I quite often need reminding that comparison is the enemy of literally everything in my life. Some of us were encouraged, at an early age, to look towards the example of others to determine what success and failure look like from the outside. “Please don’t act like them.” “Why can’t you be more like her?” What does that person have that you don’t?”
That last one is tricky, because its purpose is often to point out that everyone is eligible for success. We all have what it takes to achieve our goals. The obvious answer to this rhetorical question might be and easy, “nothing” to those with a healthy level of self-esteem. There is absolutely nothing that separates me from that person living the life I want. All I have to do is simply apply those positive qualities we possess, to our own lives, and create our own destiny. Sounds easy enough, right?
The problem for many of us, however, is we’re not all born into an environment that promotes a healthy sense of self. For us, that question may produce the opposite effect. We hear, “What does that person have that you don’t?” and begin a running list.
According to “The overlooked relationship between motivational abilities and posttraumatic stress: a review” [an article by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)]:
“In the context of trauma, individuals respond to a traumatic event with intense fear, helplessness, or horror, and they perceive the stressor as uncontrollable or unpredictable (Foa, Zinbarg, & Rothbaum, 1992). Undergoing such uncontrollable adversities can lead to learned helplessness (Seligman, 1975) and, consequently, negatively influence outcome expectations.”
I’ve written about learned helplessness, and the role it has played in my own struggles with trauma and motivation here. I talk about how incredibly affirming it was to learn about and how, in many ways, it answered the questions, “What the hell is wrong with me? Why can’t I just do the things?” It allowed me an opportunity for some serious self-compassion, and some version of “normal.” While I don’t believe the suggestions to compare are necessarily meant to harm, they need context. Context matters.
I’ve written about raising a highly sensitive child, and how the messages I received as a kid influence the way I respond to uncertainty. When people you trust tell you you’re “too much,” “too sensitive,” or “too needy,” it makes sense to pretend you’re not. Girls are often urged to toughen up, tone it down, and take it easy. After all, too much attention can land a girl in trouble.
When people are uncomfortable with certain feelings, it makes sense to avoid them; even if it means shaming someone else for accepting them. I have a family member who is, for all intents and purposes, a very level-headed person. His intellectual process astounds me. Apparently, too much of anything disrupts this process. The idea of valuing pain or dwelling on one thing or another for the sake of process is completely baffling. It is his opinion we should just to move on and forget. If we spend too much time feeling, we may be swallowed whole and rendered useless.
To some extent, I agree with this recipe for a peaceful existence. For those who have mastered these tenets, and leveled their heads to remain objective these ideas, perhaps it works. For me, however, and many other people who struggle to flip that switch, these suggestions may not only not work, but also be quite damaging.
I have always appreciated human emotion as a form of communication and process. It has taken me time, work, reflection, and energy to unpack all the messages and judgements I have been fed and ingested. It has taken even longer to realize that I can reject them without losing respect for the people who held the spoon.
We do the best with the tools we have. Some we are handed at birth. They protect us against “too much,” and all the problems it can cause. They aid in leaving the past and moving forward. For some, the facts are enough.
Personally, I want to feel all the feels. I want to experience the sadness of loss and the joys of gain and swim in the vastness of all of it. I want to reach inside other people and get messy. I want to make and learn from all the mistakes, and trust in The Universe to guide me back to shore. I can’t learn from my past and honor my journey if I don’t look back. I can’t appreciate how each of those moments have changed me – brought me closer to the person I’m meant to be.
Having walked through many of the fires, I am so grateful for every opportunity to grow and change to be of better service to the world. What may seem like too much to others is just enough for me. Becoming the person I was meant to be has enabled me to do the things I was meant to do. You own the narrative and the rights to create and live the life you want.
Let us honor our gifts; even if other people don’t. Let’s show up bravely, and be who we are, so we can do the things we were meant to do. Be weird. Be loud. Be too much for everyone else. Be enough for you.