In her new book, Compared to Her: How to experience true contentment, Sophie DeWitt describes what she has labeled CCS – Compulsive Comparison Syndrome. Perhaps the title alone strikes a chord with you. Within the pages of her book, Sophie helpfully points out how most of us as women struggle either with a ‘looking up comparison’ or a ‘looking down’ version of the same sin. She explains the symptoms, effects, causes and treatment to overcome a life of compulsive comparison and move to experience true contentment in Christ.
In my opinion, this book hits the nail on the head. It cuts straight to the heart of many of our inward thoughts as women – as we walk through the grocery store and compare ourselves to the clothes, hair, make-up and shoes of other shoppers; as we enter our friends’ houses and compare our own tidiness and décor to theirs; as we sit at dinner parties and compare careers, husbands, achievements, and parenting techniques to other guests.
The component that I most appreciate about Compared to Her is the way Sophie so clearly articulates the centrality of the gospel throughout each chapter. I wholeheartedly recommend this as an excellent, easy, thought-provoking read – one that I have already bought as a gift for several of my own friends, both Christian and non-Christian.
I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Sophie and her lovely family in Cape Town over the past few years, and recently had an opportunity to ask her a few questions about her new book.
The last book you wrote was on one-to-one discipleship. Of all the subjects you could have explored for this book, what made you decide to delve into the topic of comparison?
Primarily my own struggle with comparison over many years (being the middle of three feisty sisters didn’t help!), coupled with the apparent lack of biblical material specifically engaging with the issue of comparison and rivalry. I got the chance to speak on the subject at a couple of women’s events in 2010 and it seemed to touch a nerve with so many women (both at the events and others I spoke to about it). The more I continued to wrestle biblically with the subject, the clearer it became to me that the gospel has real practical help to offer sufferers like me of what I’ve called, ‘Compulsive Comparison Syndrome,’ and I was encouraged by friends to write about it to encourage others.
How did the compilation of this work help (or challenge) you personally in terms of your own spiritual life?
I think there’s nothing like ‘naming and shaming’ a sin to intensify your own battle against it! It has been quite a hard process to analyze the depths and layers of my own sinful heart on this issue … and to see how very ugly it is. It’s all about wanting to be at the center, and I’ve seen more clearly than ever how incredibly proud I really am and how much I still trust in worldly things for my significance, satisfaction and security (like I know I’m going to have to fight the temptation not to let book sales figures or feedback affect my sense of significance in any way)! Positively, I have found myself growing in contentment in Christ as a result of the thinking and praying I’ve been doing – it’s been so liberating to grasp that it is in Him alone that we find true and lasting blessing, for this life and eternity. So, overall it’s been a great opportunity to grow in Christ-likeness – which is always both a wonderful and a jolly hard experience, isn’t it?!
On page 39 of your book, you write, “There is a way to know, to experience, to feel contentment. And it doesn’t come from CCS. It comes from finding a way to live without it.” For those who haven’t yet read the book, what encouragement can you offer to those desiring to break free from a life of constant, compulsive comparisons?
Measuring ourselves against others based on our criteria of choice, in order to determine our ‘position’ in life , seems to offer us hope (“maybe, just maybe I’m not as much of a failure/as ugly/as sinful/as I think I am”). But the result of these comparisons tends to be either a temporary and very vulnerable sense of satisfaction or a gnawing sense of dissatisfaction – actually often both senses together, but for different areas of our lives. So there is great deception involved: the higher position we crave won’t deliver the security, satisfaction or significance we think it will.
Breaking free of this destructive compulsion involves seeing through the deception and trusting that it is in Christ alone that we will find true and lasting blessing. My prayer is that the book will help the reader apply the gospel to the problem and learn to live a life of contentment in Christ, able to truly celebrate difference and diversity rather than judge or envy it.
