Young People Ask . . .
Why Am I Always Being Compared With Others?
“It drives me crazy when my parents or teachers compare me with others.”—Mia. *
“Comparisons make me feel inadequate because I already wish I were more like the person I’m being compared with.”—April.
AT SCHOOL your teacher chides you for not being as good at math as your classmate. At home your parent scolds you for not being as neat as your sister. Someone says, “Your mother was so pretty when she was your age!” A stinging comment because it makes you wonder if the person views you as ugly. “Can’t people see me?” you want to scream. “Why am I always being compared with someone else?”
Why do comparisons hurt so much? Can any good come from them? How can you cope when people compare you with others?
Why Do Comparisons Hurt?
One reason comparisons hurt is that sometimes they hit close to home. In effect, what people are saying out loud may be what you often say to yourself. For example, Becky admits, “I would look at the popular kids at school and think, ‘If only I were like them, more people would like me.’”
What provokes these feelings of insecurity? Well, consider what is happening to you physically, emotionally, and mentally. Your body may be changing rapidly. Your relationship with your parents is becoming more complex. Your attitude toward the opposite sex has probably altered radically. So you may wonder, ‘Am I developing normally?’
Perhaps you feel that the only way you can find out is by comparing yourself with other youths who are experiencing the same changes. And here is the trap! If they seem to be coping better than you are, you feel insecure. Then when some adult asks, ‘Why can’t you be more like so-and-so?’ you may feel that your worst fears are confirmed—that you are not normal!
April points to another reason why comparisons can hurt. “When people compare you with someone else,” she says, “especially someone you’re close to, it can cause feelings of jealousy and resentment.” Mia knows what that is like. Her parents and teachers seem to be constantly comparing her with her older sister. “They tell me about all the things she accomplished by the time she was my age,” Mia says. With what effect? “It makes me feel as though I’m in competition with my sister. Sometimes, I even resent her.”
Comparisons can indeed produce bad results. Consider what happened to Jesus’ closest companions. On the last evening before Jesus’ death, “a heated dispute” arose among the apostles. Why? They were, in effect, comparing themselves to each other and arguing over “which one of them seemed to be greatest.” (Luke 22:24) No doubt about it, some types of comparisons can be harmful. But are all comparisons bad?
The Good Side of Comparisons
Consider young Daniel and his three Hebrew companions, described in the Bible. These youths did not want to eat the delicacies of the Babylonian king that were prohibited by God’s law. (Leviticus 11:4-8) To convince their guardian to help them, Daniel proposed a test. He suggested that after ten days of eating food acceptable under God’s Law, the guardian should compare the Hebrew youths with the other youths in the court. The result?
The Bible explains: “At the end of ten days [the Hebrews’] countenances appeared better and fatter in flesh than all the children who were eating the delicacies of the king.” (Daniel 1:6-16) Note that the good outcome was not because Daniel and his companions were somehow naturally superior to the other youths. Rather, it was primarily because the Hebrew youths chose to obey the laws God had given to his people.
Can you relate to the experience of these young Hebrews? If you live by the Bible’s moral code, you will stand out as different from other youths. Some people who observe these differences may be puzzled and “go on speaking abusively of you.” (1 Peter 4:3, 4) Others, however, will see the good results of your fine conduct, and they may even be moved to learn about Jehovah. (1 Peter 2:12) In this circumstance, being compared with others can be good.
Comparisons can also be useful in another way. For example, you may think that you do your fair share of work around the house—at least when you compare yourself with your brother or sister. Your parents, though, may not share your viewpoint. To help readjust your thinking, they may use a Bible example and ask you to compare your attitude and actions with those of a Bible character.
For instance, they may remind you that although Jesus was called Lord and Teacher, he willingly washed the feet of his disciples. (John 13:12-15) They may then encourage you to imitate Jesus’ humble, hardworking attitude. In fact, the Bible encourages all Christians, young and old, constantly to compare themselves with Christ and try to “follow his steps closely.” (1 Peter 2:21) This type of comparison keeps us humble and helps us to develop a personality that is more pleasing to Jehovah.
Coping With Negative Comparisons
Granted, it can be irritating and disheartening when you are unfavorably compared with a sibling or one of your peers. How can you cope? “The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger,” said wise King Solomon. (Proverbs 19:11) How can insight help? You may not think so, but the one making the comparisons, such as a parent or a teacher, probably has your best interests at heart. “When someone compares me with others,” says Cathy, “I ask myself, ‘How are they trying to help me?’” Cathy finds that by taking a positive approach, she is less likely to become downhearted or annoyed.
What, though, if you feel that you are constantly the target of comparisons? For instance, a parent may always seem to compare you in a negative way with one of your siblings. You might want to approach that parent and respectfully explain how the comparisons make you feel. Your parent may be unaware of the negative effect that these comparisons are having on you.
Remember, though, that there is “a time to speak” but also “a time to keep quiet.” (Ecclesiastes 3:7) Rather than erupting in anger the next time a comparison is made, wait until you have cooled down, and then talk to your parent or whoever made the unfavorable comparison. If you do, your words will be far more persuasive.—Proverbs 16:23.
Often, you can lessen the sting of negative comparisons by being aware of your strengths. The apostle Paul told Timothy: “Let no man ever look down on your youth.” (1 Timothy 4:12) Timothy was relatively young when he was appointed to serve as a Christian overseer. So some may have been making unfavorable comparisons of Timothy with other men who were older and more experienced. But such negative comparisons would have been unjustified. Though young, Timothy had gained much experience while traveling with Paul. Timothy knew how to handle God’s Word effectively. And he genuinely cared for his spiritual brothers and sisters.—1 Corinthians 4:17; Philippians 2:19, 20.
Therefore, the next time you are the brunt of a negative comparison, ask yourself, ‘Is the criticism justified?’ If there is some truth to what was said, try to learn from it. However, if the comparison is a sweeping generalization—such as, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?”—try to put the comment in perspective. Try your best to put a positive spin on the comparison.
Jehovah God does not measure your worth by comparing you with another imperfect human. (Galatians 6:4) He looks beyond the mere outward appearance and understands the person you are in your heart. (1 Samuel 16:7) Indeed, Jehovah sees not only who you are but also what you are trying to become. (Hebrews 4:12, 13) He makes allowances for your failures and looks for the good in you. (Psalm 130:3, 4) Just knowing these facts can help you to cope when you are compared with others.
More articles from the “Young People Ask . . .” series can be found at the Web site www.watchtower.org/ype
^ par. 3 Names have been changed.
TO THINK ABOUT
▪ What type of comparisons tend to irritate you?
▪ If your parents constantly compare you with others, how will you deal with the situation?
[Blurb on page 12]
“I would prefer that the person giving me counsel not mention the name of another person and say, ‘You should be more like so-and-so,’ but, rather, highlight my good qualities first and then in a loving manner help me to see my weaknesses.”—Natalie
[Picture on page 13]
You might want to explain respectfully how the comparisons make you feel