**While are now well past the initial days of the pandemic, the principle of comparative suppering applies to not just any global crisis (natural disaster, war, poverty) but also to the day-to-day suffering (heartbreak, mental illness, loss) experience by the people in your inner circle. Your feelings MATTER, no matter what’s happening around you.
As events all around the world are being cancelled, I have ONE event I’m not sad to add to that list.
Will you join me in cancelling the hardship olympics?
I’m tired tonight, as I write this—one week into the U.S.’s response to Covid-19. It’s an hour after my kids have fallen asleep—and the first time I’ve heard silence (sweet, blessed silence) all day.
I’m tired… and a little scared. A LOT overwhelmed.
Is this my new normal? How long will I be homeschooling my kids? How long will we be “sheltering in place” here in California, essentially cut off from friends and support?
How long will my work—the thing that makes me feel most like ME—get squeezed out as I struggle to juggle this new life of mine?
Will my loved ones stay healthy? Will I?
But I hesitate to say these thoughts out loud, because I know how incredibly lucky my family and I are to be safe, healthy, and secure right now when people all around the world—whether because of the pandemic or for a thousand other reasons—are not.
What Is Comparative Suffering?
I see it constantly online and hear it daily in my real life… “How can I complain,” we ask ourselves, “when I know people who have it so much worse?”
This is comparative suffering.
But the thing about comparative suffering is that it doesn’t make our suffering any lighter. In fact, I think it makes our suffering feel HEAVIER because we can’t put a voice to our hidden struggles, which leaves us feeling not just exhausted or overwhelmed or worried—but alone too.
Brené Brown (or as we like to call her around here, The Queen 😘) says this about comparative suffering:
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past decade, it’s that fear and scarcity immediately trigger comparison, and even pain and hurt are not immune to being assessed and ranked. My husband died and that grief is worse than your grief over an empty nest. I’m not allowed to feel disappointed about being passed over for promotion when my friend just found out that his wife has cancer…”
Just as powerfully, she adds—
“The refugee in Syria doesn’t benefit more if you conserve your kindness only for her and withhold it from your neighbor who’s going through a divorce.”
What If We All Opted Out?
Empathy is not a finite resource.
Love doesn’t need to be rationed.
Pain is pain, no matter how it stacks up against another’s.
And everyone deserves to feel their feelings.
So what if we all agreed not to evaluate, dissect, tally, and rank each other’s pain right now?
What if we opt out of the hardship olympics (as writer Kristen Howerton has called it) and make a pact to lead with compassion instead?
What if we keep our struggles in perspective but also allow ourselves to express them?
This is what we need right now. (This is one of the things we always need.)
PS. If you could use a listening ear (free from comparison!), please leave a comment and tell us what YOU’RE struggling with right now in regards to this worldwide pandemic. ❤️ Your feelings are 100 percent valid, and we’re here for you!
Is Your Stress & Anxiety at a High?
I don’t need to tell you that this is an INTENSE time, a time that comes with a thousand different challenges. But one of the challenges I’m hearing about most is the constant, exhausting hum of stress and anxiety—and I want to give you the tools to fight back!
I’ve poured my heart into a brand-new guide called, “From Stressed to Centered: 8 Concrete Steps to Fighting Stress & Anxiety.”
There is peace to be found. (Yes, even now.) ❤️
Thanks for this….such a good read. I currently live alone and so I don’t worry about getting covid 19 and spreading it to my loved ones. However, I grew up in a large family of 8 siblings. We are all very close in age and pretty tight knit. For my whole life there has always been this wonderful access to these people who love me and whom I love unconditionally. But now during this pandemic….it’s eye opening to me how quickly no access to our people makes you feel so isolated. That’s my struggle….
That is TOTALLY understandable, Leslie! I’m feeling it too, in a way. I’m sure you’re doing what you can to stay connected (FaceTime, texts & calls, etc.), but it’s still not easy! Sending lots of love!! -Erica
I feel very lucky that, as an extreme introvert, self isolating is my norm. With only my husband and I here, I have enough social interaction with him and on-line. I have enough food and toilet paper to last me for a couple weeks. So, even though I am old, have high blood pressure, and diabetes, I am one of the lucky ones.
Glad to hear it, Linda! Sending love and healthy wishes!
At 19 I compared. I felt infuriated at people who would offload and whinge about boyfriend troubles and work woes to my sister who was newly widowed at 25, after nursing a gorgeous young husband through 18months of hellish cancer treatment. I felt like we should all keep our complaints to ourselves because she was going through hell and I wanted to protect her from anything additional.
One night I got so angry at one of her friends with boyfriend trouble and my beautiful, amazing and heartbroken sister’s merciful response was ‘just because I have a migraine it doesn’t mean her headache doesn’t hurt’
Empathy and love even in the depths of grief and despair are marks of a truly kind person
Wow, what a PROFOUND lesson to learn from someone who had been through SO MUCH. Thank you so much for sharing it here, Rebecca!
The other night I told Stephen I don’t deserve to feel sad about missing a trip to Utah and being with my family for Louis’s first birthday when my best friend had her wedding cancelled, but it’s true it didn’t make me any less sad it just made me feel a little bit guilty for being sad. Thanks for giving me permission I didn’t know I needed to feel sad about the things I am missing while also empathizing with others and their own unique struggles right now. I loved this article Erica!
WELL SAID, Caitlin! And you’re so welcome. Thank you for what you added to this thread. Wishing the happiest birthday to little Louis!
Thank you so much! I needed this today. I feel validated and understood. Bless your heart and keep on keeping on!
Thank you so much, Ann! Words like this really do keep me writing and sharing. Sending love and healthy wishes right back at you!
What a beautiful article, so good to read something that resonates so strongly. My mum is a big fan of rolling out “other people have it a lot worse, you know” when I’m feeling sad or frustrated by something. I’ve always thought, what kind of awful person would I have to be, to be glad that I’m not the person who has it worse. As if their pain could detract from my own. It doesn’t, it just makes me feel even more sad! You have phrased it far more eloquently than I do though. Thank you, and take care xxx
Thank you. What is your advice about not sharing how you feel and cope? We start our virtual staff meetings with checking in, and I don’t want to share how I feel. I don’t want to be compared and I don’t want to hear about our pile of struggles. It makes me shameful that I am envious that some of us are luckier. I know shame is a dead end….thanks for tips and listening.
I’m late to the party, so to speak and while we are weeks and even months into ‘hour arrest’ as I like to call it-it is every bit as difficult as it was the first week. We have settled into our ‘new normal’ although it doesn’t feel anything like normal. The questions continue: ‘when will we return to work?’, ‘when will I leave fear and anxiety behind?’ and ‘will I?’ When will our world be less hateful and chaotic? and will I ever be the same?
My dearest friend introduced me to comparative suffering this evening. This post is my first self study. After this read, i am certain I am as close to a silver bullet I’ll ever be. Helping my mind and heart adjust to two very heavy life circumstances is paramount to me right now. I have no where to go but up from my current state. I think framing with comparative suffering will help me to speak with those I love in a balanced, true to self, respectful to them manner. Thank I am so eager for more. Brene Brown is a 👑 💯
comparative suffering is everywhere! it brings out shame and it drains us. Let’s be kinder to each other