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Grant: Overcoming Compare-Despair Syndrome

on May 18, 2019 - 10:35am
By ELIZABETH GRANT, LPCC
Sage Solutions Counseling
Los Alamos

“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” –Steve Furtick

Open up Fakebook, I mean Facebook, and you’re bound to bump into a friend who’s parasailing in the Caribbean, another who’s just completed a marathon and the pièce de résistance; a couple of love birds professing their love from under the Eiffel Tower.

Social media is all about presentation and naturally we want to show our best selves. As a result, the social media messages that we read can lure us into questioning the quality of our life and can magnify our pre-existing insecurities.

This action often is called “comparing your insides to other people’s outsides.” The Dali Lama calls this “psychological abuse.” It’s a form of dishonoring yourself by making up stories about how others live by assuming that their exterior presentation defines their internal state of happiness.

The truth is that you can have the brain of Einstein, the body and moves of JLo, the pipes of Aretha Franklin and the family tightness of the Brady Bunch but you’d still have to deal with the suffering that is common to each and every one of us. The Buddha says there are 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows and my guess is that no one can mess with the numbers.

So how do we break free from creating compare-despair in our own life? First of all, if you hold envy, acknowledge it. Emotions that we attempt to control have a quirky way of controlling us. One way to do this is to tell the person that you’re envious of them and it’s likely that you will forge a bond with this person that your hidden green envy never would have been capable of doing. Perhaps you can learn something from this person who has cultivated something you want. 

Secondly, ask yourself what is the jealousy or envy telling you about what you desire? 

The American author Glen Doyle Melton once said, “We’re only envious of those already doing what we were made to do. Envy is a giant, flashing arrow pointing us toward our destiny.”

Have you decided that you can’t go on that biking trip because you have no one to go with? Take an empowering step and go by yourself but with an organized group. It may not be your ideal scenario but by not waiting around for someone to join you, you are flexing your self-empowerment and confidence muscle. And guess what, if this solution is fulfilling and exciting, you won’t despair.

A third strategy is to stay in your own lane. Brene Brown, “The Queen of Vulnerability” researcher and best-selling author once said, “Stay in your own lane. Comparison kills creativity and joy.”  

We all come to this planet to work out different challenges, to work against different timelines, cultivate different gifts and to manifest different lives. Did the word ‘different’ get saturated into your mind as you read this sentence?

As a personal example of staying in one’s own swim lane, I have spent some valuable time in therapy to learn that I don’t have to be like one of my five sisters to be worthy. Each of my sisters is highly extroverted. I saw their capacity to charmingly engage others in big groups as an illustration of confidence and intelligence that I did not behold. As a result, I often felt less than. What I’ve learned by staying in my own lane is that I am more introverted and that I do much better with a one-on-one outing. Also, that my need for socialization is less than theirs. In essence, I’ve learned that my value is no less, just different. 

Finally, it’s essential that we adopt an attitude of gratitude. Oprah Winfrey has said, “The more thankful I became, the more my bounty increased. That’s because, for sure, what you focus on expands. When you focus on the goodness in life, you create more of it.”  

Sometimes we invalidate what we have in our life and what we’ve accomplished by focusing on the success of others. Instead, start with where you are. This is the most loving thing that you can do for yourself. If you can cultivate your gratitude muscle, you’ll be less prey to envy and despair. You can only grow your life when you nurture and appreciate what’s in your current orbit. 


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