Devaluing the Self Our worth is complex; beyond simple comparisons BY: Troy Murphy | May 2016
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We condemn the self through faulty comparisons. We need benchmarks for comparisons to assess value. When shopping for a car, comparison provides valuable information. Comparing different models, features, and costs narrows our search, ultimately leading to the best vehicle for our wants and needs. But determining personal value is more complex, faulty comparing triggers shame, coveting, and derogatory judging—many of the nasties destroying the soul and disrupting peace.
Personal value is complex. We encompass hoards of talents and characteristics, maturing through different backgrounds, poverties and riches; there is no objective comparison. What’s my value? I don’t know. But we are competitive, prone to compare salaries, possessions, friends, happiness, and positions. It’s what we do. We want to know where we fit and how we compete. We bolster security by being better than others; but, conversely, with unfavorable comparisons we are frightened.
When we compare, we paint an incomplete picture. We view our selves (and others) with this distorted image. The blurred colors, the faded portraits suffer from ego protections, and unhealthy biases. We judge unfairly. Other people may excel in some talents and possessions; but we don’t know the investment behind the gain. No measuring sticks accurately determine worth. We all have strengths; we all have weaknesses. If I compare myself to Donald Trump in finances and to the Dalai Lama in compassion, I will feel grossly inadequate. I fare much better if I reversed the comparisons (Donald Trump’s compassion and the Dalai Lama’s possessions). I’m constant in these comparisons but the changing comparison creates huge differences in determining value.
Depending on the measuring stick, we may rely on faulty self-aggrandizement or depressing insufficiencies. Interestingly, many studies have revealed a connection between depression and more realistic self-appraisal. But should we sacrifice accurate self-appraisals to feel good? We must remember correlations don’t necessarily indicate cause. Perhaps accurate self-appraisals don’t cause depression unless coupled with unrealistic expectations—perfection. If we see our human imperfect self against the back drop of the unobtainable, we become discouraged, feeling helpless, and fall into depression.
A fragile self is crippled by harsh self-criticism; the damning shame push social withdrawal, and paralyzing fear. Self-criticism, social withdrawal and missed opportunities invite the dark shadows of discouragement, depression and helplessness. This trifecta of demons strangles development and diminishes internal resources essential for growth.
Faulty and puffed views of self, trumping greater self-confidence from belittling others obscures personal weaknesses. We feel better from these faulty judgments but oblivious to the shortcomings interfering with successful living—narcissism. We destroy relationships, squander employment opportunities and poison futures. The occasional flashes of reality are blinding and quickly denied.
Both positive and negative comparative judgments limit growth.
Becoming mindful of comparative judgments, understanding the limits, opens the mind to a better path, we free ourselves from the paradoxical choice between self-deception and depression. A more compassionate approach, allowing for imperfections, establishes self acceptance during the occasional missteps and lapses. Error doesn’t give a devastating blow to self-worth; we can acknowledge weakness and work towards correction—not because we are bad but because we are human.
From this position of strength, founded in reality—growth begins. We shed the judgmental "shoulds" and embrace frightening opportunities. We increase tolerance of shortcomings, taming the critical judgments of comparative self-worth. This is the work of a lifetime. ~Troy Murphy