• Tina

Me V Them - comparing and contrasting

Having the skills to compare and contrast is really helpful if you are doing a Venn diagram working out different options for a new hoover - but alas I fear not when it comes to your self esteem.

Compare and contrast - I am bad, she is good, I am ugly, he is fat, I am bad at exams, they are good, I can't study my sister can... I could go on and on - comparing ourselves to others tends to lead to disaster and I would suggest we only use compare and contrast when we want to see only the positives in others and the negatives in ourselves. I rarely hear clients saying I am great at X but he is rubbish (ok I will admit I sometimes make this comment about HH but it is always said in jest).

When people are discussing how 'bad', 'poor' or 'inadequate' they are to others I have to admit I find it hard to hear it being said. Often the person I have sitting in the chair opposite me have so many of their own unique qualities and skills but they cant always see them.

Opposite is a picture of the wonderful Psychotherapist Carl Rogers. Rogers transformed the way we thought about humans and how we function in the world. He is one of the great therapists, his work emerged in the 1960's as an 'alternative' view to the then, strong hold of Psychodynamic therapy (Remember him Freud - its all to do with our mum and dad - or as one of my clients said - so all this is my mums fault?). Rogers, in my humble opinion, helped therapists engage with their clients and develop a more compassionate and engaging approach. When I was training some of Rogers work really hit home with me, especially his view that we are Unique Humans each of us with our own qualities, vulnerabilities and personalities. Rogers believed we all aspire to fulfill our potential and achieve the highest level of 'human-beingness' we can. 

Anything or anyone can grow to their full potential, if the conditions are right, but is constrained by its environment, so people will flourish and reach their potential if their environment is good enough. At no point does Rogers explore how this is aided by comparing ourselves to others and holding our head in shame when we fail to live to some ubicutous standard.

Humans are unique, and we are meant to develop in different ways according to our personality.  Rogers believed that people are inherently good and creative however they can become destructive when a poor self-concept or external constraint overrides the valuing process - such as comparing ourselves to others. In a way we are imposing the standards and behaviours of others on ourselves, rather than living by our own standards.

Ultimately we have to ask the question - is what I am doing in comparing myself to another helpful? Is there a different way to look at this.

You probably know contrast in its relation to compare. To contrast something is to look for differences among two or more elements, but compare is to do the opposite, to look for similarities. It's easy to tell the difference if you remember that contrast comes from

the Latin root contra, and means "against.

So how do you deal with your thoughts when they pop up?

Really WORDS DO MATTER .. the words we use either inside our head or talking to others frame our thinking and responses. Try to find some alternative words that take away the harsh judgements we make about our selves ... like ...

Original thought - She is great at baking cakes I am dreadful


She makes great cakes - mine always sink - however I am really good at knitting

Original thought - He is so good at swimming I would be rubbish


He is good at swimming, I was good at Rugby lets give it a go and see how I get on

Original thought - They do great presentations, mine are rubbish compared to theirs


They have some good techniques in their presentation I would like to include some of them in mine

Get a bigger vocabulary

My sister and I are so alike in many ways however we differ in our body shapes

My friend and I have so much in common but I don't see her musical talents

Our vocabulary is important - its one of our great skills and using it wisely will help us develop a more balanced view of ourselves compared to others

So there is another unhelpful thinking style - negatively comparing and contrasting ourselves to others with the potential to impact on our self-esteem.

We are all different, we look different, sound different, do things in different ways, have different skills and qualities but that's what makes us unique and something to celebrate.

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