The Mindful Way Through Compare and Despair

Tree, words_ the mindful way through compare and despair, blog post by Patty Bechtold therapy for women, wiselifetherapy.com

Compare and despair. You’ve probably experienced that, right? That moment when you compare something about yourself or your life to someone else’s.

In that moment you might find yourself tunneling down into uncomfortable feelings of distress and dismay, perhaps even edging toward a kind of despair.

Something gets triggered for you, or you sense something’s missing about you. You don’t have your act together or you don’t measure up in comparison to another person or their life.

Today I’m offering a practice to help you move away from self-doubt and move toward improved self-esteem and self-compassion. It can also help transform any potential compare and despair moments into warm feelings of connection and closeness.

words, wisdom is the mindful way through compare and despair, blog post by Patty Bechtold, life transition counselor at wiselifetherapy.com

Sometimes compare and despair moments are obvious.

Other times they can actually be quite subtle.

In fact, you might not think a simple blog post about another woman’s morning ritual could heighten the chances of a compare and despair experience. After all, isn’t that sort of thing harmless, something we all enjoy now and then?

Well, yes and no.

Comparison envy can actually sneak up on you.

Here’s an example from my own life.

A few years ago I came across a detailed description of one woman’s morning ritual. It was written by a well-known personal growth blogger. 

It wasn’t the first time I’d seen women describing their morning rituals. In fact, it’s a pretty popular topic. And sometime during the past decade I remember reading a newsletter that chronicled the morning rituals of an entire group of women.

I also remember my reaction: I suppose I should be doing something different when I get up in the morning. Something better.

You’ll notice I started doubting myself pretty quickly.

Yet, I wasn’t totally aware of it.

I had an almost a knee-jerk reaction and started questioning my own inner wisdom about what I truly need in the morning. I was slightly ashamed that I didn’t have it together like these other women did.

And their morning rituals sounded so lovely: scented candles and meditation and misty morning walks.

Now, I’m not saying that these women were intentionally trying to make other women question themselves. I’m pretty sure they had the best intentions, sharing what works for them in the hope that it would be inspiring or helpful.

It’s important to realize that almost everyone compares themselves to others.

In fact, more than a century ago there was an often (and sometimes still) used phrase to describe it: Keeping up with the Joneses.

At its root was the belief that comparing yourself to your neighbors was a “benchmark for social class or the accumulation of material goods.

Years later, Leon Festinger developed the Social Comparison Theory. According to Psychology Today

…People constantly evaluate themselves, and others, in domains like attractiveness, wealth, intelligence, and success.  According to some studies, as much as 10 percent of our thoughts involve comparisons of some kind. Social comparison theory is the idea that individuals determine their own social and personal worth based on how they stack up against others…Later research has shown that people who regularly compare themselves to others may find motivation to improve, but may also experience deep dissatisfaction, guilt, or remorse, and engage in destructive behaviors like lying or disordered eating.

Nowadays compare and despair is speeded up by the unrelenting nature of social media.

Much has been written about its affect on girls and young women. But that doesn’t mean more mature women get a pass on compare and despair.

For years I’ve worked mostly with women in midlife and beyond, and unfortunately comparison envy is alive and well for most of us.

It may be a little less intense but it definitely can derail us, contributing to a host of mental health challenges

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • shame
  • envy
  • self-criticism
  • low self-worth

However, the messages we get from social media may not be the real problem.

The problem itself may be more about how we process and interpret those messages.

I believe it has a lot to do with who we are as women. We’re relational beings by nature. Many of us yearn to feel closer and more connected to other women. And we love getting a sneak peak into other women’s lives. 

We’re also empathetic. We can often imagine what it’s like to stand in another woman’s life. So much so, in fact, that our imaginations can take us to a place where we begin to assume our own lives (or morning rituals, in my case) are somehow inadequate.

Yet, it’s unlikely that these messages (and our fascination with them) are going away anytime soon.

