The Art of Comparisons

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One of the many DBT skills is that of ‘comparison’. Penelope introduced it to me over a year ago and it is one of those skills I have shyed away from… For a number of reasons.

1) I have spent 20 years of my life as a Christian trying not to compare myself to others! While an active member of my church one of my biggest struggles was not constantly comparing myself to people who were, in my mind, either more gifted or ‘holy’ or kind or loving than I. It used to drive me absolutely mad!!!! It was so exhausting. I would meditate on the words of Jesus to his disciple Peter when he basically told him to mind his own business when Peter asked him what was going on with John (another disciple)- but still I spent more time worried about other people than about God. (As an aside- this is one of the main reasons I am so relieved not to be going to church- it is so much easier).

2) as humans I think when we compare ourselves to others normally we come out worse than the object of comparison- and that isn’t usually very encouraging- so not something I necessarily want to do more of

3) on the whole I think comparisons with people less fortunate than yourself are futile. To compare my life with a 40 year old woman in Syria and then to tell myself to be grateful for my lot in life, is normally quite a pointless comparison. I don’t know why I was born into a situation where I don’t have to protect my children from bombs. I’m grateful than I don’t. But our situations just aren’t comparable. It doesn’t make me feel any better about my situation- only a little bit more guilty.

So when I was told that a skill to help with distress tolerance was actually comparison- I wasn’t hugely enthusiastic!

But a couple of weeks ago- I had the opportunity to practise it in a meaningful way.

I went to church. Not sure why- but I did. I ended up chatting with a friend by the entrance of the church. A man came in who had been on the psychiatric ward at the same time as me. I recognised him- he didn’t recognise me. My friend and I chatted with him. His tale of homelessness, self- harm and alcoholism was sadly familiar but no less poignant to witness.

For me it was a comparison that was a good one to make. I am so grateful that I have a home. I have food in my fridge, clothes in my wardrobe. I am not addicted to alcohol. I have teeth. I have friends who hopefully if I didn’t have any of the above would be willing to help me. Please hear me, not for one moment do I think I have done things better than this gentleman… I don’t know why I have those things and he doesn’t… I don’t deserve them any more than he does… All I know is that I am grateful that I do- and I genuinely saw in that moment that there for the grace of God go I.

This evening I was in London and saw homeless people begin to congregate in shop doorways. When I lived in south London I was part of a team that did weekly soup runs in the early hours of the morning. Let me tell you there is nothing that makes you feel more inadequate than having to leave people to sleep in the freezing cold- walking away from them used to break my heart. For years every night I have always got into bed and said thank you God that I have a duvet to sleep under tonight- and I meant it. As I drove home this evening I realised I hadn’t said that prayer for a while. For the last year and a bit I have a lovely duvet- a proper feather one… But I know that my old duvet with gratitude felt so much better than this lovely one without it.

I’m not fully convinced of the value of the skill of comparison…and in the DBT sense it is a bit more involved than my basic description. But for me, these experiences were helpful in bearing my own distress… And to be honest that’s what DBT is all about. Tonight, though I feel pretty rough- I have a duvet to sleep under. That makes me feel very blessed indeed.

Thanks for listening.

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