters!
Why is having a Comparison Complex so dangerous?
Comparison, though it comes easy for most, is often debilitating. Here’s why:
Comparison offers another person (known or unknown) unwarranted power over you.
Let me explain by example: I am currently 6 months pregnant with my very first child. As you can imagine, a first time pregnancy comes with a WHOLE load of new experiences; things you are prepared for and things you aren’t. Half way through it, I started to feel sort of dissatisfied with myself, I felt inadequate and just really upset with myself. At first, I couldn’t figure out why, until I realised, I had ideals in my head of what I should be like as a pregnant person. I’ve seen all these pictures of beautiful maternity shoots, heard about this magical pregnancy glow that you’re supposed to have, or your hair’s going to grow beautifully and all these wonderful stories and pictures of how magical pregnancy is. So here I am wondering if it’s so amazing, why do I feel like this? They all seem to be full of life, and energy and I just celebrate myself getting through the day without dozing off in between or actually having a full night’s sleep – what’s wrong with me? That’s when it hit me – I had unknowingly given over power to the media (and my own ideals) to define what my journey should look like. The point is, I don’t know their journey, I don’t know what goes on behind the camera or how much effort was taken to be that way, and I just look at the end result and create a standard in my head without any background information. Is pregnancy magical? Absolutely – it’s magical in my own unique journey.
Comparison is not only degrading, it also robs you from seeing (and celebrating) the wonder and the uniqueness that is you.
Each one of us are on a journey. Some get from point A to D in a jiffy, for others it takes years and tireless effort. However the joy is not in the destination, but in the journey – the people you’ve met along the way, the small accomplishments, the obstacles overcome, the lessons learnt and the character that journey has developed in you; that’s what matters! When we compare, we do so without knowing what the other person has done to get there, the suffering, pain or work entailed with it and how that person really feels on the inside. The fact is, there are ALWAYS going to be people better than us – better cooks, singers, dancers, richer, etc. which brings me to my contrast: Role models.
When we have a goal in mind, do we also have a role model or an example to follow? Very often unknown people become our role models which inadvertently sets us back into the place of comparison. While it is not wrong to have celebrities that inspire you, when we can’t ask questions it doesn’t help much. Role models do not necessarily need to embody your ultimate goal – remember: everyone is on a journey, but at least what the next step for you looks like. Healthy role models are not judgemental, they do not enforce certain things onto you, they celebrate your successes and stand with you in weakness. They may not even know that they are so influential in your life, but you have the freedom to observe them, learn from them and grow in that way. When we have role models, we have a ‘case study’ to learn from and we can see how we may be different from them and therefore do not necessarily need to mimic them. It allows us to take lessons and values, while still celebrating our own uniqueness and travel our own journey.
Aligning yourself with the right people
Coming back to “what you see is what you become”, it is vital in order to be successful to align yourself with others who are successful. They do not necessarily need to have success in the same field that you are trying to conquer, but they will have lessons, values and mind-sets that you may be able to draw from. This doesn’t just align with ambition, but really for anything that you want to see change in your life; example “I want to be more joyful”, surround yourself with people whom you perceive to be so. Role models are healthy as long as they do not become our standard. Our standard can and should be set by only one person and that is ourselves. When they become our standard, we’ve automatically fallen into the comparison trap and begin to attempt to resemble someone we are not. One’s personality and character is too precious to hand out to anyone to shape – it is up to us to treasure and work on, and we can as long as we’re careful to make sure we’re being us and not someone else.
I’ll end with the same question I began with – Who and what do we allow to shape us and are we defined by role models or comparison?
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