How is a thief exposed? Usually his or her identity comes into focus when we realize that something of value has been taken from us. A successful thief stays in business by pulling the wool over our eyes, and keeping our attention in the dark. Maybe the thief starts out taking small bits of what we possess – like the people who hacked into my iTunes account and made small purchases from another country with my connected US bank account. While they showed up on my radar early, other people lost thousands of dollars in similar transactions that grew exponentially over time. I never learned the names of these thieves, but I did get my money back.
There is another thief we can identify who robs us of something more valuable than any financial resource. The thief’s name is Comparison and he operates from the assumption that we are not enough just like we are, with just what we have. Regardless of our age or gender, Comparison teaches us to measure our worth by comparing ourselves, our possessions, our accomplishments, and our experiences to others. In the process, we learn to distrust the value of who we are and what we have, and our self esteem becomes uncertain and devalued.
This is the devious plan of Comparison: it threatens our self-esteem by eroding our perception of personal value. Yet while we are busily occupied with mentally comparing ourselves to others, what actually changes about us? Not who we are. Not the true quality of what we possess or what we’ve experienced. The only thing that changes is our perception about ourselves and what we possess. We may be beautiful and think ourselves ugly. The rent or mortgage may be paid for the month, but we can’t appreciate our safe home. We may look good in the mirror in the morning and feel like we’re shabbily dressed by lunch time. We may feel competent one hour and incompetent by the next hour. Comparison causes our relationship with ourselves to change day by day, hour by hour, or minute by minute. We probably wouldn’t accept that kind of change in too many other relationships.
Theodore Roosevelt was correct when he noted that “comparison is the thief of joy”. One reason is because it quietly robs us of self-esteem. So be on the alert for this interloper who exits as a mental habit. A mental habit is something we can change. Like locking a mental door, we can learn to keep the thief called Comparison out of our mental processes. And then we can more accurately perceive our own value and self-esteem.