“There’s no hierarchy of pain. Suffering should not be ranked, because pain is not a contest. …by diminishing my problems, I was judging myself and everyone else whose problems I had placed lower down on the hierarchy of pain. You can’t get through your pain by diminishing it.”Lori Gottlieb “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone”
Great quote and thought-provoking indeed. It elicited the following thoughts and questions. Somebody always has it worse and someone else will always have it better. It is not about somebody or someone else it is about you. It is about how you are affected by your life. Does your life serve you? Despite the past are you moving beyond what “was” to what “is”? Is this really about validation? Is it only “real” if someone else acknowledges how bad, how good, or how unremarkable “it” is?
Your normal is all you know and is your baseline for all definitions. My pain is my pain and better not defined as a comparison of yours. So often we diminish what we are going through because someone else has it worse. However, that we are acknowledging that someone else has it worse is again only defined by our own baseline, and in reality not real.
I have had to explore this concept in my life as I attempted to “fix” my own concept of normal, pain, and pleasure. This is the foundation of self-care. There are so many people that do not care for themselves and do not put the work in because they blow it off through the ideal that somebody else always has it worse or that their experience is less than another’s. Ultimately your experience is the only one that matters and diminishing it, pain or pleasure takes something away from you. It robs you of the full experience. I think about this in terms of both sides; perspective is my drug. Come along with me while I go down in “it” for a moment!
Let’s start with pleasure as it is less “one-upped” than pain. It is simply not as often that someone will take away your pleasure through their own grander experience as it does not serve them to be a braggart as easily as it does to be the victim.
My experiences are not worldly as I have never traveled outside of this country. While I do not know the pleasure of seeing the Louvre or sailing on the Mediterranean, I do know the absolute elation of sitting in front of the ocean, 40 miles outside my door, smelling the salty air, hearing the crashing waves and feeling that all is right with the world. While I have never known the pleasure of owning a million-dollar mansion I know what it feels like to have owned a modest home in the middle of the woods that I have created and adore and respect for all of the things it gives to me. This is a pleasure as I define it and can never be made less for those things that I only know, as better, because of someone else’s “one-up”.
Tough as it is to swallow there is indeed someone that always has it worse than you. For the ultimate “worse” is death; or is it? (That is a topic for another blog.) Pain, physically and mentally, seems to be the ultimate test of one-upmanship. I think it can best be told as recited by my husband’s story during a recent “man-trip” with his friends and one “friend of a friend” that was invited to come along that unbeknownst to them was a “one-upper”. After a long day of driving my husband had remarked that his back was hurting and lamented that it was because of previously breaking his back from earlier-in-life “race-day’ injuries. While my husband was in no way attempting to elicit a response other than to lament on his own pain the “one-upper” immediately spoke up and said, “Well, I died!” …to which my husband laughed as if thinking this guy was trying to be funny. He wasn’t. He proceeded to bring photos out of him near-death with tubes running from him. An intensely dramatic response to someone’s simple lament of a backache. While this example is laughable the reality of physical or mental pain is not humorous at all and only made worse by the denial of treatment because you are diminishing your pain as not being as bad as another. Better said a “suck it up” approach. I attempted this approach for many years of my life and finally realized that sucking it up had gotten me to nearly 300 pounds. It was in finally reaching for both the mental and physical help that I needed that I would resolve this pain and live the life I was meant to live all along. Regardless of how bad someone else I knew had it. In truth, it was the idea that I did not have it “as bad” as others or had faired better that I allowed “it” to go on for so many years.
I would be remiss to not include the one area of my life that has been affected by all of the one-ups that life has to offer. I have not struggled with pain or pleasure by my definition or yours; the defining moments of my life have always felt diminished by the “norm”. This is truly where growing older has been my therapy. I spent so much of my 20’s and 30’s feeling less-than all of those around me that had gone “off” to college and would speak of the tales of those college days. My college experience was much less about “tales” and far more about “torment”. I would work full-time, raise a child, and study in between it all to earn my education. I would hold back on reciting my alma mater as it would not be as revered as the Ivy League colleges that many of my colleagues had the benefit of attending. The greatest tale of this blog is that somewhere in my 40’s I realized…”Wait…I am sitting in the same boardroom, with the same or better title than “them”. Could it be that my small college education ended me in the same exact place without the sorority stories, without the tales from the dorms and ultimately without the expense of a fancy education? YES!!! It did! It was in this revelation and many more that I would realize that my life experiences were not “less than” and instead come to acknowledge that they were richer, they were grander and they ultimately were unlike anything you could pay for in therapy, education or experience.
I was thrust into this world diminished on the surface but defined on the inside. I would never be a product of my environment. I would never be diminished by the trailer I grew up in, the status of my parent’s dysfunctional relationship, or my teenage choices. I would, however, be defined by all of them proving to myself and anyone that cared to take notice that I was going to be greater because of it, not despite it. These are not one-up stories you tell to the masses, they are pulled out like the gems they are to lift others up that have “assumed” that you and your current state are “more than” theirs. It is in these moments that I revel in the story of “one-undering” someone by motivating them with the idea that “If I can do it you CAN too!” It is the ultimate opposite of “one-upping”.
I have to respect where I am at any moment in time and that means that I acknowledge my pain and my pleasure equally as I define it, I no longer diminish it. I am empathetic by nature and will always listen to others’ stories of worse or better however I will always keep in check that their journey is not mine and my journey is the one I am here to live and define as worth living. I know pain, I know the pleasure it is not learned or defined by any other standard than my own. Own it…I do.
Life as I define it – L.