Let’s dive back into our exploration of comparison’s hidden messages! If you missed yesterday’s post, you can read it here.
2. Comparison as a substitute for living with ambivalence
Have you heard of psychological splitting?
This is a process in which people, things, or situations get categorized as either good or bad, because to perceive them in their complexity stirs up difficult to downright intolerable thoughts and feelings. When splitting is present in a relationship (more likely if we have a history of trauma), a person might be seen as “bad” or unsafe when they aren’t meeting our needs and expectations and “good” when they are.
Of course, this view can also be turned inward, resulting in a painful struggle to view ourselves as complexly layered humans. Instead, we’re either totally good or we’re totally bad.
Growing up, I didn’t see much modeling when it came to navigating the ambiguities of life. Things were artificially hacked into bits of clearly this or clearly that with little middle ground. If I made a mistake, I was treated as if my entire person was now bad and wrong until I could, hopefully, do something to get back into my caregivers’ good graces, and then I was the golden child. Until I wasn’t again.
I watched them have fallings out with people who were once their dearest friend/idolized boss/cherished lover, but who were now officially The Shittiest Person to Ever Walk the Earth.
This rollercoaster taught me to categorize myself and all of life into boxes of Definitely Good or Definitely Bad, which meant that 99% of situations were deeply confusing to me.
And this led me to do what I’d seen my family do, time and time again: insist on those rigid categories even harder to eradicate any and all ambiguity, because the confusion (and my lack of skills to navigate it) was scary AF.
It’s a work in progress, but my capacity to tolerate the messiness of life has increased a lot, and this is in no small part connected to clarifying my personal values.
When I got more clear about what was actually important to me…
…thanks largely to therapy, journaling, dreamwork, working on my relationships, and meditation with spirit guides, it became easier to see that other people weren’t necessarily wrong…they just had different values.
Sometimes our values diverged enough that meeting each other in relationship didn’t feel accessible. Or maybe the relationship wasn’t something I wanted–a desire that, previously, I never would have allowed myself to admit, and instead, I’d have to find a way to make the other person “bad” in order to justify not being in it.
Clarifying my values helps with setting boundaries too, because instead of needing to make a case for how the other person’s needs are “wrong,” (that always goes over well!) I can state what my needs are and hold space for the possibility that we might need different things, and that’s okay–and then we can problem solve from there.
Ambiguity is baked into existence, but comparison can trick us into thinking there’s a way to divvy things up into tidy categories.
This tidying process requires sanding off so much nuance that, by the time we’re done, we’re essentially working with artificial constructs that tell us little to nothing about the world, and this actually leads to more, not less, confusion when our efforts don’t work very well. This isn’t because we’re incompetent; it’s because we’re operating with faulty information.
These comparison substitutions hinge on a disconnect from our inner world.
If we were taught that the inner world is something to be avoided, maybe even something fearful and distrustful, it makes sense that we’d need to rely on things like comparison to navigate the confusing complexity of life, because our inner compass has been thrown into a deep, dark well.
By reconnecting with your inner experience in whatever ways are meaningful for you, you retrieve that compass and learn how to chart your own course.
Recently, I had an experience that reminded me how joyful, how satisfying, life can be when the comparison dial is turned down.
I had just finished another round of revisions on my romance novel, and it was time to read the story from beginning to end after layering scenes from the book’s multiple timelines in the intended order. In other words, this was my very first time experiencing the book as a reader will in the not-so-distant future.
As I read the last line on the last page, I was on my couch with a cup of herbal tea, and I had to hastily set the mug down to grab a handful of Kleenex because I was happy crying all over the place, bowled over by the inner knowing that I have written the book I intended to write. I told the story I wanted to tell to the best of my ability. I did the thing. ヽ(•‿•)ノ
I had the strange but pleasant sensation of a small, clear bell ringing in my mind, accompanied by a profound calm, and I realized this satisfaction had nothing to do with comparison.
