I remember sitting in my therapist’s office talking through some of my most recent struggles.
As I went through a list of my current challenges, I suddenly felt guilty for complaining.
At the end of my monologue, I quickly recovered by saying, “My life is pretty great overall. There is always someone who has it worse than me. I shouldn’t complain. I should be grateful.”
My therapist looked at me and said,
“Well, I guess our work here is done then.”
I looked at her perplexed.
For a moment I thought to myself,
“Did I just pass therapy? I knew I was crushing it at life. Do they hand out medals for this sort of thing?”
She interrupted my delusions of grandeur by shutting her notebook and saying,
“You’re right. There will always be people who have it worse than you. So, why even bother working on yourself? Anytime you struggle, remind yourself to be positive and completely invalidate your feelings. After all, you should always live in a constant state of gratitude.”
I sat for a minute trying to determine if she was serious or joking. There was a long pause. Maybe I didn’t pass therapy.
She swooped in again,
“Have you ever considered that comparing your challenges with others doesn’t help you solve yours? You can in fact be grateful for your life and recognize it’s challenging too. The two are not mutually exclusive.”
Well shit. That made a lot of sense.
In that moment I considered a very powerful thought:
I can in fact be grateful for my life and still struggle.
This advice was given to me many years ago, but I still pull it out regularly.
From me to you:
There will always be someone who has it worse than you. There will always be someone who has it better than you.
However, when we make judgements that our troubles are not worthy enough to bring up, cry about, and work through -we remain stuck.
Comparative suffering might temporarily numb our struggles. However, it will never help us address our actual feelings and move forward.
So how do we move past comparative suffering to address our real thoughts and feelings?
I believe it starts with pretending to be your own best friend.
When I get stuck in comparative suffering or unproductive positivity, I try and imagine my thoughts are coming out of my best friend’s mouth.
If the thoughts inside my head sound ludicrous when my best friend says it- I realize it is equally ridiculous for me to say it to myself.
Now, I want you to imagine sitting down with your best friend. You’re sharing your frustrations with them. It’s a very raw conversation and you’re being very vulnerable.
Once you are done, they say to you,
“Well, it doesn’t sound that bad. There are a lot of people who have it way worse than you do. You should be grateful for how great your life is overall.”
How would that make you feel?
Pretty crummy right?
Let’s practice this trick together.
Step One: When you are struggling with comparing your suffering to others, talk to yourself like your best friend would.
Imagine you’re sitting down with them and communicating how frustrated you are. You are teary-eyed and sipping on a hot pumpkin spiced latte (clearly my example).
One of my badass best friends Maki sounds like this:
“I’m so sorry Liesl. That’s so difficult. I can imagine how frustrated you are.”
“What are you feeling?”
“What’s one thing today you can do to make yourself feel better?”
Step Two: Answer the questions
I know, this sounds a little woo woo. However, I promise it won’t disappoint you.
What are you feeling?
Sad, frustrated, annoyed and hurt.
What’s one thing today you can do make yourself feel better?
Talk to the friend who hurt me. Go to bed early. Take a hot bubble bath.
Step Three: Repeat regularly so you become more compassionate with yourself.
As a reminder, you are invited to be fully human:
This means you are imperfect. You struggle. Sometimes you are overwhelmingly happy. Other days you’re sad.
You can be grateful by embracing the beautiful mess you are.
Your beautiful mess of a friend,