How to Overcome Comparative Suffering

July 21, 2022

What Is Comparative Suffering? 

Comparative suffering involves feeling the need to see our suffering in the light of other people’s pain. With this perspective, we tend to rank our suffering and use it to deny or permit ourselves to feel. 

With comparative suffering, we might say things like “I can’t be disappointed about my graduation being canceled when people are sick and dying” or “Why should I be tired and angry right now? I have a job, and many people don’t.” These thoughts paint our emotions, feelings, and ideas as less than others.

Why is Comparative Suffering Unhelpful? 

Emotions don’t go away just because we don’t see them as “valid enough” compared to other people’s suffering. Brene Brown’s podcast on the topic explains how this can be a dangerous thought process. When we deny the emotions we are experiencing, they can fester and grow. They can cause us to feel guilt or shame. We could start to feel ashamed for feeling upset, angry, scared, or frustrated when we are stuck on the idea that “other people have it so much worse than I do.” 

Allow yourself to feel.

It’s ok to feel your emotions – even those that are less than savory! Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is to let ourselves feel what we are feeling in the moment. Take time to think about why you feel the way you do, and process them in the best way for you.

Practice self-compassion 

We know it matters how we talk to others. Sometimes we forget that it’s equally important to treat ourselves with words of kindness and understanding. When we practice empathy, shame can no longer exist alongside it.

The power of “and” 

Instead of thinking to yourself “I am upset at this situation, *but* others have it so much worse.” Try to frame it with the context of *and*. For example, you could change your thought process to: “I feel upset at this situation *and* others have to worse too”. This subtle change stops pitting you against those who may have it worse than you and puts you together. You are all having difficult emotions during a hard time. And that’s ok! 

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