“But other people have it worse”

A comparative approach to suffering tends to be less about gratitude for what we have, and more about shaming ourselves for struggling when others have it worse.

The result is that not only do you continue to struggle with what you’re struggling with - you also have an added layer of guilt or doubts about the validity of your own difficulties. During my experience of both anorexia and bulimia, being told that “children in Africa would love that food you are not eating/wasting down the toilet” has never - ever - made it easier for me. In any way. It just adds guilt to an already shameful experience.

Most people tend to have enough shame as it is. Whilst people turn to all sorts of ways to try and help (such as these thoughtless comments), adding problems to problems doesn’t tend to work.

So, what can we do instead?

We can recognise that all feelings are valid. Respecting that our struggles are real - be they large or small - is just part of taking responsibility. For sure, we can help other people’s situations and help solve larger global problems, but that is more likely to be sustainable when we are in a better place ourselves.

We can talk to ourselves as we would to a friend, who we wouldn’t dismiss by comparing them to others if they talked to us about their difficulties. We can let go of automatically reaching for ways to douse ourselves in shame and blame when, a lot of the time, the causes of our difficulties weren’t particularly in our control anyway.

Who are you not to receive the same kindness as your friend?

Who are you not to consider your own difficulties as important?

Who are you not to hold both truths that yes, others will always have it worse, but your life is the one you have most responsibility for?

You are valid, deserving, and worthy - not just in your highs but also in your lows.

Your experiences are all valid, deserving, and worthy of attention - including your own.

James Downs

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