The Misery Olympics: Why It’s OK to Struggle Even if Your Problems Aren’t That “Bad”
By: Suma Hiremath, Clinician
It’s a commonly heard phrase when conversing with a friend, at work, or even in a therapy session…“not that this is anything like what you are going through” or “I know others have it worse, but...” We are living in an extraordinary time, where societal limits are being tested daily and everything feels surreal. Mental health difficulties, social isolation, and increasingly apparent income and socioeconomic disparity have surged.
Positivity isn’t all bad…recognizing and understanding privilege and being able to put struggles into perspective can help foster positive thinking and promote gratitude. This can help to promote a more positive worldview and encourage the development of positive patterns of thinking. The brain is a muscle and can be, “worked out” much like any other muscle in the body. It is because of this that negative patterns of thought and maladaptive behaviors can be pervasive and take a considerable amount of time to unlearn. However, when it comes to processing our own struggles, emotional qualifiers can often do more harm than good.
Think about the last time you had a conversation with someone, you disclosed that you were struggling with something, and were gas lighted or dismissed. Maybe the individual said something along the lines of, “back in my day, our struggles were tenfold.” Or, “people elsewhere have it much worse.” How did this make you feel? Likely invalidated or embarrassed? There also seems to be a social trend of romanticizing struggling and shaming people for empathy, sensitivity, and expression of emotion. For example, there were recent debates regarding student loan forgiveness and how alleviating the debt of millions of students would somehow be unfair to those who had already paid their loans off.
Although not all adversity is equal, it is important to not constantly compare your negative experiences to others’ negative experiences. It is important to allow yourself emotional space, particularly with negative emotions. This is a crucial step in being able to effectively process adversity in a healthy and productive way. In other words, although it is ok to feel grateful that you are still employed and able to provide for your family, it is also ok to feel lonely, isolated, or trapped in your home. Although it is ok to recognize your privilege in having a healthy family and children, it is also ok to feel overextended and in dire need of a break. No single struggle invalidates another, particularly in these unprecedented times. Make your emotional and mental health a priority and begin by allowing yourself grace and validation for your struggles, whatever they may be.
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