I ran into a young man this morning who has recently lost a friend in tragic circumstances. I had heard what had happened, so when I saw him I told him how very sorry I was. He looked incredibly sad and thanked me for my thoughts, but was quick to point out that he wasn’t the person who’d been most affected. There are people who were much closer to him, he told me. The idea being that he shouldn’t be given much sympathy or empathy because there were more deserving people. While it’s a lovely sentiment to remember that others are suffering just as much or more than us, it’s still important to allow ourselves to grieve.
It’s a very common strategy – to remind ourselves that others are worse off and sometimes it even makes us feel a little better. But it’s also healthy to have some temporary self-pity. It’s perfectly understandable if you are disappointed to have missed out on a promotion or upset that you didn’t succeed at an auction for your dream home. Your newly diagnosed illness may not be terminal, but it’s still okay to be distressed or even devastated before you learn to adjust to living with the symptoms. Couples who experience fertility issues after they have already had one child still struggle.
It’s even okay to complain a little about the small things that can upset or irritate us. Yes, we don’t want to sweat the small stuff, but a little sweating before we put things in perspective is perfectly normal.
It’s equally important not to enforce this way of thinking onto another person. It’s not terribly empathic to tell someone that there are others who are facing tougher times. Far better to validate their feelings by saying that you’re sorry to hear about whatever they’re going through.
We are incredibly resilient creatures. We are adjusting to life’s rocky road all the time. We just shouldn’t feel bad if we take a brief detour down an emotional path before rejoining the road to recovery.