The Danger of Comparison
About the Guest
It's human nature to compare. But is it wise? Author and mother of five Kay Wills Wyma shares what the Bible says about "obsessive comparison disorder" and how to diagnosis it in yourself as well as your kids.
themoatblog.com and video podcasts at saysomethingshow.com. She has been featured on outlets such as The Today Show, CNN, and Focus on the Family, and has contribu...more
Author and mother of five Kay Wills Wyma shares what the Bible says about “obsessive comparison disorder” and how to diagnosis it in yourself as well as your kids.
The Danger of Comparison
Bob: There is a reason why one of the Ten Commandments is all about coveting. It’s because coveting is the enemy of contentment. Here’s Kay Wyma.
Kay: That happened to us at a dinner party, where a friend of ours had just moved back from Nashville. He said to me, “I come over here to this house, and I think, ‘Oh, should we have bought a house in this neighborhood? Is this going to be okay, because how is our kid going to have somebody to play with?’” And then, he begins to instantly dis his house, which he said was perfectly fine. Yet, it became instantly not fine because the other house is nicer.
The truth of the matter is, as we are sitting here, there is not a single person on this planet that does not struggle with this.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, April 24th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Kay Wyma joins us today to talk about what she calls “Obsessive Comparison Disorder,” and why it’s killing us. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’m just trying to look up here—do you have any idea why it’s called “green with envy?” Why people—
Dennis: I don’t.
Bob: —where that even comes from? Why green is associated with that?
Dennis: I don’t.
Bob: I’m going to google that and see.
Dennis: Maybe because it grows?
Bob: Well, maybe—that’s a good thought.
Dennis: I’m serious. You know, envy is one of those things that, if you feed it, it’ll grow.
Bob: What provokes it in you? Is there anything?
Dennis: Oh, I’ve got a list! [Laughter] In preparing for this broadcast, I wrote it down. I’ll just be honest about one. One of the things that you do is—you write a book.
Dennis: Then, you check and see how it is doing. Then, you go and look at Max Lucado, [Laughter] and he’s got close to 100 million copies. I’m a little south of 100 million copies. So you look at that. Or then, you read what you wrote and you go, “That’s pretty good.” Well, of course, it sounds good because you said it; okay?
Dennis: But then you go read something that Chuck Swindoll had written and you think, “He must write in his sleep, because he writes two books a year!”
He just keeps cranking them out.
Bob: He can turn a phrase better than anybody; right?
Dennis: I wouldn’t say I’m eaten up with envy, but I think it’s a part of the decayed nature of a human heart to want to compare what we have with what other people appear to have.
Dennis: We have a guest with us who, I think, can agree with us. Kay Wills Wyma joins us on FamilyLife Today. Welcome to the broadcast.
Kay: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Dennis: She has written a book called I’m Happy for You (Sort of…Not Really). [Laughter] It has the subtitle of—
Bob: I love the title of the book! [Laughter]
Dennis: —Finding Contentment in a Culture of Comparison. Kay and her husband Jon live in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. Kay, for a number of years, worked for the Department of State, the White House, Bank of America; and is a popular parenting blogger.
Here’s what—I want you to comment on this—
Dennis: —because your book—I just went, “Isn’t there something in the Ten Commandments about this?”
I’ve written a book called The Forgotten Commandment. Well, I think you could call your book, The Last Commandment. Exodus 20:17: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey,”—or his BMW—[Laughter]
Bob: I think that’s in a different—
Dennis: —“or anything”—
Bob: —paraphrase there.
Dennis: —“that is your neighbor’s.” Now, when you wrote this book, were you thinking that this was one of the Ten Commandments?—that, really, it has to be pointing out something about our human heart, Kay—
Dennis: —that we’re not bent to want to be happy when other people have things.
Kay: Interestingly enough, when I wrote this book, I really was thinking of the greatest commandment, where they came and asked the Lord, “What is the greatest commandment?” and He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love others as yourself.”
The title of the book came from a conversation with my daughter. It was the fact of “I’m happy for you,”—
—if you can say it in the moment of somebody else’s—whatever it is. As far as people comparing grades—for her, it was the day she got in the car and someone had been comparing grades when they got a test back: “What did you get?” “What did you get?” “What did you get?” And she didn’t like answering that question.
