Embracing Our Nature -- The Comparison Trap
I thought I was different. I though I was beyond “thecomparison trap”—that only insecure, unsatisfied women were susceptible of such shallowness. I was wrong.
Of course I flip through magazines wondering why I don’t look like her, or set my standards relative to his, but it’s not like I ever been burdened to confess a deep, dark comparison struggle, let alone bring it up with God. Writing this article, however, might’ve changed that.
“Just to see what happened,” (and to see if I could possibly connect with some of you “comparers”), I decided to do an experiment where at the end of the day, I’d reconsider points where I found myself comparing—where I evaluated myself based on something other than what I (though I) knew as the truth. I won’t go into gory details, but let’s just say this, one day of reflection gave me enough ammo to write a book, let alone article. Comparisons were endemic. They rocked a lot of my moods, affected a lot more of my mindsets and defected a number of my days. Every hour seemed to compile it’s own list of looks, thoughts, or covetous desires. And every relationship, it seemed, dripped with sometimes blatant, but more times subtle, jealousies, yearning for what she had, or somehow feeling “less” because of what I didn’t. Though comparison isn’t something I’m typically aware of, this process has shown me that it steers my days (and daydreaming) with a more seductive, steady weight than I’m comfortable admitting. So know upfront that I’m writing and wrestling through these traps with you, just as much as for you.
the body scan(v): when one woman overtly, or covertly, scans another woman’s frame, assisting the “looker” and “looked at” to the degree that an additional standard of judgment is pinned to her already flooded repertoire of criticism, identity and confidence issues.
I know you know what I’m talking about. We all do it; we all hate when others do it; and we all wish we didn’t. But we still do it. Why? Surely we don’t think scanning herframe will magically transform ours into theirs? Or transfer ours onto theirs? And yet we surrender to it time and again throughout our days.
A second experiment attempted during this writing was interacting with people only by looking at their eyes, or at least their heads. Doing so showed me, a) how much “body scanning I do,” b) how many aesthetic compliments I give and c) how many of these are based on things I long for, versus a pure celebration of what the other person has. Recognizing these surface comparisons was daunting enough, but realizing their scope was even more so. Whether it relates to schedules, habits, marriage, money, or parenting...I compare A LOT—and to a lot. At any given moment throughout the day, most of how I identify myself is based on the success, or failure, of how I line-up with another, or lived-up to another’s. Again though, why? Why do I stoop to such views? And as a professing Christian, why can’t I view myself as God does?
What I’ve come to realize is that “in the moment,” something about me coveting, criticizing, or assessing my stuff, relative to yours, feels better. I don’t actually believe comparing will shrink my body, make me a bigger rhinestone, or magically promote my position, but again, in the moment it’s what comes naturally. The question then, assuming this seems like a problem we should address, is where does this come from? Are comparison traps a human thing, or a girl thing, or maybe just an American thing? Well, I can confidently answer on the female side of these equations, and will leave the other to F(ather) OP’s next edition.
At its core, comparison relates to the idea of belonging—of feeling included, known and liked, as you are and/or, as you are not. Because we’re intricately designed to belong, we will meet any extreme (of comparison) to avoid not belonging—at home, work, or most basically, in our own skin. And as women, these ideas bear witness all the way back to infancy, where we’re found to be hard-wired toward connectedness, intimacy and inclusion. And we’re found to be related to our lovely sister Eve, who modeled a climatic fall based on comparison—based on the enticing idea of being like God (see Genesis 3).
When something about what you’ve done, are doing, or could do, rubs an insecurity of what I’ve not done, am not doing, or will likely not do, comparing is my innate response. Something in me feels threatened, so that in order to stay on even-ground, I must compare. Initially, this finds me “back in the game,” convinced that you’re ugly, fake, or full of yourself, or, it finds me devastated, unable to find something wrongwith you, such that another layer of insecurity and wrong is added to me.
Before this summer, I might’ve suggested these “comparison traps” as privy to American soil, or at least women of upper and middle class demographics. Women in poverty, I assumed, must be so attached to the urgencies of survival and community, that a luxury like comparison would be foreign. Not the case. After spending some months with Uganda women, and having dialoged with women around the globe, I’ve realized these “traps” as universal. They wear different masks and choose different means, but at the end of the day, roots and ripples of comparison dig deep into the identity of every woman across the globe.
