Can we please stop invalidating our own pain because someone else may “have it worse?”
Recently, I had to make the heartbreaking decision to put my beautiful dog to sleep—she had brain cancer.
It was incredibly quick and didn’t leave much room to process the change from having an energetic lively girl to one who could barely walk and had lost vital body functions. In fact, there was only a day and a half in time from her diagnosis until her death.
She had been a vital part of my family for 11 years and has been with me for some of the most tumultuous years of my life, offering constant unconditional love and support.
In the aftermath of losing her, my heart was broken. There was empty space in my heart and our home felt more like a house than a home.
Even while grieving, I was apologizing for feeling the pain, as if somehow I wasn’t entitled to feel such grief. Others had it worse: they had lost children, family members, or had a terminal illness.
I questioned my right to feel this level of pain in my heart from losing her. I found myself justifying my pain.
A lifetime ago, at 16, we lost my uncle. It was a long and painful process, and we were a close family. In the aftermath of his death, a relative told me I had no right to be so sad because he was only my uncle. My mother was allowed to be sad as she had lost a brother.
Those few sentences stuck with me and I have questioned the validity of my pain thereafter.
It is a common phrase that other people have it worse, and there is always someone worse off than you. We utter it to ourselves when we are going through hard times, in a bizarre attempt to make the pain seem less.
When I almost lost my children and my heart felt as if it were torn in two, I questioned how distraught I was allowed to be when they were still alive and others had lost their children in similar situations. I told myself I should be only feeling gratitude.
I invalidated my own pain, downplayed it for others when I shared the experiences I’ve lived through because others have it worse and what right do I have to be sad.
I have every right to feel however I feel, to whatever depth I need to feel it at.
I am learning that our pain is relative and there is no threshold on the severity of events that allows you to feel pain. It is all justified, it is all pain, and it is ours. No one can say how deeply certain things will affect us.
By drawing comparisons between others’ pain and our own, we are invalidating our emotions. There should be no comparison in pain.
Our emotions are ours alone. We all have different breaking points, and that shouldn’t reduce our authenticity.
When we hold space for ourselves and others to feel into their sadness, grief, or anguish, we allow them the chance to heal. When we invalidate their feelings, we get in the way of the natural process of healing. We ignore our pain and it begins to compound over time and becomes stored trauma.
We owe it to ourselves and others to hold space without judgment or comparison in moments of pain.
If we allow ourselves to feel emotions fully without labeling, judging, or comparing, our bodies have a chance to process the pain instead of shoving it into the depths of our psyches.