There are times in life when we feel content. We know what we have is what we need and our relationships fulfil our emotional needs.
There are other times, however. These are times when what we have – our house, other possessions, job, lifestyle etc feel like they are not enough. There are a number of obvious reasons for this. Changes in our mental health (a period of depression, for example) or changes in our circumstance (a job loss or house move) can both mean that we look at our lives differently. However, there is another force at play within our society that can cause any of us to reassess and negatively judge our circumstance. This force is Comparison.
Comparison causes us to look at what we have not in terms of how it serves us or the contentment that it brings us, but with a competitive edge. When we view the facts of our life in comparison to the lives of those around us, there will always be a feeling of either winning or losing. Unfortunately, for most people, when we consistently do this comparison, by nature of competitive odds, we will lose more often than we win. There is a natural social interaction that happens within this space. We talk about our stuff. Our cars, houses, house prices, school places, clothing, phones… all possessions and lifestyle choices are fodder for conversation and become what we talk about a significant portion of the time. These interactions, in themselves are causes for external validation, which is a consistent and natural means by which to assure our self worth. However, they can take a malevolent turn.
It is important to note that how we interact with the comparison piece is a key indicator of our level of self worth. If we find that we are consistently ‘failing’ or feeling negatively judged in comparison to our peers, then there is every possibility that we are using criteria to judge ourselves that has been set by another. If the size of your garden or the condition of your car is something that is causing you to feel that you are ‘failing’, then there is a distinct possibility that the criteria for this judgement is one that is being set by someone else and you are buying into. This means that your judgement of acceptability is not something that you have self determined to be important to you. This piece undermines your innate sense of self worth.
If, however, you are comparing yourself to others and consistently winning, then there is every possibility that you are the one that is setting the criteria for this judgement. Whilst it is certainly true that this allows any of us to feel a greater sense of self worth, there is a separate issue within this in that we are coming from a place of high self esteem, but are still seeking validation from the external. There may be a touch of narcissism within this that could need some further examination.
Ultimately, if something about us or our lifestyle is judged by a wider peer group to be important (where our kids go to school or where we choose to holiday for example), then we need to spend time with this piece and ask ourselves how this interacts with our personal narrative around our values and how we deem our self worth. Our interaction with external validation is really important and it is really important that we perform this interaction in consciousness. Here are some good questions to ask yourself in assessing this piece:
How much of my self worth is being assessed by the good feeling that I get when I hear praise for my choices from someone I admire?
Break this down further for yourself:
- Where is my natural state of self worth (ie do I overall feel good or bad about myself)?
- How strong is that element of good feeling for me?
- How much do I admire this person?
- Do I also allow significance to the opinion of those that I do not admire, or even that I do not admire as much?
In each of these pieces, we can come to understand where we lie on the natural spectrum of validation from the external right through to a strong, immovable inner sense of self worth.
Neither end of the spectrum is going to be necessarily healthy for us. However, there is a vast middle ground that, if successfully navigated, can allow us to feel both internal contentment and external acceptance.
How we feel about what we have is a space that is not as immediately occupied by our internal world as we would imagine. On the contrary, this is the space where it is only by looking at what everyone else has that we can fully appreciate our world. However, the danger in this is that we can sometimes lose touch with our personal experience of self worth. All of this can be managed. Doing it consciously is the key to bringing comfort to the self.