Society seems to have caught itself in this web of lies that makes everyone feel like we are all competing for a limited amount of “real” and “justified” pain – and the authorized support that comes with it.
We compare ourselves to others, we compare others to others, we compare real situations to fantasy – we fucking love to compare. And depending on how that one person’s situation (or our idea of it) stacks up against whatever we are comparing, we judge whether we/they should or shouldn’t feel a certain way.
People can be seen minimizing themselves and others all the time in this comparison war. Listen carefully.. it usually starts with “at least”.
One of the most clear, and repulsive, examples of this I witnessed was a discussion in an infertility support forum – an area that was specifically designed to provide support to those who were struggling. The desperate call for support was from a lady who recently miscarried, and the responses to her struggle went a bit like this; “Sorry you’re having a hard time, but at least it was early, let me tell you – miscarrying later is way more painful”, “I’ve had two miscarriages, be thankful you’ve only had one”, “I know of someone who had a stillborn, can you imagine how much harder that would be??” When you see it laid out like that, it’s absurd! Why do we feel this incessant need to compare, judge, and only give support when it’s “earned”?
Would it be acceptable to go up to a man who just lost both his arms and say, “Hey, at least you can walk”?
And if you think you don’t do this, double check with that voice in your head. So often we are our own bully. We don’t give ourselves permission to feel what we feel – we wind up down the comparison spiral in a heap of guilt, we try to rationalize with ourselves until we feel crazy (because despite our “logic” it doesn’t stop us from feeling), and we convince ourselves that we don’t deserve support because “it’s my fault” or “I shouldn’t feel this way”.
There will always be something that could be called “worse” -but that DOES NOT mean you can’t feel shitty about your stuff. You have every right to own your experiences and you 100% deserve support.
Turns out you don’t have to feel guilty about hating broccoli just because there are starving kids in Africa.
Ash Beckham says it best – I strongly urge you all to watch her TED Talk
“..there is no harder, there is just hard. We need to stop ranking our hard against everyone else’s hard to make us feel better or worse about our closets and just commiserate on the fact that we all have hard.” Ash Beckham
The ridiculousness of this trap that we find ourselves in reminds me of my call centre days. My job was making cold calls to sell dismemberment insurance (you can just imagine the fulfillment this provided 😉 ). I remember having to explain to the poor fools who hadn’t yet hung up on me that they would only qualify for the money if they lost two limbs, “You can lose one eye and one arm, or one leg and one arm… and you need to lose them both from the same accident.. and it has to occur at the scene of the accident, you won’t qualify if they later remove your leg at the hospital.” Clearly, a scam. So why in the world do we buy into this “you only qualify for support if you meet these ridiculous criteria” when it comes to our feelings? It’s no less of a scam, and it’s time to hang up.
We have to contest the whole premise of needing to earn the right to be upset. We can do this by giving everyone permission to own their feelings and provide genuine support and empathy. No more comparing. Furthermore, we need to tell ourselves that we have a right to feel this way and we do deserve support – despite what we’ve been told or what the voices are still shouting out from the background.
Go ahead, hang up on that sleazy insurance broker and curse your veggies without guilt.