She said to me—she’s a thoughtful kid—and she said, “I don’t like entering into that and telling somebody that I made a grade better than them, because it makes me want to keep making grades better than them and it just doesn’t seem to end.” And then, she said, “And I really don’t like telling them I made a grade worse than them because then it makes me feel horrible and kind of confirms all the bad things I think about myself.” And she sat there not sure what to do.
That’s when I offered her—what I said were three magic words. Clearly, there are four—because that’s why I don’t help them with their math or anything [Laughter] —because it’s “I’m happy for you.” Because I asked her—I was like, “What do you think—
Bob: It could be: “Happy for you.”
Kay: —I was like, “What do you think they are?” She said, “I love you?” I was like, “No.” She said, “That’s great, because it would be so awkward to say that to somebody.” [Laughter]
But we talked about the fact that, if you can say to somebody, “I’m happy for you,”—in that moment, where they are going, “I got a 98,”—and she got an 86 or whatever it is—it defuses everything. It like takes whatever power is in that moment, and it defuses it.
Then, she said, “I think that’s a great idea, but meaning it would be the hardest thing.” But I thought about the power of that commandment—loving others—it sums them all up. What is it in that?—it gets your eyes off yourself. That’s where I sat with her—going, “I actually think that is the answer!” Now, the hard part about it is getting to that, because the commandment that you read is at the core of our heart.
Bob: And it really is fascinating to me, as you read the last of the Ten Commandments, to stop and think, “Here is God laying down the moral law for His people.”
Bob: The first half is about our relationship with Him: “Have no other gods before me; no graven images; honor the Sabbath.”
The second half of the Ten Commandments is about how we get along with one another—to your point about loving one another. And there is big stuff on there: lying, murdering, adultery, and coveting.
Bob: And all of the sudden, it’s like, “Really!? Coveting belongs with lying, and murdering, and adultery?”
Kay: Well, coveting puts your eyes right smack dab on yourself. I love when He reiterates these commandments over and over—He says, “Tell them to do these things so that it may go well with them.” It’s out of love! It is like, “By the way, this [coveting] is going to steal every bit of joy in your life.”
Dennis: That’s right.
Kay: It really does—
Dennis: Yes; it does.
Kay: —because you’re focused on yourself. Whenever you are focused on yourself, there is no contentment.
Dennis: Well, as I was reading your book, I kept thinking, “You know, all these things that I listed”—and I have a page-and-a-half here of things that I could quickly list. It would be more than that if I got real honest here. But I thought, “All of these are bottomless pits.”
Dennis: I mean—or looking at it another way, they are all achievements that, if you get to them, you are going to find somebody who’s got a bigger house.
Kay: I love that you said that, because it’s like the allure of this measuring-up line that—it does not exist, by the way!
Dennis: We have to realize how we’re living is going to infect our children and our children’s children, because we have to teach them in this culture.
Dennis: I feel strongly about this, because there are so many marketing dollars spent on telling you and me: “We don’t have enough. We won’t have enough tomorrow,” and “You’re going to need it next year! So, buy it now. Buy it on credit. Find a way to get it! And if you get it, you’ll achieve life.”
Back to the great commandment—you find life by loving God and then loving others.
Bob: I’m just sitting here, as we’re talking today, I am just shy of 4,000 followers on Twitter®—4,000 people following me on Twitter. [Laughter]
Dennis: So, how do you feel about that, Bob?
Bob: That’s nothing! [Laughter]
I have seen people, who have less to say than I have to say, and they have tens of thousands of people following them on Twitter! Why do I feel that way, Kay? You had somebody recently come to you and say, “Hey, you are trending on Twitter.”
Kay: I did.
Bob: What happened when that happened?
Kay: I didn’t even know what trending was. [Laughter] I had no clue; but I knew, when he said that to me, that it must be something good.
Kay: And that’s when I did what I do. I might have told my kids. [Laughter] And this is right after—I was only trending, by the way, because I had come off of an interview, where somebody really does have millions of followers. So, it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with that person.
