When comparisons become obsessive

Q: I compare myself constantly to other people, especially women. In meetings I wonder who makes the most money, who is the skinniest and prettiest. I dislike someone if they seem to be more accomplished or attractive than me. This seems to be getting the better of me.

A: This is something that a lot of people struggle with behind the closed doors of the therapist’s office. Maybe there’s been a long history of feeling insecure and undeserving. Or sometimes, the converse: You feel that you’ve been wronged, and that others are getting what rightfully should be yours.

Depression, anxiety, anger, shame and fear are all kerosene to the flames of these feelings, and being raised to constantly assess others and judge your own worth by this same external (and often cracked and inaccurate) yardstick can lead to this as well.

But you can attack these thoughts by developing a deeper understanding of them or using cognitive-behavioral techniques to rob them of their power over you. How much is this affecting you, and how much are you willing to work at it? If you’re serious, consider those closed doors I mentioned.

Q: I always had a beautiful relationship with my ex-husband’s mother. She was a mother figure to me and kept up correspondence since my divorce four years ago. She is now in late-stage cancer, and my ex and his sister are taking care of her. My ex-sister-in-law has apparently said that she does not want me around in her mother’s final days – it is “family only.” My ex-husband doesn’t agree with this, but I know he will not battle his sister. I just want to be able to say goodbye.

A: I’m sure this hurts. But though your desires are justified, there’s a limit to how far you can and should go to get them met. Your ex and his sister are in charge now, and if you were to show up unannounced to see your ex-mother-in-law, for instance, that ugliness would not be the stuff that peaceful end-of-life transitions are made of.

Try one last talk with your ex and ask what he thinks you can do. Write her a note? Have him convey that he’d talked to you and that you wanted her to know how much she means to you? Talk with her on the phone briefly? Explain to him what it might mean to his mother as well – and cross your fingers.