It can be dangerous spending too much time comparing ourselves to others. Whether we realize it or not, ever since we were children, we’ve been holding ourselves to standards and accomplishments of other people. Whether it’s our parents, our siblings, our friends, co-workers, or even strangers who we just think are doing better than we are, we judge ourselves and our self-worth based on what we can see in the lives of others.
This usually plays out one of two ways for people who find themselves needing treatment for substance use. Some of us use these comparing to make ourselves feel better about our substance use. These kinds of comparisons are a great way to keep using. We can always find someone worse off than we are.
More commonly, we use these imaginary yardsticks to beat ourselves when we don’t measure up to what we see. In the current world of hyper-reality television, we can spend hours and even whole weekends and holidays bingeing on the lives of famous and not-so-famous people, who are battling substance use. From people in need of help to people in the process of getting help to people whose lives are falling apart after getting help, we can watch it all while we happily compare ourselves right out of coming to terms with our own disease.
Substance abuse creates drama and drama makes for great TV. We regularly see addiction in the story-lines of prime time dramas. Some of the story-lines are more realistic than others, but none of them fully grasp what we went through. For better or for worse, we are who we are. We aren’t the character we wanted to emulate on some TV show or movie. We aren’t some broken version of the person whose success we would like to achieve.
The same is true for what we hear and see about others. We see the drama, we hear the stories, but none of it conveys what’s really going on for the subject of our gossip. Even when we’re right about some things, we don’t see the whole picture. It’s almost useless to compare ourselves with someone else because we never know the whole story.
Comparing ourselves to someone else’s accomplishments, whether they’re real or fictional, is placing unrealistic expectations on ourselves. Similarly, excusing our poor behavior just because we see someone else getting away with it, is throwing the sense of morals we are developing straight out the window.
If we hope to make real progress in recovery, we must learn to stand on our own. We can identify with others, share experiences with others, we can even have a healthy fantasy or two about how we might wish things turned out, but we must learn to become comfortable with ourselves. Then, we might have the chance to take who we are in the here and now and shape ourselves into who we hope to become.