Woman looking at self mirror vs looking at ideal figure/statue

Resisting the Temptation of Comparison

Have you ever heard the quote ‘Comparison if the thief of joy’? When I was younger, I remember older adults in my life using this quote to encourage and validate me when I would find myself upset at the differences between myself and my peers - differences of which I tended to think I got the lesser bargain on. Why wasn’t I taller? Why did I have to wear glasses? Why wasn’t I good at sports?

Comparison as a kid with migraine

Being young brings many considerations about ourselves in relation to others who are growing and changing around us daily. It can be tough to navigate feelings of inadequacy when we feel different...in a bad way. Dealing with migraine as a child, another question of difference that I grappled with was ‘Why am I in pain so often when the other kids are not'? I would compare myself to others who would play at recess while I was curled up inside. I would compare myself to others who would go to parties while I was stuck at home. Now as an adult, I still struggle with negative comparison, though I try very hard to avoid the temptation to fall into the trap of constantly comparing my life with migraine to others who do not live with the disease.

Not inherently bad

I think we learn a lot about ourselves based on our relationship with others and the environments around us - or through comparison. I don’t think that comparison is inherently bad or evil, and I certainly do not believe it is always the thief of joy. Comparison can be a good thing --- it can help us to learn and grow from those we respect and aspire to be like. It can also help us recognize and characterize our own personal growth. Regarding my life with migraine, comparison has helped me learn a great deal about the disease and my own understanding of how it affects me. Comparison made me a better advocate.

Thoughts about myself

It took me a long time to fully realize that comparison wasn't always the problem. Rather, it was the things I thought about myself while comparing my life to others'. Life with migraine isn’t like life without it, and that is okay. Seeing someone post about doing something amazing like traveling abroad for an extended period of time doesn’t have to make me feel lesser than because I can’t do something like that. I try to focus on the things I can do and that I love to do when I begin to feel the sadness creeping in when I compare myself to others.

Apples to oranges

It is so important to remember that each of us is different, with different needs, wants, desires, pains, sorrows, and joy, and that what happens in someone else’s life may be totally different for them, even if they are just alike in ability and health. Instead of being jealous and unhappy when I see someone thriving, full of health, and happy, I try to acknowledge and even offer praise to that person. We are all deserving of joy, and that is something that helps me to shove away the comparison blues. There are also many unique things about me that are worth reflecting on with joy, even while living with migraine.

Real, valid feelings

Now, I am not advocating for pushing aside negative feelings and pretending to be happy when that clearly isn’t the case, nor am I saying it is necessary to always be happy for other people when they seem to be living and experiencing fuller and more active lives. The feelings I have, and that many folks have about our wants and desires and limitations due to migraine are real, valid, and sometimes worth even sitting with. For me, I think it comes down to taking those feelings and doing what I can to make myself, and others around me, feel valid and ultimately good about who we are.

Acknowledge, accept, analyze, move on

I try to acknowledge the feelings of comparison when they come on, accept the way I am feeling, analyze why I feel the way I do, and ultimately move on. Sometimes I find myself struggling to move on, instead crying and feeling blue about things I wish I could do or be, like pain free. Other times I find myself shifting to think about the things that bring me joy, like hanging out with my younger siblings or looking at beautiful flowers. Focusing on myself and what makes me happy can knock those pesky feelings of self-doubt right out of the park.

Different ways to deal

I don’t think there is one specific way to deal with the feelings that come with constantly seeing people’s ‘best’ on social media and in the world around while also dealing with chronic pain, but I do think avoiding the temptation to compare myself and positioning myself in my mind as the lesser endowed person in the comparison-loop has gotten old, and so I’ve been trying to combat that.

Do you struggle with feelings of inadequacy or comparison? How do you cope? Do you have advice for others who may be dealing with similar struggles of self worth and validation? Let’s discuss in the comments!

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