It’s been a while since I’ve written. Now that I’ve acknowledged that, let’s move forward. I’ve had this blog post in my brain for months and was waiting for the right time to assemble the words into a post.
We all go through…a lot. Recently, my home of NYC has seen tremors from an earthquake, faced the threat of a hurricane, 9/11 anniversary terror threats, and (of course) more. Not to mention, personally, some of my family and friends are experiencing difficult, painful, life events. I am sure that some of your friends and family are too. Maybe you know someone who is currently in a lot of physical or emotional pain. It’s possible that even you are, while reading this right now.
Years ago, in my training to become a certified rape crisis counselor in NYC hospital emergency rooms, I learned something that changed my life. It seems almost simple to me now, but at the time, I had never before even considered it. Here it is:
No one person’s pain is any larger or smaller than anyone else’s. You cannot compare your pain to someone else’s. If someone hurts, they hurt. It is not your job to tell them how much they should hurt, or for how long.
In counseling we were taught this so that we would never compare. To tell a scared, confused, recently assaulted patient something along the lines of, “Oh yea? Well, you should have seen my case last week. She was in much worse shape than you are” to make them “feel better” is really one of the worst things anyone can do. That might seem completely obvious, but you’d be surprised how very common it is to have that reaction, especially if you feel like you can relate to what someone is going through. We were taught not to minimize anyone else’s experience or try to make them see that other people have gone through “worse.” That information isn’t always true, first of all, because you don’t always know someone’s complete history. Something you might find trivial because of your life experience might seem like the literal “end of the world” to someone else. Secondly, we all experience and process things differently. I can’t measure or predict how badly you might feel when you believe your world is falling apart. I can, however, sympathize.
This idea really changed my life. I stopped my very human reaction to convince someone they would be ok, or that things aren’t nearly as bad as they feel they are. I stopped telling stories about how things could be much worse. I’m not always perfect in this, but I think it has strengthened a lot of my relationships and it certainly was a vital thing to remember in the ER in the middle of the night.
Personally, I find the level of tolerance my family and friends have for pain and emergencies to be remarkably high. But that is just my opinion. I feel like I know a lot of strong individuals, whether they realize it or not. You might feel this way about the people in your life, or not. We’ve all thought once or twice that someone needed to “buck up” or “pull it together.” That’s ok, too. It’s so easy to want everyone to see that things will eventually be ok, when you really believe they will. Everybody hurts, right? Right. Just sometimes, in very different ways.
Thoughts? Leave ’em below.