Struggles and Sadness are Not a Comparison Game

sadness isn't a comparison game

I was recently struck by a status that I read on Facebook that I saw only because it was commented on by an acquaintance whom I am friends with there.  I was saddened for the person who wrote the status, but it also brought to mind something that has often perplexed me.

You see, this person (the friend of a friend) wanted to share her sadness over the death of a dear friend.  And, because grief is such a strong emotion, I am going to guess that she didn’t exactly mean her status to come out as it did.  In it (and I’m just going with the gist of it), she told all of her Facebook friends that she didn’t want to hear them complain about anything because all of their problems were minor compared to the loss of this woman who was married and had young children.

Now, before you think that I’m dismissing that, I’m not.  That is heartbreaking.  I can’t imagine that kind of loss.  In fact, there are times when I can’t help myself but worry about what would happen if my family were in that situation.  How would it be for my kids to grow up without their mother?  Would Eric close himself off to the idea of loving again and be lonely or would he know that I wouldn’t want that for him?  Yes, it’s a horrible thought.  So, please know that I’m not making light of it.

Here’s the thing though, struggles and sadness aren’t a comparison game.  Just because one person is dealing with a horrible, grief-stricken sadness, it doesn’t mean that others’ struggles and sadness suddenly become invalid.

Sure, I understand if you just found out that your Grandma is terminal, your refrigerator needs to be replaced, and you have a termite infestation that you’re probably going to roll your eyes when someone in your Facebook stream says, “I broke a nail this morning, Starbucks got my order wrong, and now my WiFi is barely running.  Can this day possibly get any worse?”  I would roll my eyes too, especially since I’m generally not a fan of ever saying, “Can this get any worse?”  By the way, the answer is pretty much always, “Yes, it could get worse, but just pray that it doesn’t.”

I just think that within our own struggles and sadness, we need to be empathetic and remember that there are others who are sad or struggling too.  Their problems won’t be just like ours, and we may even deem them to be less than ours, but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t struggles that are very real to them.

One of my first times of being very aware of this (that I can remember) was when I was on a message board for people who had children with congenital heart defects.  First, one thing that I had noticed that one of the more uplifting people there was actually someone who had lost their child not too long before I joined the group.  I never once saw her say to anyone, “How dare you complain about the surgery your child is about to have!  I would give anything to have my daughter have another surgery, if it just meant she was alive.”  Instead, she would tell people that she was sorry or was praying for them.

It was a topic that came up once, however, that made this idea so clear to me.  One woman posted about being annoyed with a friend who was complaining and upset about her children’s third ear infection in a row.  The heart Mom berated this friend to those on the board for complaining about something as trivial as ear infections when there were parents on that board with children “that were actually sick.”

Ear infections are no good, and kids get miserable.  Three quickly in a row means sleepless nights, a child in pain, and usually an exhausted Mom or Dad (or both!).  Yes, it’s not something that might need open heart surgery, but it’s not a trip to Disney World either.  So, it made me sad when many other people on the board joined in on how selfish that parent was to think that the ear infections were a big deal.

It can be too easy to judge others, especially when we often just don’t know everything that is happening with them.  We might think we do, but often, we just don’t.  When others are having struggles, it’s not a time to judge and get out some rating scale to decide if their problems are valid in light of the situations in the rest of the world.

Sadness is not an emotion that only the person who has it worst in the world is allowed to feel.  It would be akin to berating someone who was happy and telling them that they can’t be happy because there are people who have it far better in the world than they do.  Their happiness can’t be valid if it isn’t for a good enough reason, and the level of how good that reason is will need to be judged by someone else.

Sure, you have my permission to keep up the eye rolling at the broken-nailed chick searching for WiFi while drinking the Starbucks drink she didn’t order.  But, you might also take a moment, even with that person, to remember that everyone’s problems are unique and personal.  Just like we’re all allowed to be happy, we’re also allowed to be sad – it’s part of being human, so let’s work to support each other more often than judging each other.

photo by clarita


  1. Mom says

    Very nicely said. I hope you learned from me that I have never and would never say that things just couldn’t possibly get any worse, because as you wrote they very well could get worse, much worse no matter what the situation is. You expressed it very well and I hope others take it to heart.

  2. says

    Such a great reminder – that we all feel things on different levels, and sometimes? We may not be able to truly understand the depth of another persons feelings.

    I am trying hard not to judge someone elses heartbreak, but it’s hard sometimes!

  3. says

    This is a huge problem in the world of raising special needs kids! We have adopted 6 children. One of my children passed away in July and when I posted on it someone made some comment that I should be relieved that he went quickly unlike children who suffer a long painful death. I could not believe it. I have learned some things in this parenting medically fragile children life. One of those things is to never underestimate the struggling and suffering of another.

  4. says

    Beautifully written and I totally agree with this.

    Sadly some people moan about every single thing in their life and I think it’s those people that we sometimes can feel less than sympathetic for.

    • says

      I totally agree with you as well. It can be really hard to be sympathetic when people are like that, and it can even make it hard to be sympathetic to others because I think we let ourselves be hardened to it because of people that complain too often.

  5. Claire says

    Beautifully written, and so very true. Thank you for giving a voice to this topic. I definitely think people need to exercise tact (if my son were struggling with ear infections, I probably wouldn’t vent about it to someone whose child was on the waiting list for a heart, for example). But you’re so right that behind other people’s sadness is often additional factors that we’re not aware of. That child with the recurring ear infections could be failure to thrive, and each ear infection could be a setback in that area. Or could set up a high-risk child for hearing loss, speech delays and other developmental issues. We definitley need to be grateful when our problems are less than those of some other people in our lives, but that doens’t mean that our own stress is not legitimate.