Other People Have It Worse

“and to keep me humble there was given to me a thorn in the flesh”   The Bible

I’m no prophet, I think we can all agree on that. I’m not even convinced that I was “given” anything, it’s just that the verse works well with where we are headed. That’s all. No one is claiming to be Tom Cruise here.

For many of us, myself included, there are one or two things that have a tendency to hold us back from having a full life. I have a buggered knee that constantly reminds me that I am not allowed to run anymore. Or do martial arts anymore. I do it anyway and I pay. Frustrating, but really only a nuisance if I keep my head around it. Many, many people have it worse, we tell ourselves.

That particular coping mechanism, “many have it worse”, is a two-edged sword, actually. It is certainly accurate, in the logistical sense of the verbiage, many indeed have it worse. Stop complaining about little things. Appreciate what you have. Do it anyways. All those cheesy statements that we all use to get things done and keep moving forward. There is value in remembering the blessings, as they are dubbed. This is a very important psychological tool.

Occasionally, those coping mechanisms which have worked for so long have, in truth, exacted their own little emotional revenge. This is one of those statements. Humility and appreciation are foundational to good mental health. The problem is, and you probably know where I am headed, this statement can also be a reminder of how pathetic I have become. Quit feeling sorry for yourself. What I tell myself is that my particular problem is petty. It is not important, really, and I need to ignore it because I am being selfish. That’s a hard pill to swallow.

It is easy to diminish our own issues. We convince ourselves that to take time away from the many people who count on us, in order to work on our own issues or grieve or pray or cry or sleep, is selfish. Self care is selfish, although we don’t say it like that. We are too busy, too stressed, too involved and around too many whiny problems to really have time or emotional energy to go for a walk in the woods. Who has energy to walk?

In psychology we call this a cognitive distortion. Many who read this blog have come across this phrase before. Learning about cognitive distortions is probably one of the most important things you can do when seeking to become a real person. We are surrounded and obsessed with our distorted ways of thinking about life. This is not an occasional detour, every one of us uses cognitive distortions literally every day. Catastrophizing, All or Nothing Thinking, Emotional Reasoning, Should Statements, Over Generalizing, Filtering, Fairness, Blaming, the list goes on. I do this stuff all the time.

Here’s another one, a more personalized one: Other people have it worse. This may, in point of fact, be technically true, but it only tells part of the story. Contemporary journalism often does this, pulling out the letter of the law but completely missing the spirit, the story, the truth. Knowing other people have worse problems doesn’t always help me emotionally manage my grief and pain. I need to come to grips with the enormity of the issue, not diminish my own mental health issues.

This stuff is important – for me – and that is not selfishness, quite the contrary. No one knows what I am going through but me. No one understands my part of the picture. No one knows how I am really handling this life, no one but me. I must realize that there is no merit in blaming my relatives, that eventually becomes a cognitive distortion and keeps me from being honest with myself. There is no value in bitterness; I am the one eventually consumed. Damning my ex to hell may feel good for a moment, but it can affect my emotional wellbeing for a lifetime. That kind of stuff affects my grandchildren, it becomes generational. While we may be obviously linked genetically to those who came before us, their attitudes and cornucopia of craziness can be passed down as well. I simply cannot allow that to happen, if I am able.

So I have learned from people smarter than me that “other people have it worse” doesn’t always help because I am not other people. I am condemned or blessed with this one life and at the end of the day I’m not really responsible for your stuff. I need to figure out how to heal my stuff and hopefully some of that will bubble over into your life, and yours to mine. The dog didn’t eat my paper and I wasn’t holding it for a friend – this is my life and it doesn’t matter if other people have it worse.

Weird, it still feels arrogant writing that. They have programmed us very deep.

6 thoughts on “Other People Have It Worse

  1. You hit the nail on the head and punched it through with one deft blow. Good job. Yes … “Other people have it worse.” I have been telling myself (and everyone else) this for about 5 years. I’m the Ever Grateful, the Look on the Bright Side, gal. But … At 50 I came out of a long, and bad, marriage, with confidence that I could start over and truly have a good life. Now I find myself asking “Hell, what is a ‘good’ life, anyway?” Other people have it worse, after all. Yep, it was tougher out here than I thought it would be. I fall through all the cracks for receiving any kind of help that would give any relief, financially, yet working 8-5, 5 days a week at a very hectic job that ten years ago would have paidy the bills, and then some, is not getting me anywhere (literally, in some things, like not only can I have a vacation, but I can’t afford gas to even leave town). I just get more burned out and watch my savings drip down the drain, just to survive. Every day I tell myself others have it worse, but deep down I want to cover my own ears to those words because, well, I’m the only one living my life and it’s tough and I want it to be better, and I can’t help anyone else live a better life until I can live a better life myself.

  2. Exactly the good old “it’s not so bad (or count your blessings) other people have it way worse than you” which is basically saying you aren’t allowed, entitled, etc to feel the way you feel. Dang it if I am feeling craptastic about something and want to wallow in a deep blue funk about for a day or 2 that’s my choice, and sometimes a good deep blue funk helps me gather perspective. Not a place I would ever want to live, but I do visit every once in awhile. I think it’s part of the healing process.

    How come no-one ever says to people when they’re happy “hey what are you so happy about, you know other people have it so much better than you”? Sounds ridiculous but it’s essentially the same thing.

    1. As I read your comment I thought about the art of bragging. At least in my part of the globe, bragging is highly shied upon and is considered arrogant. We are taught to be self-depricating, not self-promoting. Sometimes bragging is an incredibly healthy exercise but we have been trained to be shamed.

      1. I hear you. I suck at self promotion. I actually just blew a job interview for a job I really wanted because I wasn’t prepared for the 20 minute self promotion session I found myself in. By the way I too am Canadian.

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