Blog Archive

Find Me on Facebook

Monday, May 23, 2011

Some people have it worse than I

One of the things that perennially bugs me is the propensity of some people to make light of others' problems by way of comparison - a sort of particularly harsh version of "suck it up sunshine".

There is nothing worse than reaching out for the support of a friend when you are struggling and being told to shush be grateful for what you do have.

At times like those, I'm reminded of the lyrics by the eternally witty Tim Minchin in Some People Have It Worse Than Me:

My life is pretty shit
But I know I shouldn’t whinge about it
I could be a Palestinian
Driving buses on the Gaza strip

Yeah how bad can it be?
Some people have it worse than me
I could be a child prostitute
Or Gary Glitter’s family
The problem with these kinds of ridiculous comparisons is, of course, that they're both entirely unrealistic, and have no bearing on your actual situation.  Being told that your situation is "nothing, because my friend's daughter's cousin got a wing nut stuck in her nose last night and needed surgery and she may never smell properly again" is utterly unhelpful.  Of course, most thinking people are aware that there is always someone out there worse off than them.  Usually they could even name several that they personally know who are battling issues bigger than theirs, so imparting such an anecdote really only serves to make your distressed friend feel even more guilty and stupid for being upset than they already did.  Being reminded that someone else is worse off generally does little to help someone take constructive action about their own situation - even when the only appropriate or available action is re-framing their mental view of the situation.

Of course, it does help sometimes to be gently given a dose of perspective about one's own issues, however offering a "re-frame and look at the bigger picture" perspective needs to be done with tact and an acknowledgement that every individual's distress is real and genuine to them.  I'm not, of course, suggesting that endless sympathy without a call to action is appropriate either.  But true support begins with genuine empathy - an acknowledgement and understanding of another's pain, that it is real and that they are struggling...and that you care.  Only then can you move into how you can help them to work out an appropriate pathway to handle things.

Doing this abruptly and dismissively is generally unproductive unless your intention is to say "I really don't value your friendship one iota and would rather that you not ask me for support ever, ever again."  In which case, it's probably the least circuitous route to your goal, so knock yourself (and your former friend's meager amount of remaining sanity) out.

We are all individuals with our own capacity for stress tolerance and our own set of coping skills, and pointing out another's greater capacity to handle life, merely diminishes our faith in our own.

No comments:

Post a Comment