There's a woman who rides at my barn and the two of us have become pretty good friends. I'll call her Jessica. We have the same trainer, and are at similar levels in our riding, but lately I've been struggling with some feelings of resentment towards Jessica. She bought a horse who was already totally made, while I'm scraping by with an off-the-track Thoroughbred who is a loose cannon somedays and is learning everything from the ground up. Even though I love hanging out with Jessica when we're together, I can't help but start to compare what I don't have to what she has (which is seemingly everything) and how much faster she's progressing in the jumpers than I am. After all, if I had her horse, and her money, I'm sure I'd already be doing the 1.20m classes too!
How can I reconcile my feelings of comparison and jealousy with actually really liking Jessica as a person and wanting to cheer her on? It makes me feel like a terrible person to feel this way. Help!" - Alison K.
Dr. Ho: One big thing I’d like to recognize right off the bat is this: it’s normal to have these feelings! I want to mention this upfront because we sometimes have a secondary response of judging ourselves for how we feel, and then that makes us feel worse and makes the whole cycle of emotions feel more overwhelming. Work hard to accept those feelings; they’re human emotions and all emotions do serve a function, even those we don’t like.
In this case, you want to advance and be a better rider yourself. That’s a great goal! It sounds like you’re looking to external factors as to why you’re not advancing faster, and that can put us in a place where we don’t feel empowered to take action, because we feel like our advancement is out of our control.
The next step after accepting these feelings is to think about ways that you can proactively improve your own training skills with the resources you have. Start brainstorming! Focus on action-based plans for yourself. It’s so easy to get caught up in what life might look like with a better horse or more money, but what will give you true confidence in your riding and a feeling of progress is to look for real, actionable steps to improve. What you can do, not what you can’t do. Celebrate small successes! It’s really important to acknowledge when things are going well.
The last piece that I’d recommend is a helpful technique called the ‘opposite action technique’. When we have an emotion but the facts don’t line up with the emotion (for instance, you actually like Jessica as a person but are caught up in negative emotions about her), the most important thing to do is to act opposite of that emotion’s urge. Force yourself to do the opposite of what you want to do as a result of your emotion. For instance, if you’re feeling negative emotions towards Jessica and you want to push her away or avoid her, doing the opposite would be asking her out for a cup of coffee for some quality time together. Our actions and emotions affect one another, and you can truly start to feel more positively towards her. The goal is to try to change that emotion when you know it’s not productive.
I think it would be a very hard bar to hit to not feel any more feelings of comparison. Human beings are social animals so we’re always going to compare ourselves to other people. Otherwise how would we know when we’re funny? Or athletic? Or quiet? The more you forgive yourself for these feelings, and the more you can use these skills, the less it can come up for you, and the more you can focus on your own path and progress.
Photo by Leslie Threlkeld for NoelleFloyd.com
Written by Dr. Judy Ho
Dr. Judy Ho, is a triple board certified and licensed Clinical and Forensic Neuropsychologist, co-host of the syndicated daytime TV show “ The Doctors,” and a tenured Associate Professor at Pepperdine University. She is an avid researcher and published author, most recently penning “Stop Self-Sabotage,” published by HarperCollins. Dr. Judy maintains a private practice in Manhattan Beach, CA and regularly appears as an expert psychologist on television, podcasts, radio, and contributes to other media including print and electronic periodicals.