Four Reasons Why You Should Never Compare Your Pain With Others'

When something awful happens in our lives, oftentimes, we say, “At least I don’t have it as bad as INSERT SOMEONE’S NAME” (neighbor, friend, or even a person in a far off country that you don’t know). Comparing your pain with someone else’s is something that happens a lot!

Today I listened to a podcast and I was really feeling a connection to the person being interviewed as she talked about her feelings of loneliness. She then began sharing about her childhood and that she had an abusive father. Immediately, I thought, oh, there’s no way that I could connect with her or relate because my loneliness was nothing like hers. She had a reason to be shut off from the world. She had horrible life circumstances.

Then I remembered what I had learned many years ago. There is no competition for who had the worst life experiences. And, that I can’t compare my own painful experiences to another person’s situation.

There is no competition for who had the worst life experiences.

So many times, we say, “I couldn’t imagine,” when we hear about a tragedy, disaster, or horrible situation. It’s true…we don’t know how it would feel if we haven’t experienced it. But we also don’t know how someone else would feel or handle it either. A wide range of things come into play when it comes to how we react to or feel about something.

But, doesn’t it seem obvious that some things are just more horrible and a person who has that horrible experience has the right to feel worse than one who experiences something less awful?

Actually, no.

Let’s break that down and talk about why that’s not the case.

We’re all different
First of all, people are different. I recently saw a quote that said, “Everything is relative and all feelings are relevant.”

Two people who have the exact same experiences would feel differently about the experience. Let alone the fact that we all have different DNA, we also have different pasts/baggage, live in different homes, are from different areas of the world, have different cultures, and live by different norms.

This is the most basic reason why we should never compare our pain with someone else’s. We cannot be a judge or determine the feelings that someone “should” have based on the experience, no matter how horrific. Even having all the facts of the situation does not allow for that kind of judgment.

If twins growing up together feel things differently, then it would make sense that people who are not related, don’t live in the same area of the world, and have nothing in common would never feel the same even about a tragic life event.

We all have different experiences
The circumstances surrounding the situation is another reason we cannot compare our pain to another’s. Even something that happened the day before could affect how someone experiences a difficult situation, how sad one feels about a loss, or how much stress is felt when another ball is dropped.

Sometimes, the smallest thing can push us over the edge. Depending on other things that have been “piling up,” our current mental or emotional state of mind, or even our physical state, it might not be possible to just “deal with it.” We can say, “it’s not that bad, it will be ok,” but in many cases, it is that bad and it will take a lot of time and effort for things to be – or feel – “ok.”

Consider a person who lives with chronic pain and has to use all of their energy to complete day-to-day functions. Then, one day she loses her job. This could “be the last straw” or “throw her over the edge.”

But, another person, who is physically healthy, loses that same job and celebrates the fact that new experiences await. Or maybe the second individual found out the previous day that her car couldn’t be repaired and she would have to buy a new one. The stress of losing her job could then be 1000 times worse. “Could be” is the optimal phrase here – it just all depends….on the person, the surrounding circumstances, or what happened the day or even a year before.

Whatever it is, there is no way to reasonably compare one person’s pain with another’s.


don't compare your pain with others

We all need validation
The third reason that we can’t compare pain is that every person deserves to have his or her feelings validated. If you are like me, you may think others’ circumstances are much worse than yours.

People think they don’t have the right to feel bad because their own situation isn’t as bad as someone else’s. However, another person’s pain does not invalidate your own feelings. It is true, things can always be worse, but that doesn’t mean what is happening now isn’t bad or doesn’t hurt or, most importantly, that you shouldn’t feel your emotions.

Consider this  – you would never compare a mother who lost a child with a person living in poverty and unable to feed her hungry children. They are both devastating experiences. I would never say to the mother who couldn’t feed her child – well at least your child is alive. It could be worse.

Comparing bad situations is commonplace, even for those small life irritants. You come to work in the morning and say, “Ugh, I was behind a huge truck driving 20 miles an hour the whole way.” And your co-worker says, “Well, at least you weren’t stuck on that bridge for 20 minutes like I was yesterday.” The person may be trying to help by being empathetic or reminding you that your situation wasn’t that bad, but what you really needed was just some validation of your frustrations and to hear “wow, that really sucks.”

If you say that you don’t have a right to feel badly, what you are actually doing is telling yourself is that your pain isn’t really that big of a deal. You don’t have the right to your feelings. This is a form of negative self talk. You are in fact putting yourself down – by basically saying, at least I don’t have it as bad as INSERT NAME HERE.