But still, my job these days is driving people around. I took the opportunity to inform them of how cool their mother was! I said to them, “Hey, I’m trending.” The boy sitting next to me was very quick to go, “Do you even know what that is?” [Laughter]
I was like, “Well, no!” And then, he said to me, “Well, if you are going to brag about something, then, you probably should know what it is.” And my sweet daughter was so nice to come back alongside and say, “I think it’s great, Mom.” [Laughter]
It lasted a few seconds; but the interesting thing about that—I had no idea what trending was / I’d never heard of it. It didn’t dawn on me to think about it; but I instantly looked at Twitter to see what trending was, and then I had to fight looking at that trending part to see why I wasn’t included. Man! It was brutal. It took me a few weeks to get over that—just mentally—to stop looking and not care.
Dennis: I don’t want us to switch subjects here, but I do want to say something. It’s okay for you, as a mom, to have joy—
Dennis: —about accomplishing something. We do accomplish things in life.
Dennis: It’s okay to celebrate them. We can’t become so morbid, in fear of our motives being wrong. Are you with me?
Kay: Absolutely. And I’m so glad you’re saying this, because it falls in the same line as competition; because you could equate comparison to competition and say: “It’s all bad! It’s all bad!” But competition is a good thing. It’s when we make it about ourselves, and we distort it, that we take it to a level where it can be destructive or cause anxiety, or fear, or shame. That’s when it goes negative, because there is—they have a term that is called benign envy that is fine, because it can be inspirational. There are different types of ways to compare yourself to people or even to set goals.
If you are setting a goal, you are comparing yourself / your actions to what that goal is, and that’s not bad. It is when you hit it, and make it all about that, and have your self-worth defined by whether you’re above, above, above that it can turn negative. And I think, in this world, with technology the way it is, that we find ourselves in an environment that is on steroids as far as comparison goes.
That’s a lot of why people are having anxiety issues and depression. They even have a term now called Facebook® depression—that’s a psychological diagnosis.
Bob: Clinical—a clinical term.
Kay: Yes—which is fascinating! And so there is something about it—we aren’t victims. So, what can we do about it? I think there are things that we can do to help curb that and encourage each other along the way.
Dennis: We can always find somebody who is smarter. You can always find somebody who is more gifted in certain areas. You can always find somebody who is prettier, or more handsome, or richer. I mean, who is number one in the world? You talk about something in your book that all of us struggle with when we come to these issues of comparison—to money, how big of a house we live in, etc. Share with them about OCD.
Kay: Oh, Obsessive Comparison Disorder.
Bob: Yes; did you coin that phrase?
Kay: No; I did not—I didn’t. It’s a blogger for 20-somethings—Paul Angone, I think, or Angone [changes emphasis on different syllables].
He calls it: “What’s Obsessive Comparison Disorder, you ask? It’s the new OCD. I’ve coined it to describe our compulsion to constantly compare ourselves with others, producing unwanted thoughts and feelings that drive us into depression, consumption, anxiety, and all around discontent. It encourages us to stay up late on Facebook, pouring through all 348 pictures of our frenemies: ‘My Life Is Better than Yours’ album. [Laughter] Then, it sends us to bed, wondering why we feel so anxious.”
He goes on to say this: “Obsessively comparing yourself to others—becoming more and more frustrated that your life doesn’t look like theirs—is the absolute most effective way to take your crisis to unhealthy eating-raw-cookie-dough-with-a-serving-spoon levels. Like having to run outside to light up a cigarette, our comparison addiction is uncontrollable; and it is killing us.”
Dennis: And you write in your book: “He calls it the equivalent to the small pox of our generation.”
Kay: Yes; really. And he was referring to the 20-somethings. I find that interesting; because they do live in a world that we probably never lived in, because they own something called a smartphone.
Bob: I was just going to ask you: “Do you think mobile devices, and the internet, and Facebook, and social media—is this fueling this OCD?”
Kay: Yes; they really are pointing to technological advances as doing that, and it’s not just within the social media. With the technological advances the way that they are, it allows everyone, all over the world, to know the discrepancies.
And they are really—if you look at even Huffington Post, right now—they’re calling it “relative deprivation.” It’s a type of comparison. What it means is—it is educated people, with high ambitions, but no real prospects for advancement. They are frustrated—they are calling them, “Frustrated Achievers.” With technology, you get to see it all. They look at Occupy Wall Street and say it as the same function—that you have all of these people going out there. They know / they think what it is that they want to achieve, but there is no real way to be able to achieve that.
But then, they see everybody else achieving it; and then enter the classic words: “Not fair,” and “I’m owed,” and “I’m deserved.”
Dennis: You and your husband went out to a dinner party one night.
