The power of not comparing yourself to others
Notes on the Sunday address by Dr Francis Macnab, 24 January 2016.
By John Abbate
Our lives are caught in a web of comparisons, in those we make for ourselves and those that others make for us. “We are all strongly affected by the power of those comparisons,” said Dr Macnab, “by that competitiveness that gives rise to many emotions; sometimes also to terrible, destructive behaviours.”
“Comparisons and competitiveness can have two consequences,” Dr Macnab explained. “They might spur me on to look at myself, or they might tear me to pieces.”
For this address, Dr Macnab focuses on the negative consequences and the power that comparison can have over us. He proposes to “tap into the reservoirs of religion and psychology” to put before us “several ways of constructive coping with these powerful comparisons.”
From the Epistle to the Ephesians, Dr Macnab extracts this useful message: “Hold onto those positive strengths that would quench the fire-tipped darts of all that would have you succumb to an inferior existence.” There are things you can do to strengthen you in your inner-self.
Dr Macnab introduces us to seven ideas that can help us to constructively manage the place that comparison occupies in our lives:
- Stay focussed on the good energy of God (or Life); on the self-strengths that you carry with you; on self-control, self-possession and self-dignity.
- Separate the important details from the emotional loadings, the important direction from the invasive anxieties that would undermine your harmony and tear your relationships apart.
- Select people for their supportive influence.
- Stress-anxiety reduction: rather than accept anxiety as normal, start thinking about the reduction of anxiety as your key task. Anxiety disorders “are strongly driven by a fear of comparison,” said Dr Macnab.
- Learn to side-step the emotional onslaughts that other people throw at you, and those you visit on yourself. The psychoanalyst Harry Stack Sullivan taught that the personality existed in the space of interpersonal relations, rather than in the individual mind. For Sullivan, two things were vital for wellbeing: 1. a sense of security, and, 2. a sense of life satisfaction. Sidestep threats to your security and satisfaction.
- Seek positive substitutes for the anxiety of comparison in your relationships and activities.
- Develop your “belief architecture.” If recent psychology has emphasised the role of cognitive behaviour (the way we think about things) and its reconstruction for our ability to manage our mental health and wellbeing, the overall architecture of faith adds an inspiring overview. Our theology brings a different perspective and a stronger way of being-in-the-world, in which the anxieties of all our comparisons lose their power.