Regarding Suffering: Perspective Without Comparison

How does a person honor their own struggles and those of others without diminishing either?

This is a question I've been asking myself for quite sometime now.

Having a "medical" child, I have been exposed to the stories of other families and therefore I'm painfully aware that many of them are having a harder time than us. I have personally grieved for the passing of a sweet little boy who had a form of Leukemia he was never expected to beat. When I think of what his parents have gone through and are still going through, I often feel guilty that in comparison we have it so easy. And there are many more stories. Too many.

In fact I even felt guilty that Liam never lost his hair. As if somehow his battle was less legitimate than others. Oh, the strange thoughts of a parent.

On the other end of the spectrum I've had people say they didn't want to bother me with their problems because what I was dealing with was so much worse. That always bothered me. I know not everyone feels the way I do, but I didn't want to be blocked out of other peoples lives and be denied the opportunity to comfort as much as I was able. I didn't want them to compare their struggles with mine. And thus my conundrum.

After much thought, prayer, and some wise words from my fave Brene Brown. I think I've started figuring this out. I'll sum it up as perspective vs. comparison.

Let's start with comparison.

For the purposes of this post we will define comparison as putting the struggles of two people on a scale to determine who is suffering the most and thus who is more worthy of compassion.

Here's the problem with comparison. It actually inhibits healing. Perhaps you've heard the phrase, "comparison is the thief of joy"? It's also the thief of compassion and empathy, healing, resolution, etc.

For instance. I guarantee that there will always be other people who are going through something much worse than you. And it's great to be able to acknowledge that. But if in that acknowledgement we dismiss our own experience with struggle we can't work through it to find healing. Not effectively. If we push aside our own feelings they're never really going to go away. They just fester until they become something toxic.

I love this quote from Joanna Macy.

THE_It's when we resist a feeling that we're stuck with it. We're always stuck with what we don't let ourselves accept._ NEW YOU.png

Accepting our own suffering when we feel others are worse off does not make us selfish. We need to be compassionate with ourselves. To practice self-love and respond to our adversity in a way that will bring healing, build faith, and enable growth. Then we are more able to give compassion to others.

On the flip side. We can also fall into the trap of comparing the other way when we decide that our struggle is so much harder than what someone else is going through and "how dare they complain." In doing this we miss the opportunity to connect, to practice compassion and empathy for another person and take a step away from our trial for a moment. Those breaks are part of our own healing.

If we only give compassion to ourselves it becomes selfishness. We shrink into ourselves and become bitter, lonely, and a sad remnant of who we truly are. Compassion for others makes us more capable of being compassionate towards ourselves and vice versa. It's a beautiful, endless cycle.

Perspective on the other hand...

Merriam-Webster defines it as, "the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance". I'm not sure how else to word this.

Perspective can give us clarity. Yes, others may have harder struggles, but instead of experiencing guilt about it, I can be inspired to face mine as best I can. It can also help me see my struggles for what they really are, which may not be as bad as I thought. What I thought was a mountain, when I step back, may in fact be only a hill.

And if we seemingly have more trials than another - perspective allows us to use compassion instead of judgement. We can practice empathy because we know what it is to suffer. Also, in having perspective we can also recognize that we don't know the whole story for that individual. Who knows what is happening beneath the surface. We are likely only seeing part of their picture. Best not to make assumptions other than that they are doing the best they can in that moment with the tools they have.

Brene Brown sums it up so well in this quote from "Rising Strong".

And really that's all that should matter.

*Note: That being said, a little bit of common sense can go a long way. If you know someone is having a really hard time best not to dump your own sorrows on them without checking with them first to make sure it's okay. And empathy isn't saying, "I know exactly how you feel". You don't. But you can say, "I know what it's like to hurt and I'm here. I'm not going anywhere." Or something like that.

Posted on January 28, 2016 .