This wasn’t about whether my book was Better or The Best. In fact, given that it’s my first novel, I know I still have so many exciting things to learn about fiction writing, and this book reflects that, but none of that matters in terms of how satisfied I feel having done it!
To be able to experience my creation based on how I feel, what I think, and what I set out to do was a revelation to me.
The question wasn’t, “Are there other books out there that are better?” Um, without a doubt. Or, “Will people like my book?” Some will, I hope–and like everything that has ever been created, some won’t, and plenty won’t care. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
And sure, there will be times when I approach the book more from a marketer’s POV or that of a prospective reader, perhaps finding things I want to change, but wow, how delicious it was to sink into the experience of having done a thing I set out to do and simply let myself enjoy it.
If I were to run this experience through the Comparison Machine in order to determine its value…
…think of all the information I would lose! If you’ve been with me for a while, you might remember that I originally embarked on this project because my spirit guides said, one day in meditation, “Psst…you should write a romance novel.” They told me the experience would irrevocably change me, and boy, were they ever right.
If I whittle the book down to an object of comparison, though, trying to figure out how it stacks up and whether it was “worth” my time, I’ll overlook the rich stream of information I’ve been receiving since day one:
How it felt when the first (shitty) draft tumbled out at Mach speed. Exhilarating!
How it felt to sit down and complete the first round of revisions. Hard but worth it!
How it felt to go on walks and ask my guides and the spirit of the book for help with plot issues. Like cracking a Sherlock Holmes case!
How it felt to sit down, day after day after day, to work through successive rounds of revisions, when Past Me would have long since abandoned the project? Both maddening and satisfying!
How it felt to read the almost-final draft and see the result of a year-and-a-half of creative effort? Priceless.
All of these experiences helped me connect with a creative pursuit–romance writing–that I find stupendously satisfying and that ties together so many of my interests and disparate skills. I never would have guessed. Previously, I hadn’t even read a romance novel (I’ve since remedied that–so many fun books!) and my writing was non-fiction, all the way.
Comparison alone couldn’t have led me to this awareness, because it crowds out inner knowing with external metrics and meaningless absolutes.
But you know what? My competitive drive, a different octave of that Capricorn energy, played a part in not only starting this novel but sticking through round after round of revisions. That ambitious element wanted to prove that, hell yes–I can do this!
On this Full Moon in Taurus, and the end of an eclipse storyline, I invite you to spend some time looking at your second house.
What sign (or signs, depending on which house system you use) rules this house? Are there any planets here?
These are precious resources that can be developed, and you don’t have to get a PhD in astrology to access insights. Look up basic associations for these planets and signs, and let your intuition string them together in different combinations until you hit on something that feels zingy and interesting.
For instance, if your second house contains Pluto and is ruled by Gemini, perhaps the associations that jump out are Pluto’s connection to the unconscious (the “underworld” of the psyche) and Gemini’s ability to look at something from both sides (twin-o-vision).
When you put these together, you feel drawn to augment the ego’s POV with that of the unconscious, particularly in the realm of what you value (your unconscious, particularly via dreams, is great at showing you what’s authentically important to you versus what you’ve been taught to prioritize) and how you relate to your material resources, like the realization in my 20s that I was pursuing med school to earn my grandma’s approval, not because I had a passion or aptitude for medicine.
The end of this eclipse cycle can help you integrate what you’ve learned, activating different octaves of your inner riches. Happy treasure hunting and…
Happy Full Moon!
P.S. Dreamwork allows you to peer behind the ego’s curtain and identify personal values versus those you’ve absorbed from the collective, which is incredibly handy.
If that’s something you’re interested in, next week I’ll be sharing a podcast episode I created for Portal subscribers containing useful dream-interpretation tips, like uncovering what recurring dream elements are trying to tell you, how to use dream insights to empower your spellcasting, and the most important thing to remember when interpreting your dreams.