It was a Saturday evening in Culver City and I laid out a blanket on a grassy field in a park. The sun was setting and a giant inflatable screen was propped up in front of me.
A friend and I sat down to enjoy a screening of The Breakfast Club. I’d already seen the movie once before; my friend was about to see it for the first time.
As I watched the movie, comparing what high school was like back then to what it must be like now, one scene stood out to me.
The main characters gathered in a circle, sharing what their life at home was like, mainly in relation to their parents. Claire described the dynamics of her recently divorced mom and dad; Andrew related the extreme pressure he felt at home to maintain his wrestling performance.
On the other hand, Bender and Allison described how their parents didn’t give two shits about them, something they desperately wished was different. Bender even went as far as revealing that his father occasionally beat him.
But what everyone had in common was this: their pain ran deep and it consumed them. From the outside, some of their struggles may have seemed more severe than others. But for them as individuals, that pain was all they knew.
When you think about the idea of comparing your struggles to someone else’s, it seems kind of self-centered. Sure, it would really hurt to divulge your pain and be met with an “I understand how you feel,” followed by a story about how their dog died that one time.
But to share a hard time in your life with another person and assume you’re more damaged shouldn’t be what you’re after. Sharing this kind of stuff isn’t a comparison game, it’s a chance to form deeper human connections and be heard.
And the truth of the matter is, you just can’t know what another person is feeling—ever.
Think of emotional pain as a sort of a threshold. That threshold is determined by the traumas you’ve been through in the past and the pain that ensued. You may feel like your friend has had a cushy life, but for them, the pain of never feeling good enough for their parents is enough to send them into a deep spiral of depression.
Because humans experience everything differently. No two people have lived the same lives; no two people have felt the same suffering.
That’s why we need to stop comparing our pain. For the sake of other people’s feelings and the sake of your relationships.
Share your pain from a place of wanting to feel understood, not a place of ego.
It’s one thing to want to share a hard time you went through; it’s another to share it to seem broken, like you’ve been through the wringer.
Struggles aren’t a badge of honor. And if you share them like they are, you may be sorely disappointed when you’re not met with the reaction from others that you’re expecting.
Listen from a place of understanding, not a place of comparing to your own life
When someone opens up to you, that’s a beautiful moment of vulnerability. That’s not a moment to take lightly.
It’s a chance to really understand the person, an opportunity to get to know what hurt them or what is currently causing them pain.
What it’s not is a moment for you to decide if you’ve been through worse. It’s not an opportunity to determine whether or not they’re overreacting.
So listen from a place of understanding the person. And if you don’t, ask questions. Clear the air rather than creating assumptions.
It sucks to feel like your struggles were belittled. And the same goes for your friends when they share their stories.
Vulnerability isn’t a place for comparison. It’s not a time to let your ego run free.
Sure, the Breakfast Club parted without overcoming the social divides that kept each other from talking in the hallways at school, but at least the left with a bit more understanding.
Comparison has no room in showing your wounds to others.
No matter if you’re a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess or a criminal.