We all experience pain, sadness, grief, and hurt, but why do we feel it’s necessary to compare our struggles, I’m not sure anyone wants that first place medal, and as a runner, I sure do love me a medal!
I have felt guilty throughout my life for being sad, upset or hurt for whatever is going on in my life when I know others have it worse. I’d often say to myself, “There are starving children in the world, so stop complaining about your problems!”
I met a recently divorced woman in my apartment complex about one month after my separation. We were discussing our stories, I was sobbing over what I had been going through, then she proceeded to inform me that her ex-husband was arrested for one of the largest child pornography stings in Colorado…while they were married. She was blindsided, shocked and realized she was married to a man who she thought she knew, but he was living a second life.
Because of magnitude of his case, his arrest made the news. She lost many friends, her job and she had to move because she was being harassed by strangers, threatening her and insinuating she must have known what was going on.
She lost the life she had known and loved for 20 years. In a blink of an eye it was all wiped away like a dream and her world forever changed.
“There is no winner of the pain game”
At that moment I remember saying to her, “Wow, you win!”She stopped me and said “No, there is no winner of the pain game, we are both going through hurt. My story might sound more “shocking”, but that doesn’t negate the fact that you are also going through pain and hurt, your pain is just as real as mine.”
The problem is we all do that too much, we all compare not just our pain or struggles, but we compare our entire lives to others. It’s not healthy for our mind, body or soul.
Joshua Becker wrote a blog titled, “Stop Comparing Your Life. Start Living It.” He encourages you to stop comparing many areas of your lives to others and focus on you. “Comparing yourself to others will always cause you to regret what you aren’t, rather than allow you to enjoy life as who you are.”
And the words I loved most in his blog,“Celebrate who you are. There are many wonderful things about your life. You are an artist…or a businessman…or a mother…or a good listener…or a generous soul. You have much to celebrate and are entirely unique. Any comparison between you and another person is like comparing apples to oranges. They aren’t living your life, you are.”
The struggles you have gone through in your life might not be as devastating as what other people have gone through, but you can’t discount your pain because of that, there is no competition for who has had the worst life experiences, you still have your hurt and your struggles and that is REAL.
Of course, there are always people who have it better or have it worse but comparing your pain to someone else’s is dangerous. Who are we to judge how someone else is feeling? For you to feel like it’s not right to hurt because someone else has it worse is only going to set you back in your recovery.
By comparing your pain and your struggles to someone else’s, you are denying the fact that your pain is real; you are diminishing your own pain, stating is not worthy of expressing.
Let’s say you lost your job and you are devastated. Another person could have lost the exact same job as you, yet their circumstances in life have them feeling relived and excited about what’s to come versus you feeling anxious and scared.
If we can process the exact same experience in such different ways, then there shouldn’t be comparison in “whose life is worse”. The way you process your own struggles is unique to your story, you can’t compare, “Who is processing it and handling it better”, just like you can’t compare your life struggles to someone else’s.
I met a friend for coffee after was devastated when I lost my job of 13 years. We met to talk about how I was doing when the conversation shifted to him talking about his recent breakup. He was hurt and lost and I was genuinely hurting for him. I let him talk and I listened with empathy and compassion.
As I was referencing some of the things I could relate to because of my divorce, I also talked about the grief of losing my two dogs. At that moment he said to me how sorry he was for talking about his breakup when I had gone through so much more. I stopped him there, “No, your hurt is your hurt, don’t compare it to what I have gone through because everyone has to right to feel their pain.”
We all need validation that our pain is real and I was 100% honest in those words I spoke to him. I was empathetic and very sad for what he was going through and not for one second was I thinking, “Wow, I have had it worse, what is he so sad about?”
“We all need validation that our pain is real”
In 2006-ish I heard Aaron Rolston speak at a conference about amputating his own arm after being trapped for 5 days in Horseshoe canyon in Utah. He was telling his story about solo hiking in 2003 when a boulder became dislodged and crushed his right hand against the canyon wall. He hadn’t informed anyone about his hiking plans, and he didn’t have a cell phone to call for help.
During his 5 days trapped he sipped water, ate the small amount of food he barely slept as his arm was in excruciating pain. After accepting he was going to die, he carved his name and date of birth into the stone with his pocket knife and videotaped his last goodbyes to his family. His last night in the canyon, Aaron began hallucinating seeing himself with his future child and part of his arm was missing.
That next day he knew he needed to get out of the canyon, using the same tool he used to carve his name into the rock, he began slicing at his arm with the dull two-inch pocket knife, a process that took over an hour, and freed himself from the boulder.
A few weeks after I met the woman in my apartment complex, I came across Aaron’s book that was given to me at the conference he spoke at. I remember looking at the cover of the book and remembering his presentation and I thought to myself that I was pathetic for crying about my divorce when this man almost died alone and had to cut his own arm off.
Then I realized, I was doing it again, I was comparing what I was going through to what he went through. I remembered what the woman had recently said to me “There are no winners of the pain game”. Your pain is YOUR PAIN!
I am still in awe that this man was able to cut his own arm off to save his life, it’s amazing and inspiring to me and I’m not in any way trying to say that me getting through a divorce compares to what he did…wait, look at what I just did, I compared again! I just said, “Me getting through a divorce , that pain doesn’t compare to what he did.”
See, it’s easy to do.Ok let’s try this again, the struggles we face are still real, they are your own. We can be inspired by someone’s story, but we should use that as inspiration to move forward, not as an opportunity to tear yourself down and tell yourself that your pain and struggles don’t matter.
I understand comparing a divorce to amputating a limb is not apples and apples, I did not have to cut my arm off like Aaron Ralston, but there is a part of me that felt like I lost a limb when I lost my husband. Having been with someone for 23 years, he was a part of me and all that I did and I knew, learning to live without myex-husband was going to be hard.
Aaron’s presentation was not just about his experience inside that canyon, but he related what he went through with struggles that we all face and how we all have our own boulders in life.
I heard a great saying once and for the life of me I can’t remember where, but it said, “Don’t try to compare a paper cut to stitches because they both draw blood”.
Comparing your life to others will only cause you to question yourself rather than allowing you to tend to your own wounds, process at your own pace, heal and move forward.
Your struggles are part of your journey, part of your unique story that are not worthy of comparison. As Joshua Becker said, “They aren’t living your life, you are.”