Dear Dr. Yael,
I had a hard time this past Rosh Hashana davening in shul. I go to a serious shul where all the women seem to daven with kavana. Some cry. I wish I could cry and feel more connected to Hashem. Every year I feel inadequate after the Rosh Hashana davening. I compare myself to everyone else. Then my low self-esteem kicks in. My husband and my children, especially my teenage girls, tell me to stop comparing myself to others. This is hard since my parents always compared me to others. Please help me. I really feel I need help.
It’s very dangerous to compare yourself to others because this can lead to negative thoughts (as you noted above). Even though we all try not to compare ourselves to others, most of us are guilty of doing so from time to time (some of us more than others). This is usually done unconsciously, but it is important to train ourselves to stop doing this. While sometimes comparing ourselves to others is motivating to us and helps us work on certain things, these types of comparisons often lead to negative trains of thought.
As you described, too much comparison leads to unhappiness and low self-esteem. It can also lead to feelings of frustration, jealousy, and hopelessness. If this isn’t dealt with appropriately, it can lead to chronic depression and anxiety. I’m sorry to hear that your parents compared you to others, as that can also definitely impact your self-esteem negatively. The good news is that you can stop this negative cycle! You do not have to let your parents live rent free in your brain. You do not have to perpetuate their comparisons and negative thinking. It is imperative that you replace these negative thoughts with positive ones and start to change this negative view of yourself. Instead of thinking, “other people daven better than me and other people are more connected to Hashem than me,” start thinking, “I love to daven and be close to Hashem and I am especially good at…” Use this mantra as many times as needed and at least every time you think this negative thought. With time, you will replace the negative thought with a positive thought which will help you start to reframe the way you see yourself.
Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and not everyone cries in order to have kavana. It’s important that you stop looking at how other people are davening and start just focusing on your davening and your connection with Hashem. It does not matter what other people are doing, and their kavana should not impact you at all. You have your own relationship with Hashem and if you feel your relationship with Hashem needs work (not because of others, but because you do not feel connected), then you can work on that as well. The Living Emunah books are especially helpful, and are incredible tools to help strengthen your relationship with Hashem. Please focus on your strengths and change any negative thoughts you are having to positive ones to help you feel better about yourself and to prevent depression and/or anxiety. Having these types of negative thoughts will not help you in any way to grow as a person. Work on improving your self-esteem and do not let past mistakes shape who you are today. You have the power to build yourself up. Please make an effort to take control now and to reframe your negative thoughts, so that you can have an amazing new year.
Shana Tova to all my readers and may we all be blessed with health, happiness, and only good things. Hatzlacha!