When We Compare
You are at the grocery store and you are buying dishwashing liquid. Brand A is more expensive but you like the way it works as opposed to Brand B which is cheaper. You like the packaging of Brand A, but prefer the fragrance of Brand B. That shopping trip you decide you are willing to spend the extra money because you have a history with Brand A. We make these kinds of comparisons all the time, in fact, we're trained from Day 1 to compare and contrast.
We apply comparison to other areas of life - from grades we receive in school to how we are ranked in athletic competitions. Comparison also plays a role in our legal systems; we use judges and juries to determine punishments and awards based on previous legal precedents. Judges use sentencing guidelines to attempt to apply the rule of law as fairly as possible. Comparison plays a big part in the way individuals, groups and societies form standards.
As a therapist, I am more concerned with what I call "garden variety" comparisons. These are the comparisons that individuals make in their minds about their place in the world as compared with others. "My sister has a bigger house and is more financially successful than I am." "My co-worker gets all the breaks." "The neighbor is my age and looks much better than I do." "That woman is better dressed than I am."
These types of thoughts tend to be distorted in nature and create much internal conflict. They are often the reason why people begin therapy. We do ourselves an enormous disservice by making these types of comparisons because it reinforces the belief, "this is what's wrong with me".
While we share a common humanity here on Planet Earth, it's so important to remember that there is literally no one else like us. Our lives, our personal struggles, our growth and evolution are all as personal and as individual as we are.
"Comparison is the thief of joy." - Theodore Roosevelt