The Unbalanced Scales of Comparison

My Instagram feed is full of amazing women.

Mothers doing incredible things. Baking bread from scratch, sewing gorgeous Halloween costumes, planning amazing adventures, going back to school to pursue their passions, running marathons and building businesses. I have awesome friends and I am surrounded by privilege, strength, wisdom, persistence and skill.

On a good day, this is inspiring and affirming. It gives me ideas and excites me about my own adventures.

On a bad day— well, we all know what happens on a bad day. It starts out innocently- she did what? Wow. How does she find the time?” But then it moves to: “I could never do that. What have I really even done? My kids would be so much better off if only I were more/better/also doing … and so on and so on.

Marcy M. Caldwell, Psy.D. of The Center for ADHD, is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment and assessment of adult ADHD as a ADHD Psychologist in Philadelphia. With offices located in Main Line Philadelphia offering ADHD treatment Main Line at 40 E. Montgomery Ave. Ardmore, PA 19003. Take the Adult ADHD test to see if you are at risk.

Comparison is the thief of joy and the magnifier of pain.

If I have yelled at my kids that day or been too distracted or busy to give them my undivided attention or only got a grand total of 75 minutes with them because I was busy seeing clients. It can be easy to see my friend’s smiling pictures, their amazing adventures, fun, educational classes and awesome achievements and feel lacking.

And it’s one thing to feel lacking in my personal life but to feel lacking as a parent carries extra sting because then my I interpret my lack as impacting my children’s well-being and nothing is more important to me than that.

But really- what’s more unfair than comparing the highlights of my friend’s lives to my internal experience? Most of them are not posting about their inner turmoil. Even with recent swings towards authenticity on social media, I have yet to read a single person’s detailed account of losing their cool on their kids. I don’t see anyone talking about all the hours they spent on email, laundry or other drudgery. But when I am feeling bad about myself- those are the apples and oranges I use to compare as if they are completely equivalent.

I hear my clients doing this too. Day in and day out amazing women will walk through my door and discount their accomplishments because they pushed the work to the last minute and felt frantic. They look around at their colleagues and assume they all did their work ahead of time, calmly and coolly feeling confident and balanced throughout. They see the success around them and compare how they FELT during their process to how other people PRESENT.

Moms compare how they felt trying to get out of the door to go to school with the composed looks on other parents faces at drop off. Lawyers compare their frantic race to write their brief on time with their colleagues composed presentation in court. Doctors compare their internal confusion or questions about a difficult case with the polished presentations of their partners in case conferences. It’s comparing our insides to someone else’s outsides. We all do it and its unfair every time.

Our insides (our feelings, our process, our struggles) are always going to be messier than other people’s outsides (their presentation, their accomplishments, their product). Because the ADHD brain is less filtered than a neurotypical brain, sometimes that messiness spills from the inside to the outside. But I have yet to meet someone who shows to the world every bit of mess they feel. Therefore, any comparison of what you feel with what someone else shows is going to be unfair.

So next time you hear yourself start the comparisons. Stop.

Remind yourself you can only see the tip of everyone else’s iceberg and you are not comparing equal categories. If you need to compare, look at your positives- what adventures did you take? What times did you show up with exactly what your kids needed? What extra projects did you take? What are you doing?

Or better yet, don’t compare at all. Turn off your social media, audit your self-talk at school drop off and talk yourself through the inevitable comparisons that slip through. You are the only you there is and as long as you are working to learn and grow you are getting better and better each day. So, give yourself a break, acknowledge your awesomeness and celebrate your accomplishments.

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