“Hurt is hurt, and every time we honor our own struggle and the struggles of others by responding with empathy and compassion, the healing that results affects all of us.”
I’m profoundly exhausted to my soul, but each time I identify something worrisome in my life, or the toll that this is all taking on me, I have this inner “tsk-tsk” voice telling me to shut up, be grateful, most people have it much worse, put a cap on it. Like I haven’t earned that appraisal of struggle or the healing, the rest.
Does anyone else do this?
So…I’m learning that that isn’t helpful to me or anyone else, and I’m TRYING to just feel my feelings without always adding caveats or apologies.
I have, what my fave PhD social worker author and podcaster, Brene Brown, calls “comparative suffering.” She explains it really well in the podcast I linked to here, but here it’s written out:
“Comparative suffering is a function of fear and scarcity. Falling down, screwing up, and facing hurt often lead to bouts of second-guessing our judgment, our self-trust, and even our worthiness. I am enough can slowly turn into Am I really enough? If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past decade, it’s that fear and scarcity immediately trigger comparison, and even pain and hurt are not immune to being assessed and ranked. My husband died and that grief is worse than your grief over an empty nest. I’m not allowed to feel disappointed about being passed over for promotion when my friend just found out that his wife has cancer. You’re feeling shame for forgetting your son’s school play? Please — that’s a first-world problem; there are people dying of starvation every minute. The opposite of scarcity is not abundance; the opposite of scarcity is simply enough. Empathy is not finite, and compassion is not a pizza with eight slices. When you practice empathy and compassion with someone, there is not less of these qualities to go around. There’s more. Love is the last thing we need to ration in this world. The refugee in Syria doesn’t benefit more if you conserve your kindness only for her and withhold it from your neighbor who’s going through a divorce. Yes, perspective is critical. But I’m a firm believer that complaining is okay as long as we piss and moan with a little perspective. Hurt is hurt, and every time we honor our own struggle and the struggles of others by responding with empathy and compassion, the healing that results affects all of us.”
― Brené Brown, Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
I think I’ve been doing this since I was really young. Comparative suffering + a large dash of imposter syndrome. I’d be worried and grieving about the health of my sister with cancer, but I was aware I couldn’t possibly be AS worried as my poor parents must have been, so I’d swallow mine down. During adolescence, I’d be feeling insecure or uncertain or lost, but my family had money, for-fuck-sake, I had a HORSE, I had no reason to be anything but sailing through life, so I’d push those worries deep. I was grossed out by the snobby, wealthy, high school I attended and shocked by the cruelty and elitism of some of the students, but it was a GREAT education, people sacrificed A LOT to send their kids there, I had no business being anything but grateful. Push, push, push. I struggled to ask for a fair salary when I started working, because, you know, we were doing fine, and did I even need or deserve more? I wasn’t perfect at what I did, no one owed me for my imperfect work, right? I rarely drew boundaries at work or home because even if I felt uncomfortable or exhausted, others had it so much worse. I was lucky. I should be comfortable, so how dare I feel uncomfortable? Plus, I wasn’t always certain about all the decisions I made, maybe I wasn’t good at any of it? How could I ask anyone to respect me if I wasn’t respectable? Maybe I was small and didn’t deserve more space?
Now, today, we’re jobless, we’re shutting down our small business, we’re talking about moving across the country….these are all really stressful life changes, BUT I still have abundance that others don’t. For one thing, I have time and space to sit here writing this! Shouldn’t I feel ashamed to be anywhere but on the lowest layer of the “hierarchy of need” in the middle of a pandemic? We only have the two kids, we have resources and help from family, and we’re a two-parent household, and we have our health, and, and, and….I tell myself I have no business being sad or scared. Of course, it doesn’t stop me from feeling sad or scared, but it does immediately invalidate those feelings and make me feel shame for feeling them. Deep in the gut. Brene Brown tells me that’s not healing any of us.
So, I’m working on it. It’s hard to change lifetime habits, but I see how important it is, so when I feel my feelings of pain, I’m trying not to find ways for me to lose and dismiss myself in comparisons.
It’s hard. And it’s hard to admit it’s hard.