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I can’t stop comparing myself to others

Our agony aunt Mary Fenwick offers a new perspective on your challenges and problems

by Psychologies

is there a mean voice inside criticising you?

Comparison is the thief of joy. I am aware of  this and I know assessing any area of my life against another person’s, be it a beloved friend or complete stranger, is not only the recipe for unhappiness, but also completely irrelevant. I know all of this, Mary! So why can’t I stop? It’s as if a small voice in my head says: ‘Yeah, yeah… but look at what they have – you should have/be/feel that, you worthless piece of nothing!’ The voice is so mean, and I always tell it where to go; I practise mindfulness, I keep a gratitude diary, but that voice never gets the hint. Do you have any wise words I can remind myself of, each time the comparison thoughts attack? Alexia

In the third Harry Potter book, JK Rowling invented a character she called the Boggart, a non-being that becomes whatever you fear the most. Does that sound a bit like your small inner voice – it’s always there, it changes shape but it really knows where to hurt you? In the wizard world, the solution is the use of a charm called ‘Riddikulus’ – because Boggarts are defeated by laughter.

Is your voice an evil hypnotist in tights with a cape, or an old-fashioned school teacher, a warty toad, or maybe a drunken, slurring, smelly person in a corner of the bus?

When I did a similar exercise from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, I discovered that the mean voice in my head came from a pinched-lipped and disapproving older woman, who was furious with me, and was always going to feel that way. Giving her a name and a fully-fleshed out character has made her that much easier to avoid. She’s still there, but I tend to choose another seat on the bus.

It might also be helpful in this instance to find a real live voice, in the form of a therapist, who could help you to directly challenge the mean one in your head. The website welldoing.org has a directory to help you find someone suited to your needs and location.

Well done for taking such positive steps to rewrite your own story, though – sometimes the demons temporarily shout louder because you are close to defeating them. 

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line

More inspiration:

Find the right therapist for you at welldoing.org

Read You are in charge of your direction by Agatha Penney on LifeLabs

Photograph: iStock

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