Controlled Comparison

It’s Narcissist Friday!     


One of the connections between legalism and narcissism is the use of comparisons to manipulate. You will find a system of comparisons at work in legalistic churches and narcissistic workplaces, besides families and even marriages. And, somehow, you are always losing the comparison.

The most beautiful women will find ways to lose in comparison with others. So will the most successful men. As long as comparisons exist, there is a way for you to lose.

Years ago I worked for a short time at a funeral home. I watched as the salesperson talked through the purchase of a casket with a grieving family. First they went to the most expensive casket, a beautiful example of fine craftsmanship with an exorbitant price. Then they went to the cheapest caskets, the ones designed for and sold to those who have no money to spend. The family couldn’t afford the most expensive and couldn’t imagine using the cheapest. So they were left with the idea that they either have to break the bank or feel terrible. Then the salesman took them to the casket he really wanted to sell them. It looked very much like the most expensive one, but the price tag, while still high, was much more manageable. By making easy and regular payments, the family could feel good and still pay other bills.

Anyone who has bought a car off the lot or a house through the realtor has experienced this kind of controlled comparison. It is a process of manipulation by pushing you to feel either good about yourself or bad about yourself.

When the legalist sets up a controlled comparison, it will often be a model family or an individual who has exemplified the values of the church or legalist system. For example, one man is particularly mentioned as a great witness because he shares tracts with everyone he meets. Everyone else compares poorly to him. The model family is lifted up because of their well-behaved children, their showroom house, or their debt-free living (or all three). You don’t measure up to them. In either case, the comparison is carefully controlled for you. You are not to compare yourself with everyone. You are certainly not to look for others against whom you can compare yourself favorably. (Of course, that’s just what happens because people want to feel better about themselves, but that’s another post.) No, you are supposed to get the message about your inferiority and adjust your actions accordingly.

The narcissist can find fault with everyone, we know this. But when he or she wants to find fault with you, the controlled comparison is offered. “Why can’t you be more like him or her?” you are asked. “The neighbor’s have a nicer house than ours, but he makes more money.” “I don’t know why you can’t do it, she can.”

Remember: the controlled comparison is just that – controlled. It is not real. You will always compare unfavorably against someone in some way. If you look for that, you will find it. At the same time, others compare unfavorably to you in some way. The narcissist and the legalist use our fear of comparisons to manipulate us.

But once you understand what is happening, how phony the system is, you can become free. Yes, you compare well against some and poorly against others – so stop comparing! If the neighbors have a nicer house than yours, good for them. If your co-worker seems to be able to sell more than you, good for him. So what? Knowing that you will never win the game can set you free from the game.

Stop comparing yourself to others and stop using comparisons as a way to manipulate. It never works. It doesn’t motivate, and it doesn’t lead to health. Rejoice in the blessings others enjoy. Do something to encourage those who have less. But don’t let yourself get sucked into a system designed to manipulate you.

You will be amazed at the power of the freedom from comparisons.


Filed under Legalism, Narcissism

15 responses to “Controlled Comparison

  1. Kitkat

    Wow, what a freeing post! This has been the bane of my existence. To never quite measure up by comparison and I was easy pickings for the Narcissist to manipulate. I just have to be me, no matter how flawed and let God take care of the rest. Thank you pastor Dave!

  2. Quoting the gospel on the perils of comparing (and coveting)
    ought to shut ’em up!

  3. Robert

    My two siblings never understood how our mother constantly compared us and played us off against each other. When I finally disowned her–and then them–they tried to shame me into coming back into the mess. It did not work.

  4. Mark

    This is a great red flag to keep in the back of your head. I grew up in a legalistic tradition, and there were lots of sermons that lifted up Biblical and historical characters as yardsticks for our faith. The mother who prayed two hours a day or the family that had a plan each week to make the most of each Sunday. We got beat down week after week over ‘normal’ people who found time to be super-spiritual set up as examples for how we fail. I finally saw through it – the mom who spent two hours each morning probably didn’t walk her kids to school, probably didn’t work outside the home, probably didn’t meet with other women over coffee to talk about spiritual things, etc., so while this was a good thing, it came at the cost of other things that might also be considered good. Trying to create a Frankenstein of all the good things that people might choose and then portray them as the measuring stick for all Christians creates misery and slavery, not joy and freedom.

    The truth is that people focus on what’s important to them. I know a family that received an inheritance and spent it on a new pool. Meanwhile their house is falling apart. My wife helped me work out my legalism – just because it’s not what *I* would choose does not make it a bad or wrong choice. They really enjoy that pool and so do other friends in their community. So, we can rejoice with them.

  5. SD

    And isn’t it fun (not) when you realize you’ve been pointed out by the N as a standard for someone else to measure up to (and of course they don’t, that was the point) – ends up angry at you for being the supposed paragon of that quality or talent, or… Triangulation in one of its sneakiest, dirtiest forms. Because you only know that you are scorned for no apparent reason, and the parties playing that game will never, ever say WHY.
    Thank you for sharing this, Pastor Dave. Really, the shaming-by-comparison is so foolish; each person has a unique combination of talents, skills, abilities, and how those work into a life lived is just as unique. Perhaps the best answer when those comparisons come into play is a simple, “But I am not X, and his/her strengths and weaknesses are not mine, and vice-versa.”

