From Tiny Buddha (I love this site).
Every point hit home for me. But oddly enough, number two stood out because at first glance, it sounded kind of selfish.
You have the right to feel how you feel even if other people have it worse. Your pain is valid regardless of what anyone else is going through.
Sometimes I feel a little petty when I vent about minor problems, or even big ones (like family estrangments, health issues) in contrast to true tragedy. Ukraine, COVID deaths, a friend who lost a loved one or is suffering from a serious illness, job loss, financial ruin, divorce.
How dare I bitch about the contractor who didn’t show up or ripped us off? How insignificant and trivial. Veering on the now grossly overused, “Karen.” (My laid-back husband and daughter have accused me of “going all Karen” on customer service or contractors simply for refusing to get screwed over).
We should all try to view our problems in contrast to bigger suffering. It puts our life into perspective. And yet, all stress and pain is valid, while not created equally.
I remember years ago I was venting to a friend about my husband being insensitive about something. I don’t remember what. Nothing major. All of a sudden my friend, usually a great listener, snapped. “Well at least he’s alive. Remember I told you Lisa just lost her husband from a heart attack? Dead before 50. Now THAT’S suffering.”
I was taken back and defensive. I told her I remember her telling me about her friend’s husband and how sorry I was. But I wasn’t comparing my minor complaints to the death of a spouse, obviously.
It became clear she lashed out from fear. She told me she was terrified how many people she knew who suddenly dropped dead at a young age (usually undetected heart issues). My friend, in her late 40’s at the time, was facing her own mortality and the possibility of suddenly losing her own husband. The unpredictability of life is something she’d spoken to me about every time she heard of someone dying too young.
So for her, my venting at that moment felt trite and meaningless.
But all feelings are valid.
Now if I chronically complained about small stuff, yes, I deserve a knock upside the head reminder that suffering is relative. No one likes a chronic complainer.
One of the practices I use to get myself out of a funk is to focus on gratitude. What’s working in my life vs what’s not.
Part of my gratitude practice is to mentally rank how much harder my life could be if I say, I had an incurable disease like so and so, or if my partner left me like so and so or if I was living homeless or hand to mouth like countless people across the world.
My gratitude list is infinite. Likely yours is too.
I’m not sure that comparing and contrasting ourselves aka, “it could be worse” is pure gratitude at its best. But it is a form of gratitude. Gratitude is one of the most powerful, transformative tools humans possess.
But I often say, it’s normal to have two seemingly conflicted feelings at the SAME time. What I mean is you can feel grateful for x,y,z in your life and upset about a,b,c.
You don’t have to feel guilty for experiencing pain because someone else has worse pain. Your feelings are valid. It’s all about timing and self-awareness. When or even if to vent to someone who’s suffering.