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Stop Playing The Pain Comparison Game

We have all heard the saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” but did you know that comparison can also be the thief of pain?

How many times do we deny ourselves the emotional and mental space to properly grieve because we compare our sadness to someone else’s to then deem it unworthy?

We need to stop playing the pain comparison game.

Exactly one year ago, all of our collective realities were starting to sink in. Pandemic lockdowns across the country had started. The 24-hour news cycles provided minute-by-minute updates on the devastation around the globe. The previously amorphous reality began to take shape, but the more in-focus the present became, the blurrier my understanding became of how to deal with it.

Daily actions become routines, routines become comforts, comforts become stability—so what happens when all of that is taken away? We are left with nothing but ourselves and our thoughts in the absence of all that we knew to be “normal.”

I struggled to stay afloat, drowning in my own refusal to acknowledge that there was anything wrong with my ability to process the events that were unfolding around me.

Growing up, I was taught to always be grateful—grateful for all the incredible opportunities I was afforded as an immigrant to the United States, grateful for “making it” when so many other families have not.

There was no time to feel when you’re too busy being grateful. The only way I knew to deal with the pain was to rationalize it away under the pretense of gratitude. The thoughts that would start echoing in my head were:

“How could you be so upset when someone else has it so much worse?”

“How ungrateful are you that you’re angry about this when you have so much else to be thankful for?”

Trauma and pain come in all shapes and sizes, and the sooner we stop judging ours in relation to others’, the sooner we’ll be able to heal in a way that nourishes, not stifles, us.

By no means am I advocating to stop practicing gratitude—gratitude should be at the core of everything we do, but it should be used as a means of framing your perspective, not controlling it. Social media shouts at us every day that we must be happy; look at all these other people being happy! Why can’t you be like them?

We’ve grown accustomed to living in a world where we’re told everything must exist in a duality: you’re either for something or against something, you hate or you love, you feel pain or you feel joy. Why can’t we feel both? It’s possible to ask your pain to sit next to you while not shuffling your happiness out the door. When you welcome emotions from all across the spectrum as houseguests, they learn how to quietly coexist.

Sitting with your pain doesn’t mean disregarding your happiness.

As we emerge as a society, out from the shadows of a darker time, we learn how to all heal together. Although the wounds of the pandemic will never fade, with permanent scars left as imprints on our hearts, we will be able to move on and into a brighter day, more hopeful, filled with new opportunities.

Just as the memory of darker times can coexist with the hope of a more promising future, we can carve out a space for ourselves right here in the middle and step into the light whenever we’re ready. 

Social Impact enthusiast, interested in all things experiential.

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