What we see depends on what we are looking at

So many of us are guilty (and we definitely have got social media to thank for that) of comparing ourselves negatively to others. This is an unhelpful thinking style called “compare and despair”. It occurs when we see only the good and positive things in other people's lives and compare this only to the negative in our own. This becomes a radar serving only to seek more confirmation that this is the case. It can be like a weed that really takes a grip of us, becoming an everyday event, putting us continually down and holding us there.

Looking back as a 48yr old (firstly seeing that everyone else around me seems so much younger) and think of the playground conversations on a Monday morning when it seemed like ALL mothers ALWAYS talked of having the most amazing exciting Saturdays, taking the kids on outings either hiking, animal farms, picnics, all of which everyone totally enjoyed. You name it, they somehow managed to get what seemed like an idyllic day out EVERY WEEK!!. Now I really wanted that, but my Saturdays NEVER were like that. I would get up on a Saturday morning and couldn’t help pass the strategically placed overflowing laundry basked (which I really was convinced I had emptied only the day before). I mean, on a Friday night do kids actually just empty their wardrobes into a wash basket or was it just mine. Maybe they did it to avoid a family hike. There were always chores to be done and a “wee job that needed finished”. I would sit down as I just didn’t know where to start and think about the forthcoming Monday morning conversation, wishing I could just be like them, often moaning to my husband that we needed to do these things.

Then there is that dreaded invitation to go somewhere. Oh boy that can be tough. I don’t know about you but I always seem to get asked to go somewhere different when I have put on a bit of weight, those amazing new clothes I got are now a bit old, not to mention snug and how can it always be the week before my hair appointment. My first thought is who is going to be there and of course, thanks to social media I can see what they look like. They always seemed such glamorous mums who looked like they must have had their children when they were 12yrs old and clearly never “ate through” any emotional crisis in their life.

Then there is our work and the good old faithful “imposter syndrome” which generally kicks in when we only compare ourselves to those who seem more confident, assertive and way more knowledgeable.

BUT, guess what? All of this is built on our false perception of life as we look through fake glasses that only see the negative. Firstly we need to recognise that this type of thinking affects our mental health contributing to anxiety, low mood, envy, self criticism and damages our confidence. If we do not stop and challenge this , the problem just intensifies.

The first thing we need to do is to acknowledge this thinking style and to really seek for the facts not the fiction we make up in our own heads. For example did just one mum on one Monday tell me about a great day out and I exaggerated it to be ALL and EVERY. I had added the extra detail that her house was perfect, pristine with washing so neatly put away that when she opened a door she was not hit with an avalanche of clothes. This progressed to imagining the detail of her car journey with everyone happy and no one fighting over which side of the car they sit or who is looking out of who’s window in the back, having never even been to her house or known her family.

None of us know the full facts in someone else’s life or their difficulties, but this thinking personally breaks us down. Firstly we need to balance our thinking and recognise that we are all different and see the positives in our own day, no matter how little or insignificant they are and build on those. We need to continually remind ourselves (even though we know it) that social media often hides a lot of hurt and tells a different story than reality (and please don’t get me started on the increased use of filters which make it even harder to watch as we feel our own faces for wrinkles looking in the mirror in disgust). We all have unique lives, no one is the same and that is what makes us special. So maybe for me and my family a Saturday family outing was never going to happen or be my reality, but I have other things that are good for me and my family and I regret focusing so much on those Saturdays.

So lets not plant ourselves like a weed surrounded by negative comparisons but like a flower that grows and blooms in its own way regardless of how the flower next to it is doing. As Cecelia Ahern said “a weed is just a flower that grows in the wrong place”. Change the thinking and work with what you have and not what you don’t.

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