Of Comparison, Escapism and Avoidance


“How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.”
~Marcus Aurelius~


On a recent Sunday, my church’s pastor hit a personal nerve with his sermon. It had to do with the three largest words in the title of this post and how comparison and escapism-turned-to-avoidance can be very dangerous for our Christian faith. I would say these actions are dangerous for anyone, regardless of a person’s religious or spiritual inclinations and beliefs.

I bet you can say that you have practiced at least one of these verbs during your lifetime.

Confession: I’ve acted upon all at different points in my life, in very small amounts and in extremely huge pieces.

With comparison, the presence of media and peer or family pressure can inflict a sense of “I’m not good enough!” on all who succumb. Television and social media will inform that we’re not thin enough, our hair doesn’t shine enough, our teeth are not white enough, our homes and vehicles are not big enough, and we don’t earn enough money. Peers in grade and high school may tell us we’re “dumb” or not cool enough for the cool kids club. Family members can evoke much of the same, whether well-intentioned or mean-spirited. We begin to compare our lives, successes and physical appearance to others at an early age and it continues to our last dying breath. I’ve made some heavy comparisons with others. At times, the “others” are people I don’t know or have never met, which is stupidly unreasonable. Yet, that does not deter me from comparing lifestyles, physical abilities and appearance, and financial success.

Our pastor reflected, “Making comparisons with the goal of finding your self-worth is damaging.” I agree with that statement. So, why do I engage in this behavior? Why do I compare in an unhealthy manner?

I had low self-worth as a child, teen and young adult. I was taller than the other kids (Jolly Green Giant was one of my nicknames) (I find that funny now at a mere 5’8” tall). I had an overbite that was not fixed with braces. I was shy and gangly and had acne. Mom found it easier to criticize than praise (I still love that woman). And boys never asked me out. It was difficult to climb out of that hole and, as an adult, I continued to struggle, even after I met and married the husband in my early twenties. Although the now ex-husband gave praise to my appearance and food preparation abilities in the beginning years of the marriage, I compared our lifestyle with the Jones’s and wondered why we didn’t have a house with a two-and-a-half-car garage and white picket fence. I compared financial status and marital happiness status. As I turned forty-something and menopause turned parts of me into jello, I began a futile comparative study – an aging and changing body against that of a twenty or thirty-something year old with tight skin. I wanted to go back in time.

Awesome

I have been slow to realize that making these types of comparisons only damages self-worth, it does not lift one up. Unhealthy comparisons can exacerbate one of two negatives: 1) They can deeply hurt our self-worth and self-esteem, or 2) they can drive us to do anything to get what we want; we’re willing to step over people and take prisoners at any cost.

On the other hand, comparisons in the vein of self-improvement can create positive goals. For instance, if I compare the neighbor’s diligent exercise habits with my sometimes lazy habits and this motivates me to walk into the gym on a regular basis, that’s a good comparison. If a co-worker compares his hot-dog-and-diet-soda lunch with the boss’s healthy green salad and unsweetened tea, it might compel him to stop eating french fries (he’ll work on the hot dog later). That is a comparative change in the right direction. It’s the type of comparison that helps rather than hurts.


“People love escapism and there should be a place for it.”
~Tom Hiddleston~


I know this one all too well. I practiced escapism during the latter years of marriage, when I didn’t want to face reality and the prospect of divorce. I was afraid to take a step forward, so I sat myself in front of the computer and escaped into the world of an indie artist, his fans and blog sites. I sat for hours, days and weeks escapeon end watching videos, chatting on community forums and scouring the internet for related news. I naively thought that this escapism would bring me out of darkness and into happiness. Of course, it didn’t. It merely caused avoidance of the inevitable. The computer was the hot sand and I had my long neck stuck far into the grains of binary code. It took another five years for me to come up for air, to face the situation and take action. I wonder what I would have done with those five years had I not turned my attention elsewhere.

On a positive note, I made long-lasting personal connections and engaged in several fun road trips with girlfriends while practicing the five years of escapism. I wouldn’t change that, although I wish the connections would have been with a strong marriage in tow.

As with making comparisons, escapism doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Escaping to the garden after an especially stressful day at work, rather than prepping dinner, is a healthy way to detour from reality for an hour. Daydreaming can be a positive aspect of escapism. The imagination of daydreaming begets creativity which begets science fiction and fantasy novels.

