The Demon of Comparison

"Saint Anthony" Tempted by Master of the Osservanza

Have you ever noticed how comparison and resentment go hand in hand?  I was reminded of this again when a new bout of it erupted on a listserv I follow.

One therapist began speaking about how s/he was on the phone with an insurance company for a claim, and began to ask them about their salary, and whether they, like the therapist had not seen an increase in it since the 1990s.  This prompted a bevy of emails back and forth to the tune of, “Yeah, we should find out how much they make, what they’re salary structure is” and of course the inevitable, “it is terrible that their executives make X amount of dollars.”

Really?  Do you really want to be like the executives of a managed care company?

I know that I often blog here about how it is important to cultivate a business sense, so this may sound like a contradiction, but there is a vast difference between learning from businesspeople and emulating the ones we consider are doing unconscionable acts.  Therapists often seem to want to have it both ways, we want to have the money and ease we imagine the “fat cats” at HMOs have, but we want to decry them as monsters.  You can’t have it both ways, or either, if you want a profitable yet socially just practice.

What I think we often see here is good old fashioned projection, namely, projecting whatever part of ourselves we either find unacceptable or yearned for.  Many of our colleagues have strong ambivalence about getting paid for helping, listening, and emotional labor.  Sometimes we disown the parts of ourselves that see what we do as valuable, worth every penny, amazing.  The way we disown this is to judge it as greed, and project our greediness onto someone else we can despise.  The CEOs of insurance companies make great targets, when we look at the financial reports they deliver to their Board of Directors.

But when we project these things on the customer service rep, or care advocate, we miss the mark in many ways.  Probably the most important way is that we act out our aggression with a worker who is not making anywhere near the money a CEO makes.  And those customer service people aren’t uncaring, their doing a job for a company and often protecting themselves from the assaults they receive via irate therapists all day.  Did it ever occur to you that the call the person on the other end of the phone just before you was someone haranguing them about how much they make and how greedy and unfeeling they are?

Look, I’m not trying to make excuses for the bureaucratic nature of managed care.  The point I am making is that splitting is a primitive defense, even when the target has a big ol’ bulls-eye on it.  More importantly, it doesn’t help your practice.

We have to befriend the part of us that wants to make money by listening to it, and using it to motivate our creativity.  If the only way we can access that is by “pinging” off a projection of the “greedy” other, we are staying stagnant.  If you are looking to an insurance company, customer service rep, or CEO to recognize you’re value you are wasting your time.  Go look in the mirror, that’s who you’ve got to get to recognize you.  Can you look that person in the eye and say, “I want to make a good living, and I am valuable?”

Remember, each of you IS a CEO, of your own business.  If you aren’t happy with your salary, what are you doing to grow the business that has been entrusted to you by yourself?