One phrase that never fails to irritate me is, “You shouldn’t feel that way. Other
people have it worse than you!”
I come across this a lot in conversations on anything from health to social issues. While it’s true people deal with various levels of struggle in relation to various aspects of their lives, we must each deal with our own challenges, as well.
The primary reason that whole attitude rubs me the wrong way is of how dismissive it is. Yes, we should support others who are suffering, but that doesn’t mean our emotional burden is any less important. We all need support, too, and having our issues dismissed in such a way only adds on to the layers of hurt.
That dismissiveness can also be a sign of emotional manipulation and abuse. By using others’ situations to minimize someone’s current struggle, you’re essentially saying their mental/emotional health isn’t important enough to acknowledge.
It doesn’t make anyone feel better, except perhaps, for the one saying it. It objectifies people who are already fighting a hard battle while dismissing the person right in front of you as unimportant.
I’ve seen it used in well meaning contexts, too. The idea is that if you can see how hard it is for other people, you can tackle your problems from a different vantage point. The thing is, that rarely happens.
Instead, now you have guilt for having a hard time layered on top of your current troubles.
Dyslexia is a good example. I was identified early, and now I function relatively normally in the world of text. That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t have trouble reading in loud environments, read more slowly than most adults or struggle with writing from time to time. Sometimes, it does get me down.
However, I realize there are others who weren’t identified until their adult years, struggle with reading essential materials, and have difficulty writing even short notes. These are folks who have developed different ways of handling their more severe difficulties, and who may struggle more than I do with their day-to-day literary tasks.
I know I’m lucky to have had the opportunities I did, and I’m grateful for them. Does that mean my emotional/mental state is any less important than those who have not?
Not at all. I’m very conscious that there are many people less fortunate than I have been, but at the same time, I must address my problems before addressing anyone else’s. If I can’t function, there’s nothing I can do for those in more pressing situations.
It’s just like the emergency instructions you get for cabin depressurization whenever you fly. “Put your mask on before helping others with theirs.” On the surface, that might seem selfish, but when you go a tiny bit deeper, it’s obviously common sense. If you’re falling apart, there’s no way you can help other people stay in one piece.
Even when problems are temporary, such as the challenges of writing a paper, the feelings of the here and now are more important to the person in question than someone else’s problems.
I’d hope you wouldn’t tell someone suffering from a full fledged asthma attack to stop making such a big deal of it because there are people fighting cancer or emphysema. That attack is hopefully short term, but they still can’t breath properly. Their problem must be addressed, despite the fact others are facing longer term, perhaps more terminal, problems.
In the end, we’re each fully worthy of validation of our dilemmas. Yes, remain conscious of those who are in worse situations, but we must also deal with our own. By the same token, even if you think someone’s struggles are petty, they are still suffering, and their challenges at that moment must be addressed in a helpful way.