You’ve dedicated this book to your daughter, Molly. What practical steps do you hope to take in your role as Molly’s mother to steer her away from the rampant scourge of CCS as she grows up?
A good, and very tricky, question! She is now five and at pre-school and CCS is increasingly taking a hold of her. She wants to do the extra-mural activities her friends are doing. She wants this girl’s outfit, that girl’s puppy, the same scooter as her best friend, and so on. We are just waiting for her to start saying ‘at least I’m better at this or that than her…’, or ‘I wish I was prettier/thinner, etc’ and then we have a full-on case on our hands! Depressingly, this is actually inevitable because at the heart of the syndrome is a sinful, proud heart that wants self at the center and looks to idols or false gods to satisfy its desires.
When the first comments came, I told her that we all have our own lives to live and that we couldn’t afford to do the same extra-murals and that she shouldn’t be greedy wanting the same toys as her friends and she just had to be grateful for what she has. But I realized that wasn’t actually a deep enough answer for her if I really want to introduce her to the only source of true contentment. So I’ve started teaching her that Jesus is our Creator and our boss and He gives us all we need in life. I’ve told her that it won’t make her a better or much happier person if she goes to sports or has a dog; God loves her and forgives her and she must live a life that makes Him smile.
But I ‘m always listening out for and appreciate any help from more godly and experienced moms who have been helping their children deal with this issue for many years!
What role do you think accountability could play in combatting CCS?
It’s tricky – on one level, it’s a very personal struggle and requires lots of open-hearted wrestling before the Lord as we examine our own hearts and motives. It’s also quite a shameful one as the truth of our pride and idolatry comes to light. But the Bible does say we need to encourage one another daily because of the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13). We are to spur one another on to love and good works (Heb. 10:24). We are to speak the truth in love to one another (Eph. 4:15). So yes, accountability in the sense of sharing the struggle with another Christian friend or two is a great idea if it helps us to do this sort of honest, gospel encouragement better.
My husband helps me a lot, but it’s also great to have those friends who will call you up on your CCS when they notice you succumbing to the deception again. “Wow! Look at that birthday cake – she’s really raised the bar for us all. How depressing!” How might you help your friend at that point? “No, friend, it’s not a competition. She has a creative gift; she probably loves doing that sort of thing; maybe she has more time to spare. Who knows? But remember that this cake really is irrelevant for your child’s birthday celebrations. Fear God not man!”
Having been raised in England, and now living in Cape Town, what do you enjoy most about South Africa, and what do you miss most about the UK?
I really love the vibe of South Africa – I love the way it forces you to engage with profound life questions and doesn’t let you get away with superficial answers. The issues such as politics, poverty, vulnerable children, housing and sanitation, and racial reconciliation are so complex, messy, challenging and yet draw out amazing responses from individuals and communities. It is so inspiring to see how people have stepped up to the plate here and been creative and sacrificial in addressing various needs. It’s also inspiring to meet so many individuals who have been through so much hardship in their lives and yet still keep trusting and serving the Lord, and who are able to forgive those who have wronged them. These encounters have enriched my life greatly.
Also, moving out of your own culture gives you an amazing opportunity to engage with the gospel and its application to our lives in a fresh way. You realise that you have been holding on to some things and not engaging with other things, because of what is ‘normal’ around you, and this realisation gives you a great chance to grow in your faith and how you live it out.
It helps that Cape Town is probably THE most beautiful city in the world with so much to offer in terms of fun days out, arts and culture, food and wine (no, I’m not on commission from the Tourist Board – I just genuinely love the place). Apart from missing beloved family and friends in the UK, I miss the supermarkets, free health care and central heating most I think (yes it gets very cold here in the winter, but the summer weather does compensate for this more than adequately!).
Sophie DeWitt is the author of One to One: A Discipleship Handbook and Compared to Her: How to experience true contentment. She used to work with students in London, and now lives in Cape Town, South Africa. Sophie is married to a South African pastor and they have three children.