“But so many people have it worse than me, my problems aren’t that important”— is a line that I hear VERY often as a therapist.
I will often stop my clients in their tracks when they say this. I will often say “Stop. Your problems are yours- you are allowed to feel however you are feeling. You don’t need to compare to others.”
But I get it. I have said this before about my own problems. I have felt like ‘I don’t deserve to be struggling or to be upset’ because of all of the good things that I do have going in my life. I have felt that I am not allowed to process my negative emotions.
And I think this is because somewhere along the way, many of us have been told:
“Be grateful for what you have, don’t complain, focus on the positive.”
And it’s not terrible advice. It’s completely well-intentioned. However, it can also be harmful.
Hear me out.
When we tell someone who is struggling with something to “be grateful for their problems,” we are essentially telling them that they are not allowed to feel the way that they are feeling. We are sending the message that they shouldn’t pay mind to those negative emotions.
What’s wrong with that? You might ask.
The problem with this is that when people aren’t allowed to feel what they are feeling, they :
You get the picture, right?
The emotions don’t go anywhere. They are still there. In fact, they grow larger, get buried deeper, and lead to all sorts of unhealthy coping mechanisms.
A lot of times are parents are well-intentioned in helping us to focus on the positive and be grateful. And don’t get me wrong, I am a big believer in gratitude. Research shows that gratitude can be a powerful action that leads to well-being and happiness.
But it shouldn’t replace what I refer to as “feeling your feelings”. Gratitude is a beautiful thing. But only when it is practiced alongside honesty and a healthy expression of emotions.
All problems are subjective to the individual. I know this is a controversial statement because many of you may be thinking “some people straight up have it worse than others.”
And I understand that. There is truth to that. Some people have to worry about how they are going to get their next meal, or how they are going to pay for medical expenses, or how they are going to stay safe today.
This is 100% true. In no way do I want to take away from anyone’s very real problems.
But also, are we helping anyone by dismissing our own feelings? Do those individuals struggling somehow benefit from our self-righteousness?
No. No one benefits from us minimizing our own feelings and emotions. No one. This false belief comes from a misconception of scarcity. We believe there is only enough validation for some people, but not all.
Not true. There is an abundance of it.
So, stop comparing your problems to other people’s.
Your struggles/joys/challenges are YOURS alone. No one knows what it is like to walk in your shoes.
You are allowed to feel however you are feeling. It doesn’t matter how many amazing things you have going in your life. You are still allowed to be sad, disappointed, depressed, anxious, etc.
So, next time someone comes to you with a feeling— be brave and let them feel it. Don’t try to dismiss it, minimize it, rationalize it, etc.
And next time you have a feeling, give yourself permission to feel it.