“I mean, what I experienced, you know, it’s not nearly as bad as what he went through,” I catch myself saying to a friend. We’re sitting at Sunday brunch, plowing through Mimosas as if our lives depended on it, and she’s asking about a former lover of mine.
I quickly interject, “Please, you know how I feel about the word lover. It’s like moist. Gross.”
I’m comparing the loss of my father to what a man from my past experienced, his own losses and how they stacked up against mine. I don’t even realize I’m doing this — a sick game of Trauma Olympics. And of course, he wins. He wins! And I’m fully admitting it! He lost more than I did, in much more tragic ways. So, I use this as an explanation for his behavior, and why certain things transpired the way they did.
But this thinking, it doesn’t feel very good. It feels like I’m both glorifying his grief and minimizing my own. As if I need to put a disclaimer in front of my own pain. “Yes, my dad died, but his situation was far worse…”
I’m not sure why so many of us do this. Whether it’s the ease of technology and how many heartbreaking stories we can click on within seconds, or if we’ve always been placing our specific hurt into categories of bearable, moderate, and immense, it doesn’t seem like it’s doing us any good.
Sure, if you jump in and say, “I totally get it. My fish died yesterday!” after someone opens up about their brother’s suicide, you’re being pretty damn inconsiderate (and also just dumb??).
The things is, pain is such a unifying experience. It’s one of the guaranteed parts of being human. You will love and you will lose. Sometimes, the sun is shining and it’s so bright you need those trendy sunglasses of yours. And others? It’s so dark, you’re not sure your eyes will ever adjust. That’s just how it works. It comes and it goes.
And not to diminish those difficult times, but they aren’t fully unique experiences either. Will anyone fully understand how you are feeling? No. And even though that can often feel very scary and isolating, it should also be a bit freeing. You don’t need to compare yourself to others. You don’t need to grieve the same way as your friend, your family members, random strangers you read about on Humans of New York.
I remember speaking to a teenage girl once about her heartbreak. She was very modest in her pain, afraid to really talk about it, always undermining it with a sentence like, “I know it’s just dumb high school stuff.” And it made me hurt for her. Because I know someone must have told her, “This isn’t a big deal.”
And she believed it. She believed her feelings weren’t as important. She believed her heartache wasn’t as real as other “flashy” pain.
When we turn our specific moments of vulnerability, hurt, pain, loss into chess pieces to play against one another, THAT’S when we really lose. It shouldn’t be a competition. And no one should make you feel as if you aren’t feeling “real pain.” That’s just selfish. And rather conceited, too.
You are allowed to feel. You are allowed to hurt. You are allowed to experience your loss without throwing out a disclaimer. And anyone who tries to get you to play this: “Who has it worse?” game is not respecting your journey. Wish them well, and move forward. Don’t waste your time or energy.