Competitions and awards can help encourage developing our talents – but there can also be a dark side to comparing ourselves with others.
Self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff, PhD notes one scenario:
“Imagine that you’re an amateur singer-songwriter, and you invite your friends and family to see you perform at a nearby coffeehouse that showcases local talent.
“After the big night you ask everyone how they thought it went. ‘You were average’ is the reply.
“How would you feel in this scenario? Ashamed, humiliated, like you were a failure?
“In our incredibly competitive society, being average is unacceptable. We have to be special and above average to feel we have any worth at all.”
Read more and see videos in article:
The Self-Acceptance Summit
In addition to helping fuel creativity and a richer experience of life, being highly sensitive can make us more vulnerable to emotional overwhelm, anxiety, self-criticism and other issues.
Healthy self concept and self esteem can be especially challenging for a number of people, perhaps especially those of us who are exceptionally aware of our inner life and others’ emotions and responses.
John Lennon once expressed a perspective on some of the self esteem challenges experienced by many creative people:
“Part of me suspects that I’m a loser, and the other part of me thinks I’m God Almighty.”
Entrepreneur and coach Marie Forleo addresses the experience of comparing ourselves with others which can lead us to feel unhealthy self-acceptance and self-esteeem.
“Based on your age, the ultimate vision you have for your life and the non-stop work you’re putting in, you can’t help but feel behind. Like, desperately behind.
“You look around at friends and colleagues. Yup, 100% confirmed. Pretty much everyone is leaving you in the dust.”
But she also notes, “Where you are is exactly where you need to be. Trust the timing of your life.”
Comedian, writer and actor Amy Schumer has related an experience of her low esteem and confidence:
“Right before I left for college, I was running my high school. Feel it. I knew where to park, I knew where to get the best chicken-cutlet sandwich, I knew which custodians had pot.
“People knew me. They liked me. I was an athlete and a good friend. I felt pretty, I felt funny, I felt sane.
“Then I got to college in Maryland. My school was voted number one … for the hottest freshman girls in Playboy that year. And not because of me. All of a sudden, being witty and charismatic didn’t mean sh*t.
“Day after day, I could feel the confidence drain from my body. I was not what these guys wanted. They wanted thinner, blonder, dumber …
“My sassy one-liners were only working on the cafeteria employees, who I was visiting all too frequently, tacking on not the Freshman 15, but the 30, in record-breaking time, which led my mother to make comments over winter break like, ‘You look healthy!’ I was getting no male attention, and I’m embarrassed to say, it was killing me.”
From her speech at the Gloria Awards and Gala, hosted by the Ms. Foundation for Women, quoted in article: Read Amy Schumer’s Powerful Speech About Confidence by Jennifer Vineyard.
[Photo from imdb/Amy Schumer.]
The dark side of ranking ourselves
Elaine Aron, PhD describes her Psychology Today blog “Attending to the Undervalued Self” as “the result of years of puzzling over the ultimate foundation of our universal emotional problems.
“One answer I addressed in The Highly Sensitive Person [her book]: Evolution has made about 20% of us more susceptible to both the good and bad things in life.”
She continues in her post: Ranking and Linking, For Better and For Worse :
“Innate temperament cannot be the whole story, however. Research (and my own experience as a therapist) finds that low self-esteem underlies most depression, anxiety, and failed relationships.
“Yet in spite of our focus on raising self-esteem, we have had little success. In fact, research [indicates] low self-esteem is in a sense natural, one result of our instinct to rank ourselves among others…
“Repeating self-affirmations, the most common self-help treatment, only increases low self-esteem in those already feeling bad, as many hapless souls have found.”
She adds, “Are you often stuck in ranking? Then you are often undervaluing yourself. It’s natural. No wonder raising yourself in the self-esteem ranking is not the answer. To get out of ranking, switch to linking…”
Also see info about DVD: “Elaine Aron: A Seminar on Learning How to Thrive as a Highly Sensitive Person. A Guide to Understanding your Sensitivity and Creating a Fuller, Richer Life.”
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Shailene Woodley has expressed thoughtful perspectives on ranking and comparing.
In an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon she addressed a common experience of media comparing her with another young actress, Jennifer Lawrence:
“Comparisons always lead to despair. As women, we are constantly told that we need to compare ourselves to a girl in school, to our co-workers, to the images in a magazine.
“How is the world going to advance if we’re always comparing ourselves to others?
“I admire Jennifer Lawrence, but she’s everyone’s favorite person to compare me to. Is it because we both have short hair and a vagina?
“I see us as separate individuals. And that’s important. As women, our insecurities are based on all these comparisons. And that creates distress.”
From article: “Shailene Woodley Talked About Gender Politics & Comparisons To Jennifer Lawrence On The Tonight Show But NBC Cut It Out” by Jill Pantozzi, themarysue.com, June 6th, 2014.
[Photo: Woodley as Tris in Divergent (2014), from facebook.com/TheDivergentSeries]
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Science writer Ed Yong points out that “positive mantras like ‘I am a strong, powerful person,’ and, ‘Nothing can stop me from achieving my dreams’ have been championed at least as far back as Norman Vincent Peale’s infamous book The Power of Positive Thinking, published in 1952.
“But a new study suggests that despite its popularity, this particular brand of self-help may backfire badly.”
Read more in my article Deal with your negative thinking, but be careful with affirmations.
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Ranking and comparing may be part of the reason so many talented and creative people experience impostor feelings and beliefs about themselves, despite their accomplishments.
Examples include actors Emma Watson, Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet; writer Jonathan Safran Foer and others. Read comments by them, and by coaches and psychologists, in my article Getting beyond impostor feelings.
Elizabeth Gilbert talks about self-shaming and how all emotions are “badges of membership” in the human family.
Learn more about her presentation and many others in article:
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