Life is tough. Death, illness, job loss or stress, relationship difficulties, the chaos of early parenting, the empty nest, financial trials: none of our lives are immune. In the midst of crisis, we sink into despair, depression, worry. It’s only human.
Then news of others’ tragedy and pain sneaks into awareness. Suddenly we gasp for breath, breaking the surface of grief or angst, and discount our own trials. “I’m being such a whiner. I’m so selfish. Others have it so much worse than me. I should count my blessings.” We feel guilty for letting our stresses bring us down. We expect that we should put aside our troubles and just buck up.
Who says that because others’ trials look more serious that you need to dismiss or discount your own? This is another way women are socialized to put the needs of others first, even if it means denying our own needs.
Just a teensy bit of black and white thinking here as well. As in “if I’m blessed, or lucky in comparison to someone else, then my life is not bad.” Truly, part of being human is embracing that huge dichotomies of feeling can, and do, exist. We can feel like crap and count our blessings. These states are compatible.
This week, I listened to On Point on NPR, an episode devoted to the bullying of gay youth and the subsequent tragic suicides. One guest shared his own experience, being bullied for being gay, growing up in the 50s. He related that his grandfather had survived the Holocaust, even though most of his family perished. The speaker didn’t discount his own pain, saying that his grandfather had suffered more and so being bullied didn’t matter. Instead, he became inspired by his grandfather’s trials and triumphs in facing his own ordeals.
Feelings just are. No need to judge another’s pain in comparison to our own. If we hurt, we hurt, and deserve to take care of ourselves to feel better. And if we can find inspiration and follow another’s lead of grace under pressure, that’s a bonus.