Ep #25: Two Sides of the Comparison Coin

I had a conversation recently with a widow who told me, “You have it all together.” Now, I guess she saw me on social media and heard me on the podcast, so she had this idea of me as this person who has a handle on everything.

Whether that statement of hers is true is really neither here nor there, but this got me thinking about how I see so many people beating themselves up by comparing themselves with others who have similar circumstances, usually thinking, “Why am I not there yet?”

As human beings, we like comparison. Knowing that we are not alone gives us some comfort. But we don’t always compare in a helpful way. Join me on the podcast this week to discover the difference between healthy and unhealthy comparison, and how we can use comparison as a useful tool, instead of a way of pointing out everything we think we are doing wrong.

Listen to the Full Episode:

If you like what you’ve been hearing on this podcast and want to create a future you can truly get excited about even after the loss of your spouse, I invite you to join my Mom Goes On coaching program. It’s small group coaching just for widowed moms like you where I’ll help you figure out what’s holding you back and give you the tools and support you need so you can move forward with confidence.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Why something within us thinks we will find comfort in comparing our grief journey with others going through something similar.
  • How our tendency to compare can sometimes be problematic.
  • The ways I see people making comparisons in their lives that are not useful.
  • Why comparison isn’t always a bad thing.
  • How we can compare in ways that connect us instead of looking for the differences in our stories.


Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, episode 25, Two Sides of the Comparison Coin.

Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, the only podcast that offers a proven process to help you work through your grief to grow, evolve, and create a future you can actually look forward to. Here’s your host, certified life coach, grief expert, widow, and mom, Krista St-Germain.

Hey there, welcome to another episode of the podcast. So, I am so excited – so by the time this airs, my November Mom Goes On six-month group coaching program will have started, but right now, I just sent the workbooks for month one to all of the participants, and I have never been this excited about a workbook.

It seems kind of silly and little, but here’s what I’ve decided; sometimes, the best things to get excited about aren’t the biggest things. I am so excited to have put what I know is going to be a powerful and transformative amount of amazingness in one little workbook just for month one. And if I get this excited about month one, what am I going to be like by the time we’re in month six?

It’s, to me, a blast to go through this process with widowed moms, to do it in a group format where everybody gets each other and supports and encourages one another and wants the best for one another and is willing to show up and do the work and create the life they want and not just resign themselves to, “Meh.” I just can’t stand it. So, I’m super excited to get this group going and just super excited to see it in print and have everybody get their materials in the mail; so fun. So, anyway, that’s what’s going on in my life.

Okay, we’re going to talk about two sides of the comparison coin. And before we do that, of course, you know I like to give listener shout-outs and I so, so appreciate everyone who is willing to take the time to actually write a written review in Apple Podcasts. And so the one I want to read today is from G.Hall426 and the title of her review is, Genuinely Love This Podcast.

It reads, “Krista knows grief and the landmines that come with it, so the topics have been spot on, insightful, and packed with clear constructive advice. She validates the grief journey and has compassion for the struggles of widowers. Krista is candid and open about her own experiences in dealing with traumatic loss and heartbreak. I come away from each podcast with a little more clarity and optimism and inner peace that I’m finding my way. Love, love, love.”

Listen, we’re going to reach a million women. It is happening. I don’t care how long it takes; it is happening. So if this podcast is helpful to you, if you think it would be helpful to other women, the most beneficial thing you can do is tell other people about it, share this with them, write a review, make it more searchable. That is what’s going to help us reach more women and help them.

Okay, alright, enough about podcast reviews. Let’s talk about comparison. I’m sure you have probably heard the Theodore Roosevelt quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” And I’m sort of bought into that. But I think it’s more nuanced than just to say that comparison is the thief of joy.

I think it’s not always true. It can certainly be problematic, but comparison can also be useful. So we’re going to talk about when it’s useful and when it’s not, how to know the difference, and navigate that for yourself.

First, of course, before I started deciding what I wanted to talk about, I decided to just look up the definition of the word comparison. And according to the interwebs, it is the act of comparing. Well, what is comparing? So I looked up comparing, and comparing is defined – or compare – is defined as estimate, measure, or note the similarity or dissimilarity between.

Similarity and dissimilarity – how do we estimate, measure, or note the similarities or dissimilarities between this whole widowed mom experience, this whole experience of grief? Because I think we can do it in ways that are useful and we can do it in ways that are not useful.

And so if both are possible, let’s do the one that’s useful, yeah? Let’s think about this with intention and purpose. Now, what I see most often is un-useful comparison in grief. Let’s be reminded that grieving is the natural response to loss. And in the context of this podcast, I’m usually talking about loss meaning death; death of a partner, death of your husband.

But that’s not the only kind of loss that people have in life. And what I notice is this kind of one-upmanship in pain. I think I just made up a word, but we’re going to go with it. We seem to get quite interested in comparing our pain, comparing our loss, comparing our struggle.

