I’ve observed through my many hospital stays that people tend to compare their abuse against what others have experienced and then rate their hurt and pain on an imaginary scale. Then they decide how much hurt they should be experiencing in relation to others. Some come to think they shouldn’t be making such a “big deal” about their hurt; others look at their pain and wonder what others are complaining about, because clearly they haven’t suffered as much as they have. To illustrate the futility of this behavior, think about your last trip to the doctor or emergency room. One of the questions frequently asked is, “How would you rate your pain on a scale from one to 10?” Never do they ask, “And how do you think your pain compares to the person in the next room?” It would be ludicrous, and yet we do it with emotional pain all the time.
This continual evaluating of your pain against another’s can become a serious distraction from recovery. When you minimize your pain, you don’t give your best effort at feeling and working through it. You devalue it, thereby derailing your recovery. You begin to wonder why, if your pain was so “minor” compared to others’, you feel so devastated. You wonder why your life is in the pits and you’re feeling so out of control.
Those who compare trauma to prove their trauma is worse, do so, I believe, because their feelings are so big, so overwhelming that they think they MUST have had the worst trauma ever. Otherwise there is no justification in their world for their dramatic emotions. They feel they have to prove why their feelings are so intense.
There’s also a phenomenon among people in group therapy settings that cause some people to play the “one-up” game. You know, someone tells her story, giving some details. The following day someone else speaks up to tell his story, and it’s just a bit “worse.” And so it goes until the stories have eroded into bizarre fantasy. These people are not bad or trying to minimize the pain of others no matter how it may seem. It’s simply their way of justifying the depth of their feelings.
What’s important to understand is that in some important ways, your story doesn’t matter. If what happened to you was bad enough to cause you pain, then it was bad. And that’s all that matters. You hurt. You need healing, just like I do. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t share my story in the blog, because it really doesn’t matter. I was wounded, and I had to work through healing, just like you.
I have discovered that pain is pain. You can’t compare it. If you hurt, you hurt. It doesn’t help to hear that someone else hurts worse. Or do they? How does anyone know? And why would it matter anyway. Pain is pain. If you’re hurting, you’re hurting. And that’s what you deal with.
That’s what you have to deal with in recovery. Just focus on what’s causing you pain. Minimizing your pain, because you think someone else had it worse or inflating your trauma to justify your feelings, does nothing but delay your healing. Your focus must be on yourself, your pain and your problems. This is one time when your attention needs to be on yourself for the purpose of healing. What others do in their journey to recovery has no bearing on you or your recovery.
I understand that you may have a family that needs and deserves your time and attention, and you don’t want to neglect them in favor of focusing exclusively on yourself. It does mean, however, that you take some time for yourself when you shut everything else out and care for yourself. Just remember to deal with your own pain and let others deal with theirs. You can have compassion for them, but keep your boundaries in place as you deal with your burdens and move toward healing.