The Highlight Reel

The Reason We Struggle With Insecurity Is That We Compare Our Behind-The-Scenes With Everyone Else’s Highlight Reel.

If there’s any commonality to the process of therapy, it is the personal sense of insecurity that almost all my clients bring with them.

Whatever the presenting problem is, it is nearly always made worse by profound feelings of worthlessness or insignificance. Sometimes, that pervading sense of being somehow fundamentally flawed is the issue.

At our very core, we desire to be known and accepted by others as we are. The problem is, almost all of us believe that the hot mess of our inner landscape has no place on the stage of life with all those other perfect people. You know, the ones who have the perfect family, the right job, the best car, the hottest looks, the most glorious hair, or the greatest smile? Really, all those people who aren’t you. The discrepancy between our own sense of Self, and how we believe others live becomes a huge and paralyzing chasm that can’t be crossed. Over there, are the wonderful people who have no problems, everything always goes right for them, and no one ever makes mistakes, says stupid things or acts ridiculous …all things we know we do really well.

Comparison is probably the national pastime in any culture you care to name. Possibly, it should be classified as a blood sport. The truth is, when we compare the reality of our internal sense of self to someone else’s external show, we die a little. What’s that quote… ‘Death by a thousand cuts?' It’s not very often that we come out on the happy end of the deal when we do this comparison thing. Mostly, we watch someone else’s show and think, “Why don’t I have hair like that?” “Life would be better if I had his looks,” or “I could be anything I wanted if I had that much money,” and we feel less than; insignificant and unable to interact with others from a place of equality. The sad thing about all these mental games is that we have judged ourselves to be less than.

The truth is that we can’t really make accurate comparisons. We can only compare the observable in others with the internal in ourselves. We don’t have a magic wand or an all-seeing eye that allows us to see into the internal landscape of someone else (this is a very good thing!) and so we must imagine what life is like for that person based on what we see or hear.

Guess what?

We’re watching the highlight reel. Those people we’re envying? They’ve got their game faces on. We can’t shut off the mental chaos in our heads, we feel like crap, and we know that when we go home, it’s likely to be a night full of family dysfunction. We imagine that friend, …that girl, …that guy over there goes home to a perfect little family, in a perfect little house, in a perfect little neighbourhood, and has a perfect little life.

Ironically, others think exactly the same thing about us.

Because, get this, they can’t see our internal landscape either. They can only see the game face we wear, as we navigate the stage that is life, and people envy our hair, our eyes, our jobs, our family, our life believing it to be so so so much more than their own.

Ask one of those enviable people if she has a perfect life. Be prepared for her to laugh …or cry. No one has a perfect life. Did you get that? NO.ONE.IS.PERFECT. That belief that ‘I’m flawed while the rest of the world is very nearly perfect’ is the source of so much mental and emotional pain. The cure is to admit what we’re doing and ruthlessly refuse to compare. Tell ourselves the truth – comparing their highlight reel with our blooper reel is ridiculous. And while we stand here telling ourselves this, someone else is looking at our highlight reel, feeling like a loser.

We spend our time ruthlessly criticizing ourselves for failing to measure up, and the person we’re holding up as the ideal is ruthlessly doing exactly the same thing, with the same outcome. Self-criticism, feelings of unworthiness, and a crippling sense of insecurity. The very epitome of irony.

Be kind to yourself. There are 7+ billion people on this earth, and there is only ONE of you. How do we compare a single, priceless, irreplaceable individual with anything?

We don’t. No, we do not.

Dr. Susannah-Joy Schuilenberg, RPC, MPCC-S, DAAETS, ACS

Originally published in bazaar Kuwait 31.10.2016 (Edited)

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