In my Facebook group, for example, the other day, I saw a post that someone had written and they were quite upset and offended that someone in their world had compared her divorce to this woman’s loss of her husband who had died. “How dare she say that her divorce is similar to the death of my husband?”

I’ve seen people get very, very upset when someone might say their marriage is not good. “Well, how dare they say that their marriage is not good? I would do anything to have my marriage back.” And why do we do that? I think it’s because we’re hurting.

I think it’s because we’re hurting and, as humans, we want to be understood. We want to know that we aren’t alone. We want to believe that other people understand us. We don’t want to feel isolated. We don’t want to feel rejected. We don’t want to feel less-than. We just want to be loved and understood and accepted.

And so when we perceive that we aren’t, it upsets us. When we perceive that’s someone doesn’t understand where we’re coming from or doesn’t validate the pain that we’re experiencing, it bothers us. But, the question I want us to consider is not whether it’s understandable. It’s whether it’s useful.

And that is the lens I’m always considering when I’m deciding what I want to teach you; is it useful to you to do things as you’re currently doing them? Would it be useful to you to do things in a different way? And so I think comparison, in this way, is not useful to living the life you want to live because, here’s the deal; comparison in this way feels terrible.

Notice how you feel when your brain wants to play the, “My pain is worse than your pain,” game. Notice how it feels. It feels awful. It feels self-righteous. It feels entitled. It feels justified. And none of those emotions feel particularly good. Is your pain justifiable? Of course, all pain is justifiable.

Does your pain have to be worse than someone else’s to be valid? No, all pain is valid. And when we’re comparing our pain to other people’s pain, our loss to their loss, our life to their life, and we’re telling ourselves that ours is worse than theirs and looking for evidence of that, we’re creating more reasons to be disconnected from other humans.

When what we want is connection and validation and acceptance and we go playing the, “My pain is worse than your pain,” game, we create less of what it is we seek. When we say our loss is worse than their loss, we feel terrible, and then the opposite is true too when we say, “Oh, their loss, they have it so much worse than me. I shouldn’t feel this way. I should be grateful. I should feel better than I feel because it could be so much worse.”

And we do it in a way that doesn’t acknowledge our pain. We kind of guilt ourselves or shame ourselves. We should on ourselves. We say, “Oh, their loss is worse than mine.” We still feel terrible. And I see widows doing this all the time in so many different ways.

We do it with the cause of death especially.  Maybe your husband died by suicide and somebody else’s died in an accident. Or someone’s death was sudden where someone else’s death was a terminal diagnosis and we say, “Oh well, it was so much worse for me,” or, “It was so much worse for them.”

And neither one of those comparisons make us feel particularly good. Remember, in episode 20 on cognitive bias, I taught you that the beliefs that you have about yourself, your loss, your future, any belief you have, any thought you have, your brain will go about trying to find evidence that that thought is true.

So, notice how this happens when you’re comparing loss. Whatever your belief is, your brain is going to find evidence that that is true. If you believe yours was the most awful, you’ll probably notice yourself feeling offended when other people try to relate to you by telling you about their losses. If your belief is that people love and support you, then when they offer those same comparisons, you’ll probably see it as a sign of them trying to connect with you instead of as a sign of them trying to one-up your grief.

And when we focus on what we think others have that we don’t, we also begin to focus on what we don’t have instead of what we do have. And when we focus on what we don’t have, we’re not able to enjoy what we do have, and focusing on what we don’t have feels terrible. Focusing on what we don’t have- just encourages our brain to find more evidence of what we don’t have.

So, so what if other people have differently than we do? What do we want that we already have? Let’s draw our attention to that. Let’s look for more evidence of that. Let’s train our brain to find more of what we want so we feel better and so the types of actions we take are then fueled by that better feeling and now we’re creating more of what we want instead of less. It’s so much more useful.

We really don’t know the suffering, the pain of others, but we do have that in common. One of my guiding mantras, a helpful way that I look at other humans is I remind myself that all humans hurt. She’s a human, I’m a human, we all hurt in our own way.  Humans hurt. We have this in common. This is part of our shared experience.

And when someone’s telling me about their hurt, it feels so much better to me when I remind myself that the part of me that is hurting or the part of me that has hurt sees the part of her that is hurting. I even do this – you know, the man that caused the accident that killed my husband, that’s a person who was hurting.

Now, I don’t appreciate what he did from his hurting. I believe there should be a consequence for that, and there was. But you can’t tell me that someone who has meth and alcohol in their system on a Sunday afternoon and gets behind the wheel of a car and drives isn’t hurting. And the part of me that knows hurt can see the part of him that was hurting. We have that in common.

And finding the common ground in our human experience connects us as humans. It feels much better than isolating ourselves by one-upping our pain, by comparing in a way that doesn’t serve us, what’s happening in our lives.

