When People Say Someone Else 'Has It Worse'

There were so many days, both while I searched for my diagnosis and after all three of my surgeries, when if I shared that my hips were hurting I was met with responses like, “Well, at least you don’t have cancer,” or “So-and-so has it worse.” I can’t count the number of times I have been told things like this; I still often get this response.

I do understand that there are millions of people in this world, and at any time someone else is guaranteed to be in a situation that is much worse than mine. There are unfathomable injustices occurring in our world. I also understand the reasoning of those who are trying to offer compassion in this way. They’re trying to offer sympathy, however misguided. They’re trying to remind me that I should be grateful I am only in the situation that I am, and not something drastically worse.

I get it, and yet, it’s not helpful. In fact, it makes me feel drastically worse. I hear it and then I hear in my head, “They’re tired of you complaining, your situation isn’t that bad,” or “Shut up and stop whining.” I feel foolish and attention-seeking and invalidated. I am taught repeatedly in these moments that I should stay quiet; I should keep my pain to myself because so many have it worse. Who am I to think I have the right to complain? I took that lesson and ran wild with it.

Over the years the number of people that I shared my true experience with dwindled. Many know the basics of my story. Most people I interact with regularly know I’ve had three surgeries and they often know I still experience pain. But few know the full extent of my experience, and few hear when I have an intense pain day. Few know the full story of how my pain led to an eating disorder, struggles with self-harm, and a variety of stints in treatment.

Because of those experiences in which society taught me to be quiet, to turn inward, few people know the full extent to which struggling with my chronic pain and injuries has plagued and almost taken my life. The number of people who know I tend to self-destruct when my body and pain fight back, when everything else in my life seems to be going perfectly? A small group. The number of people I turn to when I can barely manage to sit at my desk at work all day, when I want to break down crying because I can’t remember what not being in pain is like, or when I don’t make it out of bed on the weekend because the week took its toll on me? I can count those people on one hand.

This is not the way I want to live my life anymore. I’ve learned over the last few years that to truly accept my pain, I cannot let others responses to it dictate my experience. I’ve learned that staying quiet isn’t the answer.  Opening-up and sharing your story and pain is one of the most healing experiences you can have.

The most cathartic thing I have done is share my life story to a group of people while I was in treatment for my eating disorder — people I knew would not invalidate my experience. I am forever grateful for those who have listened to my story and validated it instead of telling me who has it worse.

So, the next time someone tells you they are in pain, whether physical or emotional, here are some suggestions of what to stay instead of comparing their pain to others:

  • That sounds incredibly difficult.
  • I am sorry you have experienced that.
  • I am not sure exactly how to respond, but that sucks.
  • Is there any way I can help?
  • Do you want a hug?
  • You can always talk to me when you need to.

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