Oftentimes when we speak of addiction, substance abuse comes to mind. Though it clearly does surround that practice, addiction is equally shown in different types of behaviors and thought patterns. Comparing ourselves to others has never been easier, owing to an abstract “perfection” buzz going on nowadays, in aspects ranging from money to self-fulfillment.
But why does one get addicted to some habits in the first place?
According to Dr. Gabor Maté in his book In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts, “a hurt is at the center of all addictive behaviors. It is present in the gambler, the internet addict, the compulsive shopper and the workaholic. The wound may not be as deep and the ache not as excruciating, and it may even be entirely hidden – but it’s there”.
One may not be aware of whatever triggered their current compulsions, as well as they can be fully conscious of it. It could have been the summation of past events – not necessarily traumatic ones – or one incident alone. No matter the cause, it sure has harmed a person in such a level that they need to follow an obsession in order to feel whole. And that’s when they should know there’s something off.
Comparison: a sly trickster.
There’s nothing more human than wanting to be accepted, better, richer, prettier, you name it. Envying others is a natural feeling, which might come off as a shocker for some people. They would rather keep it to themselves, as if there was anything unnatural about not feeling good about yourself 100% of the time.
You have felt a twinge of envy at least once in your life, and I’m pretty sure you can remember it as you’re reading. Most people have, there’s no denying that. However, they likely didn’t allow that to take the best of them and soon returned to their own business. Nothing unusual there, in fact, this should be a standard attitude.
On the flip side, comparison shouldn’t be molded into a way of life. It shouldn’t be severe to the point it causes an individual to lose track of their own self while being infatuated with someone else.
Here’s a real-life example:
I’ve always had a super low self-esteem. I can’t determine what caused it specifically, but my main guess has always been the divergence between my siblings and I.
Growing up with them was all fun and games, until the comparisons between us kicked in. We were judged on appearance, intelligence, skills and other matters, whether that was purposeful or not. That sure has taken a toll on the perception I had of myself. The thought of having to allow everyone else to validate my existence fixed itself into my subconscious mind.
But it wasn’t until a year ago that the hurt mentioned above really got to me.
A first heartbreak was all it took to warp my view on who I was. I couldn’t get enough of the feeling of insufficiency and started engaging in deprecating actions – stalking, negative self-talk, ruminative thoughts. The worst part was: I felt uncomfortable when not doing those things.
Remembering that time gives me chills, because I would settle for way less than I deserved, and that in turn could make me agree to people taking advantage of me. This is only one of the drawbacks my obsessions brought.
However, as time progressed, I consequently healed. The perspective I gained and the people I’ve talked to helped me reckon was was in fact true over what my past had wrongfully constructed.
Here’s a few things I’ve learnedthat helped me battle through that behavior:
When you catch yourself obsessing over someone’s achievements, take a look inside.
It’s easy to wish for others’ lives when you haven’t done a thing to improve your own in any way. I know, there are moments when we can’t think of anything other than how small we are, or how little we are worthy of. I know, and it’s okay to take a while to accept those feelings. It’s a part of recovery.
When you get a clearer head – trust me, this time will come – analyze what you’re going through. Pay attention to what you’re thinking. For example:
That person seems so happy. They have a dream job and love what they’re doing.
First of all – we can only know so much about a person. Whatever our notion about them is, it’s mostly based on the way we ourselves see things. Unfortunately – or not – we’ll never know the true reality of someone.
Second of all, yes. They might actually love their job, but do you love your job? Probably not, otherwise you wouldn’t be measuring your happiness in such a way, and I find it really hard to be happy like that.
Once you feel okay again, that is, if you really want to get better, make an effort to identify what doesn’t feel right in different areas of your life and recognize potential causes.
For instance, if you catch yourself envying someone’s looks, then you may be valuing beauty over other assets due to an inferiority complex. Can you recall any occurrence that victimized you in that subject? How do you feel about your other personality traits? Your skills? Think about that.
Taking time to question where the problem at hand was originated will help you a lot in getting help and communicating it later on. I’ll tackle that in a minute.
Honestly – how well do you know the person you’re comparing yourself to?
True story: I used to have a tremendous admiration for this one girl, which later turned to greed. Everything about her seemed perfect, she seemed void of any trouble in every aspect. Though that did her no harm at all, it destroyed me.
A year later, we became friends to the point I really got to know her. To my surprise, lo and behold, she was normal. She probably had more self-doubt than I did, and she also thought highly of me. We were very similar, contrary to what my mind was fussing over.
I believe we tend to create false concepts about people we’re not too close to. We glimpse at snippets of their day, the pictures they post, their public presence and let our vulnerable minds decide who they are, when in reality we know absolutely nothing about them. We don’t know what it took for them to have what they have, or to be who they are.
Think about that next time you crave someone’s accomplishments. Would you be willing to walk their path, however difficult? You may be luckier than you think.
You really should occupy your time – with things you want/have to do.
No, I don’t mean you should go hoe a garden or for an idle run around the neighborhood. Not if you don’t want to.
The least helpful advice I get is to go for random activities for the sake of not thinking about something. If you’re going to dwell in schoolwork, so be it. You’ll fail if you don’t do it anyway. Have any hobbies, anything you’ve been planning on doing? Try it. You may amaze yourself with your potential and gain even more confidence.
Just make sure you’re not unengaged. If your mind is empty, you make room for obsessive, negative thoughts.
“When we have nothing to occupy our minds, bad memories, troubling anxieties, unease or he nagging mental stupor we call boredom can arise. (…) To a lesser degree, behavioral addictions are also responses to this terror of the void.” – Gabor Maté M.D.
Don’t Store It Inside
What if, instead of running from those “taboo” thoughts, you sat with them and wrote about them? It doesn’t necessarily have to be direct, it doesn’t even have to be good since only you will be seeing it. You could free your mind by writing a story about them, or a letter to whoever is making you feel that way – you won’t mail it to them, obviously, but it’s a way to somehow communicate what you’re going through. I’ve done it, and it calmed my heart down. I turned the fear of being alone with my thoughts into working with them towards my healing.
If you’re not a fan of writing, then speak to a loved one. Or call them, it doesn’t matter. If there’s anyone you can confide in, go ahead and release your affliction to them. It’s surprising how letting something out of your system can drop the weight off your shoulders. Since this is a rarely shared issue, who knows if they might be feeling the same way?
Comparison snatches our joy from us and replaces it with bitterness, without any positive outcome. All it does is deceive us into turning groundless beliefs into some sort of proven truth. Don’t let yourself steal your own spark like that!