Kay: Oh, yes.
Dennis: You started hearing your friends talk about what was going on in their houses, and OCD took over.
Kay: Well, it’s interesting; because I think we do that. For a woman, she can walk into any function, and the first thing she does is look around to see whatever body else has on. Then, you gauge whether or not you’re okay: “Did I dress properly? Did I not dress properly?” It can sink you in that moment if you’re not dressed properly.
That happened to us at a dinner party, where a friend of ours had just moved back from Nashville. He said to me: “I come over here to this house, and I think, ‘Oh, should we have bought a house in this neighborhood? Is this going to be okay, because how is our kid going to have somebody to play with?’” And then, he begins to instantly dis his house, which he said was perfectly fine. Yet, it became instantly not fine.
I’m thinking, “He’s so sharp and with it”; and I thought, “How could he be doing that?”—
—until I thought of myself, when I stood in the kitchen, only minutes earlier, looking at this beautiful butterfly sculpture above our host’s stove. I went to my kitchen—that has nothing except maybe some prints that I might have had since I was single—and then I went, “Do people come in my house and look at our fake art?” Well, it could actually make them feel good about themselves; you know? [Laughter]
Bob: We had this. [Laughter] When you wrote about that in your book, I flashed back to a night when Mary Ann and I—we had lived in San Antonio for a year. The first year we were in San Antonio, we rented a house; because we decided we wanted to get there, get settled, figure out what neighborhood we wanted to live in, take some time, and pick a house. So, we lived there for a year. We finally found a neighborhood—we thought, “This is a great neighborhood.” The house that we found was the perfect size for us. The nice thing was the backyard was a little bigger than the backyards in the neighborhood. So we got a big backyard. I was pretty pumped about our new house!
Then, we got invited to a dinner party. The dinner party we got invited to was in the most upscale neighborhood in San Antonio—gated community.
Here’s what I remember about the house—I asked to use the restroom. It was the first time in my life I’d seen a bidet. I didn’t know what a bidet was. I had to come out and say to my wife, “What is the second thing next to the toilet?—they had something” She explained what a bidet was. So, we’re driving home from that house that night to our dumpy, little, new house that we just moved into; and I’m feeling depressed!
There is no way I could afford to live in that place where we had just been to; but all of the sudden, what I had been thrilled by three hours earlier, I was depressed at driving home.
Bob: That’s what OCD does to you.
Kay: It does; but it’s one of these things that, if you can recognize that it’s happening in the moment, that’s the first thing to stopping it. So, even at that dinner party, knowing better, and realizing how it truly robs joy, which is a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, that it will steal your joy.
And I thought about my sweet friend, in whose home we were, and her love for art and the reason why she puts it on those walls is to bless the people who walk into that house. Then, I thought of my kitchen—that has fake art and, along the wall by our door, that has five drawings by my seven-year-old. I sat there, thinking: “Those drawings bring me such great joy! Why can I not focus on what I do have?” Then, the great memories that are inside the walls of our home—good, bad, and ugly—but they are memories. And then, it kind of shocks you out.
It’s like a—in the book, I call it a mental reboot—you, know, “Ctrl-Alt-Delete.” It is like: “Ctrl: Stop for a minute; control your thoughts—realize what’s going on.”
Kay: “Get an [Alt]ernative perspective: Go to the good stuff that you’ve got going on.” Then, “Delete: Stop doing it.” If you can do that—then, I started to appreciate my friend / then, I started to feel for the other people that were around me—
—wondering, “Okay; did that guy drive up, and he saw a Porsche sitting there, and he’s in a very nice Buick—and he’s like, ‘I can’t go into this house because these are Porsche people,’ or whatever it is?” Meet them in their moment; because the truth of the matter is—as we are sitting here, we walk it together. There is not a single person on this planet that does not struggle with this.
Dennis: And to that person, who goes, “You’ve nailed me today—convicted.” Really, from a spiritual standpoint, what would be a good prayer for that person to pray?—because God hears our prayers, especially when we are genuine—we go: “God, I don’t like this about myself—that I fall into this comparison trap. It does rob me of my joy with my kids, in my marriage, in my family, with what we have.” What would you say to that person, from a spiritual standpoint? How can they turn a corner so this broadcast is not merely, as we prayed about before we came on the air, not merely a tickling of the ears—
Dennis: —but a calling for a heart change?
