Simon Littlejohn Counselling

For Individuals & Couples

Comparison Of The Fittest

Do you compare yourself to other people?  Who are these people? Are these comparisons helping you learn and grow? Or are they having a detrimental effect on your wellbeing? I ask because a thought occurred to me whilst I was swimming the other day. I was being overtaken (a lot) by two other swimmers. At first I thought "I need to speed up somehow" and "use this as a friendly competition to swim faster, push myself, get fitter" etc. But it was exhausting and did not make me feel good about myself, so I went back to swimming at my own manageable pace. I wondered about whether the other two swimmers were having similar thoughts about their own sense of competition, or whether they were simply swimming along happily in their own world. 

I have worked with several clients who make comparisons about themselves, which turn into harsh judgments, especially when they compare themselves to others and what other people are doing. Often these comparisons come in the form of:

- "I'm not thin enough"
- "I'm not rich enough"
- "I'm not smart enough"
- "I'm not attractive enough"
- "I'm not ahead in life enough"

Do any of these sound familiar? It seems to me that now there is not as much need for "survival of the fittest" (hello internet shopping), so we have adapted this to a "comparison of the fittest". This new evolutionary mindset has the capacity to bring us down. The key word here in each statement is "enough". We tell ourselves that because we think we are 'not enough', we are 'failing'; therefore we are failures/losers and therefore we are not good enough in general.

Enough with all the "enoughs"! You are already more than enough and you have all the tools you need to be who you are. In fact, no one else is as good as being you, exactly as you are already. You may find it helpful to discuss these critical patterns of self-beliefs with a trained counsellor so that you can work out where these thoughts keep coming from, where they came from originally, whose words they really are, and what you can do yourself to change to a more compassionate, positive way of thinking.  For what it's worth, the next time this happens when I'm swimming, I will say to myself: "Stay in your lane, take your time, keep going and remember that you are already winning at your own race". 

Self-Care: The longest relationship you'll ever have

Something I often hear from clients is a confusion between self-care and selfishness. There seems to be a lot of uncertainty about these two very different concepts. In order to understand the difference, the example I like to give to clients refers to the airplane safety instructions you hear before every take off. "In the case of reduced oxygen, masks will drop down from above". The instruction is then for you to put on your own mask before helping others, even your own children. There never seems to be an explanation why, but when we stop and think about this, it makes so much sense. We can help many more people if we take care of ourselves first. What good would it do for the child if they survived the emergency, but the adult/parent did not? Is constant self-sacrifice really what we want to be giving to ourselves and teaching other people? While you may be made of wires and tubes, you are not a machine. Plus, you need and deserve oxygen just as much as the next person. 

Another way of thinking about this is the adage of "You can't pour from an empty cup". How are you going to take care of someone else’s needs, if/when you are neglecting your own? So let's think about what self-care means to you. This has to be built in and prioritised within our everyday routine and structure. Whether this is going for a walk, mindfulness, meditation, listening to music, gardening, pausing to listen to birdsong, sports, hobbies, baking etc; basically anything you love to do.

In my experience, self-care is as much about  preventing stress and maintaining our mental health, as it is about restoring it after the event. Only caring for yourself in times of trouble would be like putting the oxygen mask on after the plane has crashed. Self-care is like taking your mental health to the gym and actually taking care of yourself. It is empowering, necessary, and with regular practice, self-care will last you a lifetime. 

Selfishness is deliberately depriving others of their oxygen. If you are concerned only for yourself and your own happiness, above anyone else’s, that may well be considered selfish. So next time you’re questioning whether you are being selfish or self-caring, try to think about whether you are giving yourself oxygen, or taking it away.