Pain is fairly binary. While it’s true that some things can hurt more than others, even a relatively small setback at the wrong time can be devastating and painful. And honestly, as someone who suffered some fairly major setbacks as a young woman, I can tell you that there’s an upper limit to pain. I’ve found that you only feel so much. Your maximum is your maximum.
And then when things get even worse, you still feel that maximum. Or maybe you go numb.
In any event, the experience of pain is a lot less varied than the ways in which we can experience it.
Sometimes I’ve had people apologize to me as they’re opening up to me about something they struggled with, something that’s hurt them. “Well, it’s not as bad as what you went through as a teenager, but…”
And every time they do that, I want to tell them, “If it was bad, it was bad. It hurt you. Pain isn’t a contest.”
Sometimes I say something like that. Or, I’ll say, “I’m sure it was real and awful to you though.”
Because that’s true as well.
When Everyone’s Hurting, It’s Not a Contest
Right now, I see a lot of people grieving — for large things and small. For some, it’s the literal loss of life of people they care about. Some people are grieving their livelihoods. Some others are grieving economic stability. Still others are grieving fun times and experiences they were looking forward to.
And while it’s tempting to diminish people whose losses seem “smaller,” I would caution you against this. First of all, it’s not really helpful. I think it’s a temptation for many people — because we’re fighting an invisible enemy. One our brains aren’t really built to understand. So there’s a lot of fear, confusion, and frustration we don’t have a place for. And it’s far easier to displace those stresses onto other people. Especially if we see them as people who don’t have it as hard as we do.
But here’s the thing: Not only does it not really help at all, we don’t actually know what other people are going through right now. We’re not privy to everything that’s actually going on in their lives — not everyone broadcasts their every thought, their every fear, their every pain.
Lots of folks are suffering in silence, in darkness, battling fears that they barely want to speak aloud to themselves when they’re alone — let alone broadcast to the big wide world.
And beyond that, we have no idea what their pain feels like, their stress, their worry.
Anyway, I mean it. When everyone’s hurting, it’s not a contest.
And this is the first time in my life when I can say confidently that everyone’s hurting right now in one way or another.
Please stay safe and be as kind as you can be.