What if you could use your natural empathy to step back from compare and despair?

What if you could give yourself time to remember that your interest in other women’s lives comes from your heightened emotional intelligence and natural inclination to empathize?

And, what if a combination of mindfulness and imagination could give you a sense of connection to other women you don’t know?

The practice I’m offering you today can help you transform almost any potential compare and despair experience into warm feelings of connection and closeness.

The Mindful Way through Compare and Despair

1. When you’re taking in information about someone else’s life, pay attention to any body sensations that may precede comparing and despairing for you (I usually get a sinking feeling and a tightening in my chest and stomach).

2. If it’s helpful for you, take some deep breaths, or let your breathing find its own natural, easy rhythm.

3. Choose a body posture that is comforting to you, perhaps placing your hand on your chest and gently rubbing or giving yourself a self-hug.

4. If you notice any uncomfortable sensations, gently encourage yourself to slow down, take a breath and observe what’s happening in your body.

5. Check to see if you’re having any challenging or negative thoughts about yourself or the other person. Give yourself space from the thoughts by saying to yourself, “it’s just a thought” as many times as you need to. You can say it aloud or to yourself. You also might imagine your thoughts drifting by like leaves on a stream.

6. Check to see if you’re experiencing any difficult emotions about yourself or the other person (like feeling ashamed, inadequate, discouraged, irritated, jealous, insecure). Name and claim your emotions by simply stating them: In this moment, I feel discouraged.

7. When you’re ready, name and claim other feelings that are probably present too  (like feeling curious, interested, attracted, engaged). And remember: we rarely feel one feeling at a time; there is likely a continuum of feelings for you to move towards. 

8. Trust your natural empathy to carry you into this other person’s life. Let your imagination loose and really try to stand in that life. Let yourself experience and live it for a moment. Feel its joys and challenges, without judgment.

9. Allow yourself to feel connected to the person living this life. When you’re ready, step out of that life and come back into your own life. If it feels right, thank the person for letting you into their life for a few moments.

This mindfulness practice usually takes less than 5 minutes.

Personally, I find it very calming and relaxing. And I love introducing it to other women because it calls on your imagination, in a positive, supportive way.

In some sense it’s almost like the other person has given you the gift of their lived experience, for just a moment.

Finally…about that morning ritual I mentioned earlier.

It’s taken me a long time to know my own internal rhythms enough to be able claim any wisdom about what I truly need in the mornings. Come to think of it, I doubt I’m the only one who struggles with this.

Also, I’ve come to understand how privileged I am to even have a morning ritual. Many women have other obligations that make morning rituals nearly impossible.

That said, for me it’s pretty simple, not much of a ritual at all. I like to wake up slowly, sit on the side of the bed, and greet George (my cat) who always jumps up to say good morning. Then I put on some comfy clothes and putter around a bit: opening the shades, feeding George, making the bed, putting away the dishes. I call this “gentle industriousness” because my body wants to move but not too much in that first hour.

Once I’ve tidied up I get my coffee and if I can, head outside to write in my journal for about 15 minutes. If the weather’s not cooperating I sit in front of a bright light because light has a big effect on my well-being and mental health.

Not every morning goes like this though. But when they do, it’s likely to be a good day.

Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.
—Meister Eckhart

Want support with self-acceptance and embracing your inherent self-worth?

If you’d like help knowing yourself better and feeling freer to be who you truly are, my free course — Finding Yourself Again — is a good place to start.

My course can help you gain insight on the critical voices and beliefs within you and begin to transform them with creative and imaginative approaches. It’s based on the same practices that have helped my clients reclaim what’s missing and move toward what matters.

You can learn more about this free course here. And if you have any questions, get in touch.

Patty Bechtold

Patty Bechtold

I help women find their way back to their deepest wisdom when they feel like something’s missing in their lives or themselves. On my blog I write about the stories, insights, ideas, and wise words I’ve picked up along the way. Thank you for being here.