The Toll Of Being Compared
A common phenomenon in family systems is that certain members end up having their personality traits and behaviors compared or contrasted to some other member of the nuclear or extended family. In effect these members being compared, in the minds of the labelers, become copies rather than individuals. Their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors aren’t taken on their own merit but are constantly referred back to the family member being used as the ground for comparison.
Whether the comparison is favorable or unfavorable, wanted or unwanted, there’s a profound psychological and emotional toll from constantly having your personality and behavior compared to someone else. The basic human need for individuality is stifled, the chance to be and to become is compromised, and it hurts. When you’re made into the unwitting clone of some other member in your family system without your say so, when you’re pressured to live up or live down, as the case may be, to some life story that’s not your own and has already been written, when your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors aren’t taken on their own merit but are grouped together in a preexisting framework, you suffer because at the deeper level what you’re being told is that you are not an individual.
The labels based on comparisons are usually unfair, and they’re certainly never complete. They only include the constellation of traits and behaviors that fit the dominant narrative and ignore or minimize traits or behaviors that fall outside of the dominant narrative.
How do those unfairly labeled tend to respond? If the characterization is wanted then they’ll spend a lot of time over the course of their lives trying to live up to that label, yet their efforts will never end up bearing the desired fruit since the best they can ever hope for from the family members they’re seeking approval from is validation that they’ve more or less approximated someone else’s life story. If the characterization is unwanted then they’ll spend a lot of time over the course of their lives trying to break free of that label, yet their efforts will never end up bearing the desired fruit since no matter what they do the power of that original narrative will stay front and center, it will continue to be pushed upon them regardless of what they say or do to contradict it.
Whether trying to live up to a wanted label or trying to break free of an unwanted label true happiness eludes people as long as they allow their own psyches to stay stuck in the trap of familial comparison because they’re not following their unique life path, they’re not developing their unique potentialities.
The way to bring freedom and individuality to the fore, and to achieve happiness and fulfillment, is to leave behind the notion of living up or living down to the story of any other person, whether this person is a part of your family system or not. You might never be able to change the way certain people perceive you but this doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your own unique life journey of growth and self-actualization on the altar of their beliefs about you. Happiness arises from living up to the best that exists within you, not from trying to live up or avoid living down to some external idea of who someone else is.