Is it Fair to Compare?
‘Tis the season. Social media is currently bombarded with pictures of prom, graduations, and celebrations. Additionally, there are still tributes to moms floating around, gratitudes and simple gifts, sports accomplishments, school awards, and scholarships. All of those things are wonderful! I’ve even shared some of them myself.
What happens, though, when the realities of your own life look different? What happens when these things are not happening to you or your family? Perhaps you’re just barely hanging on and your big accomplishment for your day is that you took a shower. Maybe you are lonely, scared, or completely overwhelmed with life. What if you didn’t have a great relationship with your mom? What if your kids aren’t physically or mentally able to participate in sports programs…or they are failing school…or your home is a place of contention and constant chaos rather than peace. What if you’re actually dreading having your kids home for the summer instead of celebrating the end of the school year?
If you fall into any of those latter categories, this post is for you, my friend. I’ve been in many of those places. Sometimes I still go there. As such, I also know that Facebook depression is very, very real. It can also have a profound impact on your life and family if you’re not careful.
But…is it fair to compare?
Let’s take a minute to step back and look at things from a different perspective. The first thing I’d like to do is remind you of something very important. Social media is an illusion. It never tells the whole story and sometimes it isn’t even real. At best, it is a highly sanitized version of the truth. Regardless of what is behind any of it, the only thing we are allowed to see is what people want us to see…and from the angle they want us to see it from.
Rarely, if ever, do we see the whole story on social media. That star football player may be the kid of a single mom who sacrificed absolutely everything so he can play and develop his talent. The real hero here isn’t the kid. It’s the mom in the background cheering him on.
You know that gal who always makes you laugh by posting super cute and funny stuff that her kids do? Yah…her. After 18 years of marriage, three kids, a mortgage, and a dead-end job, her husband decided he was gay. He abandoned his family, left her and the kids in financial ruin, thousands of miles away from her support system, and holding responsibility for everything while he went off to pursue a new life with his new partner. She never said anything about any of it on social media…except that she was thankful the house finally sold and she and the kids would be moving soon.
How about that dream vacation to Disneyland or the beach your friend just took? They couldn’t afford it any more than you can. The only difference is you chose not to increase your debt load and they will still be paying for it for many years to come. That other friend who just did the same thing spent 5 years saving up for it, pennies at a time. They also spent an equal number of years, if not more, working on climbing out of the trenches of sensory processing, attachment, and emotional dysregulation hell so their kids could handle just walking through the park gates without blowing a gasket.
As most of us know, holidays and family pictures are super stressful, even for “normal” families. Did that photo they posted of all the happy, smiling people tell anything about the intense family fight that broke out just after it was taken? What about that person who always posts those sweet little memes about their husband being the love of their life? Could it be they are actually trying to convince themselves this is true before their entire life crumbles around them?
I have a secret to tell you. I’m not making up any of those above scenarios. I have real friends…people that I know in real life…that have lived every single one of those situations. Some of them have even been me! Some of them might have happened just last week.
The unfairness of comparison
We’ve all heard the expression about comparing apples to oranges. Yet especially in those moments of deep discouragement and overwhelm, it is so easy to slip back into comparing our fruit to their fruit. It doesn’t matter if they have apples and we have oranges at that point. All we can see is their shiny, bright, perfect little apples and our moldy oranges.
So here’s the question of the day. Is it fair to anyone to compare our worst to their sanitized best? I’m pretty sure we all know the answer to that. We all know it isn’t healthy for anyone and that nothing good will come of it. We are also human…and we all do it.
Do we fully realize, though, what we do to ourselves when we make those comparisons? Left unchecked, we become the cold, gray stone statue in the picture above. We become depressed, rigid, and angry. Have you also noticed that more often than not, that cold, gray version of ourselves includes the sword? I have…and it has happened way more times than I care to admit.
Swords might be cool in school plays and science fiction movies, but people don’t tend to appreciate them in real life. I find this is especially true when we, in an effort to protect our own hearts and families, use that sword to keep others from getting too close or we take jabs them. Next time you feel yourself falling into this comparison trap, please remember that it is perfectly okay just to be you and have the life you have. It is okay to be exactly where you are at right now. We are all on our own journey. Mine is mine, theirs is theirs, and yours is yours. We all have different families, different kids, and different stories. None of them are perfect because none of us are perfect. There are ups and downs, and triumphs and heartaches in all our stories.
There are also a lot of things hiding behind those sanitized versions of our life that none of us have shared.
Don’t take the bait
It can be so tempting at times to jump on the comparison wagon. There are days when it can be so discouraging to see everyone else’s wonderful life when yours is gurgling in sewer water or you are left sitting on the sidelines of life. Those precious, sanitized posts and photos can feel so dehumanizing and so unattainable. Next time you feel yourself being pulled in this direction, STOP! Shake it off. Find a different lens to look through. Don’t take the bait. Here are a few ideas that may help you resist the trap:
Embrace your own journey
Many of my readers are parents of tough kids. This is a long, hard, lonely road. It is also made so much harder when we fight against it. Embrace the journey. Life may never turn out the way you envisioned. There are going to be bumps along the way…but there is also much joy, strength, growth, and healing to be found as well. Our lives may never look like everyone else’s…and they don’t have to.
Find your tribe
You are definitely not alone. There are people in every country, state, and virtually every city who are dealing with similar things you are. Find them. The internet is full of support groups. Join them and participate in them. There are people who get what you’re going through. There are people who can help you. Reach out to them and ask for help. This job is too big for any of us to do alone. You don’t have to do it alone. One of the greatest gifts I have found along this journey is my own tribe. They are some of the strongest, fiercest, and most amazing women I know. They are the reason I am where I am today.
Be willing to grieve
There is nothing pretty about grief. It’s hard and it sucks. True peace and freedom, however, are found on the other side of it. You can’t go over it. You can’t go under it. You can’t go around it. The only way to make it go away is to go through it. It is OK to be sad that your life hasn’t turned out as expected. It’s OK to admit you’re exhausted. It’s OK not to have perfect children, or a perfect house, or even a perfect life. It’s OK to let go.
Look beyond the mark
Look past what you can see on the surface. Look through a different lens. Rather than magnifying what is missing in your own life, ask yourself what is going on behind the scenes in someone else’s life that you can’t see. What aren’t they telling you? Do you have something they don’t? Do you have something to offer they might need?
If none of that works, it’s perfectly ok to take a break. Shut off social media, shut off the noise, and cocoon yourself in your own little world for a little while…and when you come back, go right ahead and post fake photos of where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing if it makes you feel better. After all, most all of what you see out there isn’t real anyway.