We all deserve help
And, finally, one big reason to not compare your pain to someone else’s is because you may need help and minimizing your pain can lead to the “I can handle this myself” mindset. It’s so important to be sure that you’re getting any help that you may need to get you through – whether it’s counseling, medication, a support group, life coaching, etc. If you don’t acknowledge your feelings or your right to feel pain, you probably won’t seek out any help or you might brush off any help that may be offered.

I’ve compared my situation to others many many times. When I was depressed, I didn’t allow myself to believe that I actually suffered from mental illness. I wasn’t suicidal or staying in bed for days. Responsibilities were handled – I got up and went to work and took care of my children. I told myself that I was just just lazy and unmotivated. (Still, as I write this, I think back and wonder if I was really experiencing depression or not…and get a little anxious about saying that I have a mental health condition.)

Comparing one’s pain with another’s can lead to shoving the feelings away or stuffing them down (avoiding the inevitable) and not addressing important issues. Comparing oneself to others in regards to difficulties can result in more pain/stress/difficulties, if help is not pursued or accepted.

I didn’t even consider going to the doctor for antidepressant medication. The only reason I eventually did go was that a major life event (separating from my husband) lead me to think that maybe I did need some help getting through the situation. Someone at the time suggested I see a doctor, or I probably wouldn’t have even considered it. If I hadn’t gone to the doctor and been given an antidepressant, I wouldn’t have received the referral for counseling. I wouldn’t have gotten the help I truly needed.

Minimizing your pain is not a form of gratitude
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you shouldn’t be grateful or have gratitude for what you have in life. Even so-called obstacles that lead to painful feelings can be considered advantageous, because they are opportunities to learn. What I am saying is that one obstacle cannot be compared with another because all people are different and all situations are different for each person. 

Although it may seem like it makes you feel better and that you’re showing gratitude by saying, “at least I don’t have it that bad,” what you’re actually doing is not permitting yourself to feel your feelings.

Comparing oneself with others is human nature; we all do it. But remember, pain is not a competition. Your feelings are yours. You’re allowed to have your feelings, whatever they may be. There is no right or wrong way to feel about something that happens in your life.

So, what are your feelings about this post? Can you think of an example of this in your life? Take a moment to share in the comments below so that we can learn from and support one another while we awaken to new pursuits!


This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Vanessa

    This is so true. Alot of times, we forget this stuff when we are deep in our own stuff, but this is a good reminder that comparison is not the answer. Good Job!

    1. Lisa

      Thanks so much for reading and for your feedback, Vanessa!!!

  2. Kazaki

    Thank you so much for posts like these. I live in the Philippines where everyone is always judging you and comparing you to your relatives and other “stronger” and “luckier” people, and those who “suffered more” (e.g. minimum wage earners vs. us middle-class). I hope that someday, this ideology reaches our country (and others who suffer from guilt-tripping people) so that there would be less likelihood of experiencing anxiety/depression that we have to forcibly hide from parents, schoolmates, and co-workers.

    1. Lisa

      Oh, thank you for your comment! I too hope that ideas like this are more widely accepted in your country. It’s so important for everyone’s wellbeing.

  3. Amanda

    WOW! I literally just told my boss today that I don’t feel I deserve to be burned out because I am lucky to have such a great job. I promised her I would look deeper into why I feel that way and Lisa, you nailed it. I’ve also said that I have to stay strong because if I were to get depressed, I wouldn’t be able to dig myself out of it – so I have to stay on top of it. I don’t allow myself to feel anything which is why I do get a little teary at times. I am very humble but I also know now that I need to allow myself to feel pain. I will never use the words “at least you …” ever again.

    1. Lisa

      Oh Amanda, I’m so glad you left this comment on my post. It was so honest and I feel like it can help others and validate their feelings as well. I love that this post gave you some additional insights into your own situation too.

  4. Erna

    My sister is used to comparing her pain to mine even though we both have experienced different things and she doesn’t take me as serious as she should. To her my problems look minor which is why she kinda seems toxic to me. My mom does that too. I thought that openly admitting that you suffer from suicidal thoughts and all that kinda stuff would change their mindset but it didn’t, it made it worse. One of my greatest friends is an old school teacher of mine. She’s there for me when I need her, she’s never judged me for my problems and for how I feel, even helped me look for help, wants me to call her when I’m feeling down and talk to her whenever I have these dark thoughts. She herself has struggled throughout life and let me tell you, having a friend who is quite a few decades older than you is the best thing ever BECAUSE they’re wise.

  5. Georgina

    Thanks for this article, Lisa. Very helpful.

  6. Joy

    My granddaughter referred me to this page. I am a comparer and would always compare myself lucky to those i cosidered in worst situations. Think i need to read your article a few more times to truly understand the message.

    1. Lisa

      Thank you for stopping by and reading. I hope the post provided some food for thought (and more if you read again). 😉

Leave a Reply