Kay: Yes; He desires that for us, and we have the secret / we have the ticket, which is Him.
I think the prayer for me is, “Show me who You are.” If I believe He is who He says He is, then I trust Him. If I trust Him, then what I have is fine. Then I can be comfortable in the unique giftedness that He has given me; I can celebrate the unique giftedness that He has given you, and celebrate in that instead of wish it was mine.
Jonathan Edwards had, in one of his many very interesting talks—one was on heaven. He said that, when we get to heaven, that’s what we will be doing—seeing all these great manifestations of God in each other and celebrating that.
Bob: So you’re saying, “When I get to heaven, the fact that Dennis today has six times more Twitter followers than I have—
Kay: Ah, Bob, Bob, Bob. [Laughter]
Bob: —you’re saying I’m going to delight in that in heaven?
Kay: I’m going to follow you as soon as we get out of here. [Laughter]
Bob: And by the way, my Twitter handle is @FLTBob—so, just, if anybody is interested and wants to help out a little bit—@FLTBob. [Laughter]
Dennis: I just want to remind Bob, as well as our listeners: “Repent!” [Laughter] “Change your mind—“
Kay: “Turn!” “Turn!”
Dennis: —“about how you approach this.” Kay has given you some great advice in terms of reminding yourself who God is—that He is sovereign—and you know what? You probably don’t have everything that you want. You’re probably not going to end up with everything that you want, but is what you have, what He’s given you? And can you thank Him for that?
Then, look at what somebody else’s got who, maybe, has a million followers on Twitter, and say—you know: “Good for him!” / “Good for her!”
Kay: Or, who has five kids and you can’t have one—you can’t carry a baby. I mean, you can go down the list—
Kay: —it is truly endless; and, yet, we know there is joy in this world, and we know there is peace because, when He came back, He said, “Peace be with you,” “Peace be with you.” So there is peace. How are we impeding our ability to be able to rest in that?
Bob: And I just want to say—regarding your Twitter followers: “I’m happy for you. [Laughter]
Dennis: “And I just want you to—
Bob: “…sort of,” “…sort of—
Dennis: —“know I’m getting ready to get off the broadcast—
Bob: “…not really.”
Dennis: —and I’m going to call Max Lucado and Chuck Swindoll and tell them I’m happy for them. [Laughter]
Bob: We’ve got copies of Kay’s book, which is called I’m Happy for You (Sort Of…Not Really). No; we really have it! [Laughter] The book is available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com if you’d like to get a copy. Again, the website—FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order directly from us, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY; 1-800-358-6329. That’s the number to order a copy of Kay’s book—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, if you ask us, here at FamilyLife, what it is we’re passionate about—it really breaks down into four things. First of all, we’re passionate about people having a right relationship with God.
We believe that marriage and family—all of that—flows out of our relationship with the God who made us and the God who made marriage. We’re also passionate about husbands and wives experiencing the joy that God designed for a marriage relationship. We’re passionate about husbands and wives living out the responsibilities and roles that God calls us to in that relationship. And we’re passionate about passing on a legacy of spiritual vitality to the next generation.
That really sums up what our goal, here at FamilyLife, is. We want to see every home become a godly home. I know that many of you, as listeners, are passionate about the same things we’re passionate about for your own family, but also for other families. We know that because some of you have gone beyond listening to this daily program, and have become supporters of the program—you have become partners with us in the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
You’re making it possible through your donations and your support for the content we produce here—on our website, this radio program, our events and our resources—to be distributed in more places and to be used by more people than ever before.
I just want to take a minute and say, “Thank you,” to those of you who are monthly supporters of the ministry—those of you who are Legacy Partners. You are the financial backbone of this ministry. Your involvement is so significant. For those of you who will, on occasion, make a donation: “Thank you for responding to whatever prompting there is in your own heart to make a donation here. We really appreciate your partnership with us.”
You can donate easily, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. It’s also easy to donate on your smartphone—you can donate by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY; or you can mail a donation to us. Our address is FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about how easy it is for us, as parents, to get caught up in the whole comparison thing as we watch our neighbors, our friends, and what they’re doing with their kids. We start thinking, “Well, maybe I should be doing that with my kids too.” We’ll talk more about that with Kay Wyma tomorrow. I hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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