I had a conversation with someone who just signed up for my Mom Goes On six-month group coaching program and one of the things she told me in our call, which was actually one of the reasons I thought about this subject for a podcast, she said something to the effect of, “I’m really worried that you’re not going to accept me into the group. I’ll be honest with you, I’m worried that you’re not going to accept me into the group because you have it all together and I don’t.”

And I thought, whoa, okay, we need to do a reset here. I see where that comes from. You’re hearing me on a podcast that is edited. I am writing something to be of service to you.  You might see me on social media and you see pictures that were taken by a professional photographer. You see quotes that were thoughtfully considered. You see this polished, edited version of me.

You didn’t see me this morning when I was grumping at my son because we couldn’t figure out something on the computer and I was completely losing my patience. You don’t see me when I feel like a hot mess express and don’t have it all together. That kind of comparison is not helping you.

Now, the kind of comparison that will help you is when you look at other people who maybe are farther along than you believe you are, and instead of saying, “I’ll never get there. She’s got it together, I don’t. I’ve never had it together. I’ll never be able to get it together. It’s possible for her but it’s not possible for me.” No, “If she can do it, I can do it. If she can move forward, I can move forward. If she can pursue her dreams, I can pursue mine. If she can like her life again, I can like mine. If she can figure out how to be more confident, so can I.”

That’s the kind of comparison. Let’s use the kind of comparison that helps us grow. Let’s use the kind of comparison that helps us track our progress, the kind of comparison that helps inspire us.

I’ve set a goal this year to gain more muscle. So every couple of months, I have this scan, it’s called an InBody scan, at my local YMCA. I have this scan done and it tells me my muscle mass and it breaks it down by segment of my body and compares my body fat percentage, my muscle mass, and tells me all these numbers.

So I can compare one InBody scan to another and I can see how much muscle I’m gaining because I’m comparing one month to another. That’s useful comparison.

So this is why I don’t think that comparison has to be the thief of joy. I think, if done in a useful way, comparison can be encouraging. Comparison can be inspiring. When you stop thinking that you are the lost special snowflake who will never get it together and you realize that there are many, many humans, many widowed moms who think and feel and have the same types of pain and challenges that you have, then you don’t feel so alone.

When you get angry and you notice that you’re not alone, that other people get angry too, that other people are angry with their husbands for not taking care of themselves and angry with god or whatever faith tradition they practice, you’re not alone in that anger. That’s useful. It’s not just you.

If you’re struggling to forgive and you don’t know how, you’re definitely not alone. If you feel like the hot mess express, you’re definitely not alone. And sometimes, we’ve got to get off social media, or at least remind ourselves when we’re on it that it’s just the highlight reel. It’s everybody’s highlight reel.

There might be a few more candid vulnerable people that you’re following. I encourage you to find those people, right, find the ones that aren’t positing only photo-shopped pictures and implying that their lives are perfect and so there’s something wrong with you if your life isn’t perfect. But consider that what you’re looking at, the face everybody puts forward is often the brave strong one.

That’s not necessarily what they’re feeling like on the inside. We’re all humans. We all have pain. We all hurt. We all just want to be loved. We’re all doing the best we can with what we know and we’re waking up every single day trying not to suck.

Nobody wakes up and says, “You know what, today, I’m just going to go offend that widow that I work with. I’m just really going to tell her how her pain isn’t as bad as my pain because I’m going through a divorce.” No, they don’t. They’re hurting. They’re trying to be understood. They’re trying to be validated. They’re trying to connect and we can love them and we can see that they’re hurting and we can know what it’s like to hurt and we can just make space for everybody to have this human experience and love all the humans. That’s what it’s all about.

So, of course you’re comparing. We all do it. Just ask yourself if you can do it in a way that is serving you, a way that is useful, a way that connects you to others, a way that inspires you, a way that makes you more of the best you.

Alright, I love you, you’ve got this, and I’ll see you on the next episode. Take care.

Ready to start building a future you can actually look forward to? Get a free copy of Krista’s Love Your Life Again Game Plan, and learn her three-step process so you can stop feeling stuck and start creating your next great chapter. No matter what you’ve been through, your past does not have to define what’s possible in your future.

Text the word PLAN to 1-858-widows-1, or visit coachingwithkrista.com/plan and get Krista’s Love Your Life Again Game Plan delivered straight to your inbox. A future you love is still possible and you are worth it. Text the word PLAN to 1-858-widows-1, or visit coachingwithkrista.com/plan and get your free game plan today.

Enjoy The Show?

Share This Post

colored line

Get my 10 minute Free Video and Learn:

colored line
Krista St-Germain Avatar
About your coach

I created a new life using small, manageable steps and techniques that made sense. The changes I experienced were so profound I became a Master Certified Life Coach and created a group coaching program for widows like us called Mom Goes On. It’s now my mission to show widowed moms exactly how to do what I’ve done and create a future they can look forward to.

colored line