Do you tend to compare your life to what you assume to be true about someone else’s? In those moments, we can see our own lives as being less successful less valuable.
There’s a powerful, painful myth in our culture that fuels comparison and adds layers of shame:
“Everyone else has their lives together.”
But here’s the actual truth:
“All of us are partly a mess.”
When I was struggling terribly with compulsive eating and depression, I thought that I was especially messed up. I look back now and see that my challenges weren’t unique – and having them did not mean I was defective. I was a young woman trying so hard, on a journey to heal, learning things that would end up helping others.
From the vantage point of now being 51, I finally get that we all have a part of our lives that causes us pain. Maybe you have discovered that your spouse is cheating, or you are trying to climb out of credit card debt, or your teen is doing badly in school. You could make the situation mean that your life and journey are embarassing, unsuccessful, or worth less than the lives of others whose difficulties you cannot see. Or you could make the experience mean that you are in the human experience along with everyone else. I call it being in the human soup. We all screw up. We all long for things to be better.
When we believe that “everyone else has their lives together,” we feel like losers in a competition. If we believe that “everyone is actually partly a mess,” we end up feeling more compassion for everyone.
So many of us are pretending to ourselves or others that we are totally OK, putting on a happy face. If everyone wore a sign that says what current personal struggle they are facing, I think we would finally see the tender truth. Some t-shirts might say… Hurting with a terrible migraine, or Feelimg ashamed I didn’t get the job, Afraid I married the wrong person, or Running ragged taking care of elderly in-laws I don’t love.
So many people’s relationships or marriages look “successful” and happy from the outside. But you know that one half of all marriages end in divorce. And of the 50% who stay married, we know that a whole lot of those people aren’t happy, but are staying because of the commitment, finances, or kids.
I do wish people would be more honest about how challenging committed relationship can be. My husband Michael and I have had to work so hard for years to build an imperfect but nourishing and playful partnership. Many wouldn’t have been able to tell from the outside how much we were struggling and working. I will be the first to bust any myth that committed partnership is “happily ever after.”
Here’s some actual statistics about our country that support the reality that everyone has a very human “mess” in their lives.
- 42% of American adults are obese
- 10 – 15% of us have chronic insomnia
- 12% are alcoholic
- 5% have abused opioids or have been addicted to them
- 18% have an anxiety disorder
- 12% are in poverty
- 25% of women and 11% of men have experienced physical violence from their intimate partner.
And an amazingly sad statistic from the CDC:
- In 2018, 1.4 million adults made a non-fatal suicide attempt. (https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/fastfact.html)
Then add to the list all the other kinds of difficult human experiences that make us feel vulnerable.
- Recent death of a loved one.
- Going through divorce.
- Having a miscarriage.
- Being in a job that one hates but feels desperate to keep.
- Regretting having gotten a degree you aren’t using.
- Children have left home and so did your sense of purpose.
- Experiencing any chronic illness.
- Feeling isolated and lonely.
I feel we each of us can take tiny steps to bust the myth that everyone else’s life is better. Not buying into the myth enables us to rest more in compassion rather than struggle in the competition.
You know how some people will ask as a greeting, “How are you? Everything good?” If you look at the statistics I mentioned, it’s kind of a laughable question. When anyone greets me that way, I always answer with, “Well things are actually both – up and down.” Even if I’m having a wonderful day, I don’t want to contribute to the joint myth that life is supposed to be “all good.”
Perhaps the next time you ask someone how they are, imagine you are leaving a door open for them to talk about either really good things in their world or the challenges. Life is tenderly both.
If you would like help navigating your particular life challenges, please contact me for a free phone or video consultation to see if working together feels like a right next step. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by text or call (303) 819-2099.
Very best wishes to you,
Judy O’Neill, MSW