Girl Lying On Bed

Pain is Not a Competition

“You’re sad? Well I have clinical depression, so that’s like a constant for me.”

“Your parents are fighting? At least they’re together, mine divorced years ago.”

“Your significant other isn’t spending enough time with you? At least you have a significant other.”

“Be a little grateful for what you have.”

“Other people have it worse than you.”

I hear things like this all the time, and it infuriates me. What is with people erasing others’ pain just because someone has it worse

The person who has it worse wins, as if they’re somehow more admirable because they’ve endured more suffering to get where they are. The person who doesn’t have it as bad, on the other hand, loses. They are made to feel guilty for complaining, because apparently a lower conflict count dictates that you can’t be as upset.

Cleary, we all know what it’s like to struggle, or else we wouldn’t be one-upping each other like this. For some reason, though, we like to assume that others are exaggerating, attention-seeking, or just undeserving of our sympathy. We refuse to legitimize others’ pain because we compare their level of pain—or what we THINK is their level of pain—to our own.

Take this hypothetical situation: Person A has experienced many misfortunes, and Person B has been quite lucky in life. Both Person A and Person B’s dogs just passed away. Is Person B ungrateful for the life that they have if they express grief for the loss of their dog? Does Person A have more of a right to grieve than Person B just because Person A has more to be sad about?

They both probably loved their dog just as much as the other. It would be extremely inconsiderate if Person A told Person B: “At least you have [insert life fortunes here].” And yet conversations like this happen all the time.

Maybe you could argue that the level of pain for Person A is higher because their pain is piling on top of other pain, but when it comes to expressing your pain to others, no competition should be involved. When two people are struggling, they only know as much grief as they’ve experienced themselves. We shouldn’t discount the struggles of the (perceived) happier person just because they don’t know what “real” struggling is like. Neither should we discount the struggles of the person who suffers more often or due to personal dispositions. People don’t have the faintest idea what it feels like to be anyone but themselves, so what’s up with this competition for who has it worse?

Not everyone is capable of empathy, and that’s okay, but what isn’t okay is assuming others don’t feel pain like you do. We all think that we know who’s really struggling and who isn’t. We think we are in a position to dictate the hierarchy of deserved sympathy. But I implore you, please be kind to one another. By telling people they don’t have it that bad, you’re invalidating their feelings. If they think their feelings will be invalidated every time they reach out for help, they will eventually stop reaching out. And when things get really bad, they’ll anticipate this rejection, and they won’t get the help they need.

Stop making pain a competition. It is not one.