Has anyone heard of Harry Potter?


“A day can really slip by when you’re deliberately avoiding what you’re supposed to do.”
~Bill Watterson~


Or days, a week, longer.

I have not only been a daughter to my parents, but also their power of attorney. I have filled out forms until I’m blue in the face. Forms to get a special mail box at their apartment, forms to move them into assisted living, forms to apply for dad’s veterans’ pension, forms to apply for Family Care and Medical Assistance, forms for the doctors, forms when dad passed away, forms for supplemental insurance, forms for Cabulance…forms, forms, and more forms!

I am a public servant. Our agency has hundreds of forms, some of which I fill out on a regular basis. I certainly didn’t want to look at more forms when I got home in the afternoon. This is where avoidance came about. I remember being so stressed out over the mom and dad forms, that I would let mail sit on the kitchen table for days, sometimes a week or more. Not that I didn’t perform my POA duties or let a deadline pass as that would have been disastrous. I simply avoided and procrastinated until the last possible minute. There were days when I escaped back into the computer, not wanting to face yet another brown envelope containing you-know-what. Perhaps if I didn’t look at the forms, they would go away.

avoid5

Or perhaps not. Now that I look back on this, it was pure silliness. Avoidance didn’t resolve the paperwork stress, it only made it worse.

Avoiding the Interstate during rush hour traffic is okay. Avoiding sugar when trying to lose weight is a good idea. Swerving to avoid a fender bender is financially sound (as long as you don’t end up in the ditch). Utilizing your best motivational interviewing skills to avoid personal conflict with the neighbor is a wise decision. Avoiding the co-worker with a snotty nose and infectious cough is health-wise smart.

I have to admit that comparison, escapism and avoidance continue to weave themselves into my psyche. It’s difficult to escape. As I sit here at the computer, escaping into the blogosphere, I am avoiding a mountain of personal and parental filing that is hiding in the closet. I avoided attaching a mirror to my bicycle for a month, only to find out it wouldn’t fit into the handlebars. I spent this past week comparing my thin and wavy hair with the desired thick hair of my roommate.

The actions never seem to end.


“Faith was never meant to make us feel good about ourselves.”
~Shawn Whitworth~


And it’s the same with making comparisons that tell us we don’t measure up. Do those comparisons ever make us feel good? The answer is “no.” I will never again be the 25 year old with a flat stomach or non-dimpled thighs. I need to let that go, along with any other comparisons regarding physical, financial or other situations that may not be under my control. In engaging in this negative behavior, I overlook the wonderful life that I have in reality and the person that God made me to be. I need not escape into the computer to avoid negative comparison or any fill-in forms that come my way.

In having breakfast with a friend this weekend, she commented on how busy I am…that I’m always doing something. In contemplating this statement, I realize that I need not compare any aspect of my life with others. I am always doing something. I may not be jetting off to Monte Carlo and hobnobbing with society’s elite, but I enjoy the company of family and many friends. I may not have a job with a six-figure income, but I have been blessed at my workplace with wonderful bosses and co-workers. I may not have the body of a 25 year old, but I am in good shape and stronger than I have ever been in my life. I may not be in a loving relationship with a man, but that’s okay because I’m so damn busy…


What about you, dear readers? How do you compare yourself to others? What are your forms of escape? Share the one thing that you work to avoid.


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28 responses to Of Comparison, Escapism and Avoidance

  1. loisajay says:

    Mary, this was some kind of post. I stopped comparing a long time ago for every reason that you listed above. I can’t think of an escape because, like you, I tend to stay pretty busy…so maybe that is my escape–staying constantly busy. Doing for others or getting things done–that’s how I feel good about myself and don’t have the time nor the desire to compare.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Please rub your non-comparison off onto my blog post. Perhaps it will ooze out of my keyboard and attack me. Good job on your lack of desire to compare. That’s really admirable, along with taking care of others. You get two non-comparing thumbs up from me.

