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Comparing Yourself to Others

To speak the language of nonviolence it's helpful to recognize potentially violent language.

The word "violent" in NVC refers to anything that disconnects us from life. I experience disconnection from life in various ways: a contraction or pulling in, a closing up, a numb or listless feeling, a hardening or rigidity in mind, heart, or body, a deflation of energy.

Marshall Rosenberg talks about several categories of violent language in his book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. One category that I have found to be popular in my own mind as well as the minds of others is comparison.

Comparing jackals can wreak havoc with connection and confidence.

I have spent a lot of time dialoguing with my comparing jackals. One comparing jackal likes to compare my work day with my partner's work day. My partner works 10-12 hour days nearly nonstop. He rises at 4am, leaves the house at 5:20am and returns sometimes as late as 9pm. I work at home unless I am seeing clients or teaching a class. I keep my own schedule which looks nothing like his. I can't imagine keeping the schedule he keeps. His endurance and energy far exceeds my own.

My jackals like to bark, "You should work as many hours as he does a day. You should have more energy and stamina. You're weak. You're not contributing as much as you could. Don't be lazy!"

What do I do with these comparing jackals?

I come back to myself and my life. I ask myself some basic questions:

What are the facts?
Name what you are doing.  On a particularly difficult day I wrote out hour by hour all I had done that day to see exactly how I was making use of my time.

What are my feelings?
Am I happy with my work? Do I feel satisfied with my days? Do I feel alive?

Are my needs being met?
Do I notice people benefiting from the work I do (need for meaningful contribution)? Am I doing the best I can to take care of my mind, heart, and body so that I can be a vehicle for contributing to and enjoying life (need for integrity and health)?

Do I have any requests of myself?
Is there something I want to do differently based on my needs? - not based on my jackal's idea of what I should do.

In the steps above you might notice there is no mention of my partner, the person my jackals were comparing me to.  These steps are just about connecting to what is true and authentic for me.

Like any jackal, comparing jackals have your needs in mind. In my example above, the comparing jackal is pointing to needs for integrity, contribution, and effectiveness.  However, thinking I can meet needs by trying to be someone else is a doomed strategy. I am completely unique. There is no particular way set up for me. I get to find my own way, moment by moment.

This week notice the next time a comparing jackal starts barking in your mind. Use the four questions listed above to get grounded in what's true and return to yourself and your own path.

Next Gem
Avoiding the Resentful Listener
Previous Gem
When Empathy isn't Received

1 Response

  1. Oct 16, 2009

    I have a very self-regulated life where outside of a few necessities, taking care of my dog, advancing my knowledge in a couple chosen fields, I am free and choose to relax. Very low output in relation to others' more "normal" workdays etc... The first thing that occurs to me when reading this weeks article is do I not have a strong need to contribute? Payback? When my jackals do arise around this issue it's usually a result of my partner's accusations that I should do more. I always thought that was envy because she chooses to pursue a career which is very demanding.
    I do feel that based on my abilities, I "should" have done more with my life. That were I more able to contribute what I am good at to the community, I would be happier.

    I've noticed for myself and my partner that the comparing jackals bark often in the opposite direction from what you describe...In other words, why doesn't he/she do/not do this the way I am/would?
    Ah, if only are egos would step out of the way...


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