Comparing Ourselves to Others and the ‘Normal’ in Therapy

measuring tapeHave you ever found yourself thinking about a particular person who lives across the hall, across the street or on the other side of the world and who has it better than you?

They have more money, a better job,  or a love-life you yearn for. You envy their talent or looks. You watch them and wish. You work hard. Maybe you find yourself struggling. Or failing.

The criteria for success – success in work, in relationships, with our bodies – seems to be well documented in newspapers, magazines, on television and websites. We are surrounded by the promise of more and are constantly told how to make goals, enhance our performance and get the most out of life. Meeting these expectations isn’t easy and can be stressful. And even if we do achieve what we set out to achieve, how often is it that we forget to acknowledge that because we are too busy striving for the next goal?

Is the grass greener on the other side? There is a difference between being inspired by the possibilities of life and being trapped by our own or others expectations. When we are constantly measuring ourselves against standards of success, we become our own harshest critics. Not measuring up to perceived expectations can have us in the lows of despair or the throes of anxiety.

How did we end up like this?

Comparing ourselves to others is something that is generally encouraged in modern life as a way of ensuring we are ‘normal’. Being ‘normal’ is considered to be a way of achieving social acceptance and self esteem.

But comparing ourselves to others also can leave us feeling as though we simply can’t measure up to what is regarded as normal. We can end up feeling deficient or disturbed in some way. Similarly, we might even want to prove we are better than average and can achieve beyond the norm. This dissatisfaction, and the search for relief from it, supports a huge industry of self-help publishing and seminars, psychoanalysis and cognitive behaviour therapy.

Is there a way out?

If we are lucky, while we are desperately trying to measure up, we start to question whether there is a point to it all. This questioning is the beginning of awareness and may even lead us to step back and start to look at what is really important to us. We can start to realise that desire for more leads to a kind of blindness that has us only noticing certain things about certain people. We might start to see that we can easily lose ourselves or get stuck in normality.

Stepping back provides a way of appreciating what we already have. Practically, there are different ways to do this. Meditation is one technique as are Mindfulness practices, which are akin to meditation ‘on the go’.

Another technique is to open our eyes and really draw in the world around us. For example, we can take a walk down a busy street and just look at people. We can look at everyone, not just the ‘attractive’ people. And rather than looking at people with a critical eye, we can try to approach the act of observing others with appreciation. All around us are ordinary people living extraordinary lives. How often do we notice them? And how often do we acknowledge the extraordinariness of our own lives?

The Art of Contentment

There is a skill to the art of contentment. It takes practice and appreciation. Therapeutic conversations can help too. When we verbalise our thoughts, we give life to ideas. When, through a dialogue with someone else, we hear our ideas resonate with another’s experience, it affirms that we are onto something.

Contentment is a conscious choice. It is about seeing what is present rather than what is not, appreciating what we already have and who we already are and celebrating that uniqueness. Contentment is looking at the detail and finding the extraordinary within the everyday. Acknowledging the miracle of each moment.

Please make a link to Forward Therapy from your website if you are inspired by these ideas.

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