We’ve all heard it before. “There are children starving in Africa.” Shut up. Don’t complain. Suck it up because there are people who have it WAY worse than you.
So, we do shut up. We stop talking about our pain because we have been taught that by expressing our own pain, we are somehow being greedy or entitled. We don’t deserve to feel pain because our circumstances aren’t THAT bad compared to other people.
If you have ever felt like your pain isn’t “bad enough” to be expressed/felt, or if you have looked down on other people for expressing their pain, then this is for you.
The Competition of Pain
Whether you do it consciously or unconsciously, you have most likely compared your pain to someone else’s pain before. If you determine that someone is in more pain than you, you figure that they deserve the right to express their pain, get sympathy from others, etc. You then silence your own pain because you no longer feel worthy of expressing it.
This creates a twisted competition between us all. Naturally, we want to express ourselves. Emotions don’t feel good when they are bottled up inside of us. So, when we create the belief of “I can only express my pain if it’s considered ‘bad enough’,” we start to WISH for our pain to be “bad enough.” Not understanding why, we find ourselves drawn to situations that may hurt us. This can easily lead to an addiction to being a victim, which is a cycle that’s hard to break.
This may explain the strange sense of envy you get when watching someone else express their pain/hardship. It may seem as though you envy their pain, but really you envy that they are able to openly express their pain. You trap yourself within the belief that you are not worthy of expressing your pain because someone always has it worse.
NEWS FLASH: someone will always have it worse than you. Someone will always be in a situation that is perceived as “better” or “worse”. What’s interesting is that the most painful thing for one person may not be that bad for a different person. Pain is entirely subjective.
How Do You Measure Pain?
A 3-year-old boy bawls in the middle of a grocery store. The tears stream down his bright red cheeks as his arms reach upward desperately. His mother places a candy bar back on the shelf where it sat 10 seconds prior. Firmly, she tells him that he cannot have the candy because he didn’t finish his dinner.
Meanwhile, a 30-year-old woman sits in her apartment. She has her phone in her hands, her eyes fixed on one message displayed on the screen. She was just dumped by her boyfriend of 3 years through text. Unlike the 3-year-old boy, she appears quite calm on the outside. Beneath the surface, however, an overwhelming amount of anger begins to build up inside her.
So, who’s in more pain? Is it the little boy who couldn’t have the candy bar? Or the woman who lost the love of her life in an instant? Many of you might say that it’s the heartbroken woman. After all, the toddler may feel hurt in the moment, but in the grand scheme of things, he will probably not even remember that insignificant moment when he grows into an adult.
While this may be true, couldn’t you also say this for the woman? 10 years later, couldn’t she also look back and see how immature she was and how much she learned from the experience?
Well, you think to yourself, it will take a lot longer for the woman to heal from this breakup. The boy will most likely forget about it in just a few minutes. Therefore, the woman’s pain must be greater than the boy’s.
Is this how we measure pain, then? By the amount of time it takes for someone to fully heal from it? What about people who are more resilient? Does that mean that they don’t feel as much pain as other people?
There is no way to accurately measure pain. Everyone responds to pain differently; some of us repress, some of us rant, some of us numb ourselves, some of us cry. Just because someone “gets over” their pain quicker than most does not mean that they feel less pain initially. What hurts when we are 10 years old may not hurt us when we are 40. As our perspectives shift, different things cause us pain.
You can validate your OWN pain
In the end, no one will ever be able to experience exactly what you experience. Even if you explain it over and over, other people cannot feel your pain, happiness, loneliness, or ANY emotion. If you are looking for other people to tell you your pain is worthy of expressing, you will never be fully free.
Learning to validate your own experiences is critical for living a fulfilling life. Once you learn this, you will no longer play the victim or go out of your way to exaggerate your pain. You will be able to do whatever you need to do – cry, explode, call a friend, listen to sad music, etc – in order to release your pain and feel it fully.
Your pain is always valid. Even if no one knows about it but you, it is worth expressing. Even if there are kids starving in Africa, it doesn’t mean you need to deny your pain or put yourself through extra pain.
After all, even the kids in Africa may believe that other people have it worse than them.
Feel free to listen to this in podcast form to learn more about this topic! 🙂