On Comparative Suffering

Yesterday, my therapist gave me a list of ways you can deal with distressing emotions until they pass. I was on board for al of them but one. Luckily, my therapist agreed. This way was comparison. There were two different types of comparison.

One is to compare it to a time when you were in more distress and realize how things are not as bad right now. We discussed there that if you aren’t careful you could make yourself more depressed by then dwelling on something really bad from the past. It is tricky to find a more distressing time to compare without stressing yourself out more. Still, I could see the value. My worst day now is much better than my worst day when I worked with a toxic person. It is good to remember that.

The second one is the one that we both agreed is no good. That statement was “realize how resilient you are by thinking of someone who is coping less well than you are.” I told her that I was not on board with that one because I’ve had way too many times that people have minimized my suffering because “other people have it worse” I even wrote about it in this post from 2014. People love to jump in when someone talks about their struggle to tell them how it could be much worse and that other people’s struggles are bigger. Maybe it helps some people to always think that way. It’s fine if you think that way about your own life. If you can count your blessing and feel better about things by thinking other people have it worse, that’s great. The problem is a lot of those people also feel the need to spread that “wisdom” on to other people.

“Why are you upset that your wife missed your son’s prom pictures because her train was stopped? Don’t you realize it is much worse for the person the train hit” Yes. I’m not fucking stupid or insensitive. I realize that being hit by a train is much worse than most things. It doesn’t mean that my wife isn’t still sad about prom and that I’m irritated that there is no procedure to get people off the train when this happens. This, by the way, is the interaction that led to the 2014 post.

“You shouldn’t complain about the inmates being annoying. You don’t know what they’ve been through in life” You are right. I don’t. I do know that they were being loud and obnoxious and made my day worse. I did know I got to go home at night and they didn’t. Guess what? It was still annoying.

Stop minimizing other people’s bad days by talking about someone else’s worse day.

Count your blessings, yes, but don’t minimize that sometimes you need to accept and deal with your suffering.

The flip side of this can be that you compare your suffering and rate your suffering as worse than everyone else’s. Everyone else’s life is great and yours sucks. Why bother trying? You give up. You withdraw. You become bitter about your life. You minimize the suffering of everyone else because it can’t be as bad as yours. It’s not a good place to be.

Comparative suffering is not a game we should be playing.