  6. Cindy Kacher

    The part that struck me was seeing it also from a legalistic/religious standpoint

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

  7. Savedbygrace

    This was such a dynamic in my marriage! the comparison started in the first year- and continued for at least a decade-when I was always unfavourably compared to his ex girlfriend- to do with passion and intimacy- it was like living with a ghost/3rd person. It was so destructive of me and our relationship.Then came the oblique remarks when there was a tv ad he would say “there’s an outfit for you”, “that would look good on you” the kicker was the wearer in question was a good 2 decades younger , amazon fit , and have other unattainable attributes eg skin colour, height so all it did was to shame me and reinforce that he desired something I could never be. In fact one consistent comparison has been height, “didn’t I wish I was taller?”..well no actually,I was content with how God chose to make me… he hated that because of the comparison it was to his aching void of discontent. If I drew it to his attention he would act “innocent” or “clueless” – but it didn’t stop him.
    His comparisons never involved him being part of the solution unless it fed into his control and power but there was no sense of acceptance of me as I was and empowering me.. he was always wanting to make me into something that met with his standards ie made him look good by comparison
    Well he’s now onto a new woman in his life ( after I finally left the relationship) and it is sooo interesting! he has charmed someone who ‘has’ all the attributes he complained were lacking in me( yes she’s younger taller fitter plus a few other things..) – he’s pretty ‘good’ at his game, but it wont be long before the comparisons start for her ….only she doesn’t realise it yet 😦 … as it’s a game no one but he can ‘win’.

  8. After 37 years of being intimate at least 5 times a week, and me with the (tasteful) creative ideas, I heard,”You just aren’t ‘doing it’ for me anymore.” He was 40 pounds overweight, but I never complained or judged him or refused to be intimate with him. I guess I didn’t bounce and wiggle enough for his happiness … Even so, with him with another woman now (same size as me, but who oozes gooey words) I do pray the LORD wakes him up soon to TRUTH, so he doesn’t face eternal consequences. i don’t wish that on anyone.

  9. mls

    He was more sly than that. There was never an overt comparison. Just a criticism of someone who had done something he knew I’d done or thought the way I thought on any given subject followed by a very detailed critique of that OTHER person. Master of manipulation.

  10. Sounds exactly like the Bible believing church i was in for 20 years. Always left on Sunday morning feeling vastly inferior to the saints who were used as examples because they did the mission work, gave their 10 percent no matter what and had Bibles so big you could use them for a weapon (and they did, figurtively). funniest thing about the church was a sign at the front of the podium, “Love never fails.” I always wanted to add, “But if it does, there is always guilt.”

  11. trstupar

    They play it both ways too, “how can you criticize me for A, B, or C, when I’m not out drinking at the bar like these other men?”

  12. Not only does the Narcissist spouse compare you to others that are impossible to compete with (can anyone relate to a husband who preferred pornography showing 18 year-olds to his own wife?), but if you confront him with his indefensible wrongdoing, his only reaction is “Well, at least I’m not like ___________ (insert name of a serial killer or rapist)!” or “Well, at least I didn’t ___________________ (insert an even more reprehensible act)!” Somehow, in their deranged minds, they are okay as long as there is someone worse. Although they may claim to be a Christian, living up to Christian moral standards, which should be higher than the rest of the world, is not something they aspire to.

    When I asked my now ex-husband how he could call himself a Christian and claim to be “changed” when he had had multiple affairs over a dozen years, he retorted, “At least I stayed married!!” As if a Christian marriage only meant co-existing in the same house.

    When talking with another Christian woman this past weekend whose ex-husband fondled his own teenage daughter, when confronted, he responded “At least I didn’t rape her!”

    Sadly, in both cases, the church that these men attended embraced the abusers, forcing the victim to leave and find a safe place of worship away from their abusive, Narcissistic husbands.

    There is never any repentance with a Narcissist – only denial, blaming, or justifying their immoral behavior. Truly, the only peace from Narcissists is to get away, heal, and never look back.

    • Georgette

      My question and I have a hard time rapping my Brian around it is why do the churches look the other way? Why do they shove it under a rug? Why? When the N is blatantly lying, abusing his family, or has had violent outbursts in the church? Why do they traumatize the victim and worship the abuser??? Why? I get it we are sinners! Why can’t the leaders in the church see that they are vulnerable to pure evil doers also???

      • I believe church leaders fail to exercise their God-given authority to speak the Word in Truth, to rebuke, and to impose church discipline because they lack the courage. It is a whole lot easier to pretend that nothing “that bad” is happening (it really is that bad), to naively assume that the abusers will repent (they won’t, especially when the church supports them which emboldens them), and to tell themselves it’s none of their business (it is). Church leaders naively want to believe everyone is good and normal and capable of repentance and redemption – and they treat them that way (NSPs are neither good nor normal, they are just evil). When someone (even a church leader) takes a stand against a Narcissist/Sociopath/Psychopath, they are opening themselves up to vindictiveness: criticism by the NSP’s supporters, an all out smear campaign from the NSP, divisive and manipulative tactics, lies, slander, complete cut off of any financial support, and a potential lawsuit. Most church leaders don’t want to believe that they are being played when the NSP claims to have repented and changed (if he has not denied the allegations altogether), but deep down, they know if they cross an NSP, it will not go well for them. They lack courage. In other words, they are wimps. And they leave the victim to fight her fight alone.

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