I was walking out of a therapy session about a year ago, when my therapist topped off our conversation with a lasting nugget of wisdom:
“Buddha says comparison is the last attachment humans hold onto.”
I took that nugget out into the world, and have since referred to it more times than I can count. Comparing myself to others, then having to face my ugly feelings of inadequacy, jealously and envy, is a deep-seated pattern I would like to eradicate. It has been said that we attract what we exude in life; God knows I don’t want to attract that.
Endless studies link social media to depression, focused heavily on the well-established psychological phenomenon of: “social comparison,” by which we evaluate our own social and personal worth based on how we measure up to others in a range of domains such as attractiveness, wealth, talent, intelligence, education and success.
When it comes to social media, we often draw comparisons between our dull moments, the moments during which we are attracted to social media, and the most glorious moments our friends are capturing and posting.
Over the years I have found myself using the Internet as a direct means of emotional cutting, or picking at metaphorical scabs, when, for some reason, I find myself in a space where I choose to feel as sh*tty as possible about myself and my life.
As a longtime executive assistant, I worked in office environments in which I had a lot of down time, sitting in front of a computer. As one of my main functions was to answer the telephone, I could not often leave my desk. I was working in jobs that did not challenge me, and I was not fulfilling my desires by utilizing my gifts or the skills for which I wished to be paid.
In those offices I developed a horrible habit of cyber-stalking.
I had an evolving list of people whom I would search on a daily basis; usually they were artists who were out in the world being paid to live their dreams, or women associated with a boyfriend or an ex to whom I would jealously compare myself. Then there was the estranged ex with whom I was obsessed, who also happened to be a pubic figure; I remained fixated on his world via the Internet for more than a decade, believing that I “knew” him better than he knew himself.
I became a pro at combing the Internet for every available piece of information on these people that would help me feel as sh*tty as possible about my own existence. This activity, to which I would revert out of “boredom,” provided a great distraction from focusing on areas in my life that needed work.
It seemed that everyone I was stalking was living the life of his or her dreams while I was stuck in hell. I had created a prison in which I hated on myself in a downward spiral. I wonder how much of my own potential I squandered during those years.
Each of us is born into a unique set of circumstances. Each of us has our own path to follow, or to create, with our own strengths and weaknesses. We each have gifts to share and lessons to learn. We each started the climb from a different level of the mountain. It’s not how high we climb; it’s where we started that matters most in determining our own progress. It makes no sense to compare and yet we do it incessantly, allowing it to become part of a cycle of self-abuse.
I have noticed that when I am engaged in an activity that nurtures me and/or others, I do not compare. When I find myself in a dull or lonely moment, fearing my life isn’t as thrilling or as glamorous as it should be, I start to compare, which fuels negativity. Those are the moments when I could dive into my life—with the limitless possibilities at my fingertips—and accomplish, experience, contribute or learn something valuable.
What a boring place this world would be if we were all the same.
We each have so much to explore within ourselves, and out in the world, through our given areas of interest; it could take a lifetime to get down to the core of our issues and to maximize our potentials. This leaves little room for boredom or a lack of possible activity. We can always go deeper and unlock another door.
These days, I am trying to use my own journey as a means of comparison, instead of the lives of others. When I start to feel inadequate, I look back at my life and I am able to see the abundance of progress I have made. I haven’t sworn off my use of the Internet or social media, but I am more aware of my relationships with them; they are becoming healthier as the days go by.
If the way we are using and/or viewing the Internet, especially social media, is making us feel worse about our lives than we otherwise would, it is time to step back, reevaluate and make a change.
The present moment, from what I have found, is an ideal place to dwell when trying to give up the habit of comparison. When my mind wanders, I bring it back. Over and over again, I bring my thoughts back to where I am, and, usually, I find that I am pretty content right here. Never give up on the beauty of the present moment; there is always more to find.
“Personality begins where comparison leaves off. Be unique. Be memorable. Be confident. Be proud.” ~ Sharon L. Adler
Author: Stephanie Carlisi
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photos: Hartwig HKD/Flickr