“What the big deal? Most of my thoughts never get spoken anyway, so how bad can the effects be?”
Well, on a number of accounts, and I’ll just briefly mention a few, but I think the effects are that bad, and would do well to be at least considered as a big deal.
*First off, comparing hides me (more). When I compare myself to anything, or anyone, there’s an automatic slice to my confidence and new standard to which I feel obliged, guilted and/or expected to reach.
*Comparison harbors resentment. It provides me with another reason to dislike who I am, or who I am not. There’s an example of this in Genesis 30:1, where Rachel compares herself to Leah and then furthers the trap by dragging her husband into it. Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she became jealous of her sister; and she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die.” In comparing herself to Leah, Rachel saw something in herself that she didn’t like. Furthermore, there was something in Leah that she longed for. Feeling insecure and undervalued, she succumbed to self-pity, exaggeration and eventually, flat-out lying—each familiar to the average woman. Point being, long-term, comparison never gets us anywhere healthy, and rather, builds into unhealthy banks of bitterness and insecurity.
* Finally, and most dramatically maybe, comparison kills us. I’m all for the woman who’s never experienced the battle(s) of comparison. But I’ve also never met her. Whether in friendship, fellowship, or our own personal frailties, I think we’ve all felt the shrapnel these traps. And we’ve all felt the slow death of their grip. Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death…John 10:10 says there’s an enemy warring against us, who’s out to steal, kill and destroy…and there are many more like them. Call it Christian jargon, but I think there’s something here. I think there’s something dangerously real about comparison traps being far more than temporary, and rather, slow agents of death, who aggravate our beingsand suck life from our days.
So Now What?
Maybe I should’ve told you this sooner, but I’m not a mom. I’m not the “mother of a preschooler,” or even a wife. I’m a grad-student, who spends most days with other grad-students, or those in high school and college. But, I am also a woman; thus, I am a woman who compares. My hope for this article isn’t to beat us up for comparing, or bat- us-down so hard, that we won’t. Rather, my hope is that we’ll slowly be able to own and open to this fallen side of our identity, as oppose to fighting it. Because we are women DNA’ed by the Fall, we are natured toward comparison. We lean naturally toward evaluations based on others—other faces, other fashions, other styles and other sizes. The challenge then, is not to mask, or deny, these tendencies, but to concede with them in such a way that we see ourselves as we truly are, and seek the Spirit of God to change, challenge and channel us to how, and who, He truly wills.
“Fixing” our “bad” comparative propensities is impossible. Not only that, but doing so, I think, would rob of us what could actually be a good and unifying gift. You are able to see things in me that I can’t, and vice versa. Some of these things may be more, or less, attractive than others, but regardless, your eyes have a perspective that mine don’t. Your mind has a creativity that mine doesn’t. And your hands have a capacity that I never will. The challenge then, toward embracing “untrapped comparisons,” is realizing that you are different than me—not better, or worse.
If I were to revisit the question of whether, “comparison is really such a big deal,” and do so as if responding to a four-year-old, I would probably answer with something like this: “Yes honey, it is a really a big deal…because you are a big deal. You are worth so much more than any comparison could ever reveal. You are uniquely designed. No one else can do what you were made to, and no one else has a purpose like yours. I hope you can trust me.” And my guess is, if we were to ask God the same question, “Is comparison really such a big deal?”, He might respond with something similar: “Yes honey, it is a really a big deal…because you are a big deal. You are worth so much more than any comparison could ever reveal. You are uniquely designed. No one else can do what you were made to, and no one else has a purpose like yours. I hope you can trust Me.”
God shares a number of thoughts relating to this conversation in Psalm 139. I would encourage you to carve out some minutes this week and “sit with Him” in these verses. What does it feel like to read His thoughts? Are some harder to grasp than others, or some more difficult to believe? Keep in mind that God’s goal is never to cure, condemn, or convince you, but simply to help you understand a little more about Him, and a little more about you. I am praying for us.
Abbie Smith is the author of Can You Keep Your Faith in College. She resides in Los Angeles and is pursuing a Masters in Spiritual Formation at Talbot Seminary. For more information, visit www.keepingyourfaith.com.