  2. Dan Antion says:

    Wow – that sermon and this post give us a lot of food for thought. It’s so hard to avoid making comparisons these days. Sometimes, work is my escape, sometimes writing is and sometimes, both contribute to more comparisons. I try to remember that I only have to compare myself to my own actual goals in life. the most important goal I have is to be happy and that doesn’t involve anybody else.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      I love your goal, Dan – to be happy. That puts a nail in the comparison coffin, doesn’t it? I do escape into the blog and writing, but this time it’s a positive. I don’t know that I would even call it escape, it’s become more of a passion. Or am I making excuses for myself? 😉

  3. I love the way you’ve put both the negative and positive sides to each of these. It’s helpful.

    Right now, on a sunny, windy 28C day, I am sitting here instead of stripping the beds to get those sheets washed and dried. I’ll avoid housework at all costs. And given a rainy change is on the way, if I don’t stop avoiding, I’ll be trying to get sheets dry for days and that will be my penance for avoidance.

    I’m a shocker for the comparison thing too. But I seem to mostly compare on a skills level. It’s why I’ve never mastered anything. “I’m never going to be as good as that person so why bother trying too hard?” Getting past that one could take a while.

    Great post, M-J. 🙂

    • bikerchick57 says:

      You’re a Master of many things, Heather You simply don’t give yourself enough credit. Don’t you have a dryer? You know, the machine that will dry your sheets so that you can avoid washing them until a rainy day? I would say that’s good avoidance. Now, if you could talk your husband into hiring a housekeeper so you could escape into your next adventure, that would be a bonus.

      • Never had a dryer. Rather proud of the fact that I got through years of cloth nappies (sometimes with two in nappies) without one. Although, sometimes with all the clothes to wash and dry too, I would run out of clothes-horse space so I’d run down to the laundromat to put them through the dryer. 🙂 We have enough sunny days, even in winter, to get away without one.

      • bikerchick57 says:

        That’s awesome, Heather…not using a dryer for most of your life. I guess I am spoiled, but also don’t have the option since I live in an apartment. Also, in the winter, everything would freeze stiff as a board. Mom used to hang laundry outside and I have to say it always had such a clean, fresh smell.

  4. Sammy D. says:

    Great post, Mary. I can so relate on the parental forms since I do all of that (long-distance) for my parents. There are times I dread their phone call or going to the mailbox, knowing it’s going to be another medical issue or form or complex bill to complete. I try to have phone conversations with them that aren’t about that stuff because our relationship is more than just forms, and I’m glad they are alive. But sometimes the forms seem to engulf us all.

    Although there have been times when comparisons made me feel insecure, I learned that riches, bodies, status aren’t all they appear to be. Their lives could be far more miserable than mine. How I feel inside has to do with me, not ‘them’.

    I escape with a book, a walk or chocolate.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Oh yes, escape with chocolate…

      Sammy, I understand about wanting the relationship to be about more than forms. When mom and dad were living independently, I took them shopping every Saturday. We would go to 4-8 different places to use coupons and buy what was on sale. The day was usually exhausting and I started to dread it. I wanted to spend a Saturday with them, without the shopping, so I could sit and talk to them about life in general. It didn’t change much when they went into assisted living as our conversations were always about how they hated the food, this was wrong, that was wrong – in between taking care of their mail and forms! I left some days with a headache. If I could go back, I would try harder to engage them in conversations about their childhood and families and young married life. I think I missed a lot by not doing that.

      • Sammy D. says:

        It is hard to fit it all in, especially as their world narrows into almost child-like concerns (food, etc). I know i, too, will have regrets about ‘conversations unsaid’ when they are gone which aren’t possible now because of other priorities or because I rarely get time with one of them alone! You and I need to take solace that we are/did caring for them in necessary ways and that ‘not getting what WE need’ from parents seems to linger even to the end, but all in all a loving journey.

      • bikerchick57 says:

        You are correct, Sammy. It’s really not about us, but about taking care of their needs. And, in reality, I would give anything to hear my father’s gruff voice complaining about the food again. 🙂

  5. Damyanti says:

    Reblogged this on Daily (w)rite and commented:
    I’ve been comparing myself to others, recently.

    How I’ve been sitting at home writing stories, which earn less money per hour than I pay my help.

    How my stories take so long to take shape, and how others seem to produce so many, so fast.

    How untalented I am, compared to the hordes who are doing something tangible with their lives instead of living in their heads.

    So this post from Mary J Melange comes at the right time for me, when I’m hitting anew low in terms of self-doubt as a writer.

