Coping Skills- #5B - Don't Compare Yourself with Others

Robin Cunningham Health Guide

    This experience of mine illustrates the kind of damage we can do to ourselves when we compare ourselves to others, especially if we choose to emulate the wrong role model.


    When I was a sophomore in high school and couldn't yet drive, it was difficult to date any of my female classmates. No self respecting young man wanted to ask a girl for a date when it was known that one of his parents would be driving, which de facto rendered them a chaperone. The fact that I was generally considered a nerd didn't help.


    Until I could drive, my social interactions with young women were limited primarily to the activities sponsored by our church's youth group. The first Sunday of every month, we would, as a group, i.e., without pairing, go bowling, roller skating, swimming, to a movie, or the like. For the balance of each month's Sundays, we met at the church for bible study and refreshments.

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    By this time (my sophomore year in high school), the demonstrative symptoms of my schizophrenia, such as being terrified of cracks in the floor or the need to tap the toes of my shoes behind me when walking, had mitigated to the point that others were no longer embarrassed to be seen with me. Nevertheless, I was still near the bottom of the social totem pole.


    I decided that this had to change. I wanted to be popular. And if that was impossible, I wanted at least to be liked and respected. But I had no clue how to accomplish this.


    As luck would have it, there was a senior who worked in my father's grocery store who was very popular with the ladies. Mark was handsome, dressed and combed his hair properly, and knew all the dance steps that marked him as one of the socially elite. He also had an older friend who would occasionally loan him his 1956 Thunderbird. Most importantly, he had mastered the disdainful attitudes and body language of the high school aristocracy.


    Seeing an opportunity to win favor with my father, Mark undertook to tutor me in the secret traditions of the social clubs that dominated high school society. I understood what his motivation was but didn't care as long as he would help me. I discovered he was highly intelligent and his marks were quite high, something he didn't want his peers to know.


    I was an eager student and my transformation from nerd to sophisticate was effected in a relatively short period of two months. Since I still couldn't actually date any of the girls at school because I remained disadvantaged in terms of transportation, I tested my improvement from week to week on the girls in our church's youth group.


    As I had hoped, my relations with the girls in the church youth group also underwent a transformation. But then my schizophrenia got in the way. As is true for many with this illness, I found it difficult to read their facial expressions, voice inflections and body language. My impression was that, as I had hoped, these girls were now showing greater interest in me.


    Disaster soon struck. Mark found a better job and left my father's employ. I was not practiced enough to maintain the new me, especially with respect to the disdainful attitudes and body language that had largely defined the new me.


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    I expected the girls in the church youth group to lose all interest, but oddly they did not. In fact they became more attentive. I finally screwed up the courage to ask one of the girls what had happened. She explained that they had become increasing worried about, and unhappy with me, during recent months because without warning I seemed to think I was somehow superior, that I had become haughty and disrespectful. She explained that they had liked the old me much better and were delighted to see the old me return. Without any idea of the significance of what she was saying, she suggested that I should work on being more like myself.


    From that point on my popularity began to increase. I never reached the top of the social totem pole to be sure, but then I was nowhere near the bottom either.


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    Please remember, this writing reflects my own experience and opinions. If you, or a loved one, are experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia, or any other mental illness, you should seek professional assistance.


Published On: April 13, 2008