    Oh, I’m continuing to write, edit, and the words still keep coming, BUT.

    So this excerpt form the post got me:

    I have been slow to realize that making these types of comparisons only damages self-worth, it does not lift one up. Unhealthy comparisons can exacerbate one of two negatives: 1) They can deeply hurt our self-worth and self-esteem, or 2) they can drive us to do anything to get what we want; we’re willing to step over people and take prisoners at any cost.

    I’m going to stop comparing myself to others– stop being so vulnerable to self-doubt.

    I would recommend tis post to everyone– it is long, but it is worth every minute you would spend on it. Promise.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Thank you for the reblog and sharing, but more than that…thank you for being so open in your comments and taking steps to stop comparing. I see this from other writers on WordPress…they get stuck in their own self-doubts. No one who has the temerity to write a blog or a book need make comparisons. We’re here for a reason and we are all awesome. Right?

      • Damyanti says:

        I’ve never regretted being open and vulnerable on my blog. Like everyone else, I’m human, but I will do what I can to make myself a better human– comparing myself with others only makes me a depressed human, full of doubt. I guess I need to have compassion for my Self, which would keep the compassion in my writing and life alive.

        Thank you for this post, Mary. I was meant to see it today, and take a step in the right direction– away from self-doubt and towards love and light.

      • bikerchick57 says:

        Thanks for the words “compassion for myself.” Words to live by and, yet, so difficult. I’ll keep that in mind and shake my pompoms for you today, for your self-compassion, love and light. Have great rest of your day!

  6. Hi, agree with you since I’ve been comparing my life with others and then stopped doing that. As humans, we have this bad habit to compare lives when the going gets tough but it’s a very unproductive way to live our life. Cheerz to this inspiring post.

  7. joannesisco says:

    There’s a huge amount to digest in here MJ … as I acknowledge that I’ve never conquered these 3 demons. Never. They haunt me everyday as I continuously learn not to be buried under it but use it as fuel to drive forward.

    Comparison of everything and everyone. A lifetime of feeling like I don’t measure up – too fat, too stupid, too ugly, too slow, too poor …

    Avoidance of anything even remotely confrontational.

    Escapism into my own head when I’m stressed, unhappy, tired … where I try to come to terms with all the comparison issues I have.

    I think all of us have varying degrees of this and the key to success is learning how to channel it so it doesn’t consume us and – as you said, learn from it and use it to improve our lives.

    I hope this doesn’t come across as negative as it sounds. It’s not intended to be. This was an excellent and thought provoking post. I actually spilled my coffee all over the table while I was reading this. Maybe I should have added clumsy to the list 😉

    • bikerchick57 says:

      I’ll join you in being clumsy, although my one boss seems to spill coffee on the paperwork he gives me at least once a week. But I digress…

      Funny, I realize that I struggle with all and I know why, but it’s difficult to get past years and years of this kind of thinking. We make up these fictional stories in our heads and then believe them. My girlfriend told me, at one time, to look in the mirror every morning and give myself positive affirmations, like “I’m pretty, I’m strong, I’m awesome,” etc., but most often I don’t. Perhaps it’s the lack of coffee, but more so it’s easier to put ourselves down (as we’ve been doing) than raise ourselves up. Joanne, you need only read the title of your blog to know that you are awesome and your life has been full and awesome. You rock, girl, and you know it deep down.

      As for me, right now I’m trying to avoid escapism and worry as I think I picked the worst time ever to leave on vacation in October. Work has been crazy and I’m trying not to console myself with Facebook or avoid what needs to be done. I like what you said about using those demons as fuel to keep moving forward. I am going to try and remember that these next couple of weeks. Drive, drive, drive…then wine, beer, relax 🙂

      • joannesisco says:

        Well, I am quite skilled at both illusion and delusion 😉 .. I wasn’t fishing for compliments, but thank you for your kind words.
        People at work used to say how calm and in control I always was even in a ‘crisis’. Meanwhile underneath I was a quivering mess. Smoke and mirrors!!

        All I can say right now is “keep your eye on the prize” … the vacation is coming 🙂

  8. bikerchick57 says:

    I’m humbled that you thought the posts from Damyanti and I were worth a reblog. Thank you and thanks for reading.

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