“It couldn’t have been that bad”
“My situation is so much worse”
“But I have been through so much more than you”
These are just a few examples of emotional invalidation and trauma comparison. Sharing your feelings and emotional difficulties is essential to your mental well-being but, whether intentional or not, it can often be transformed into an emotionally abusive situation that is actually more detrimental to your health.
Trauma is not a competition.
You should not be trying to score points against others by comparing how much trauma you have been through. Different experiences will affect people in different ways making it impossible to compare your situation to someone else’s. It is such a toxic mentality that can lead to destroying the trust of those around you. You can never fully know what a person has been through and how a particular experience has played a role in shaping who they are. Invalidating others’ emotional experiences is never okay, no matter how small you believe their problems are.
The pandemic seems to have given rise to more people belittling others or even their own trauma. Researcher Brené Brown perfectly articulates how damaging it can be if we tell ourselves that our pain is not worthy enough of being felt. Brown uses the idea of a ‘suffering scoreboard’ to highlight the ridiculousness of comparing our emotions. Even if other people may have it worse than you, you still have the right to feel negative emotions. To be there for others when they need help, we need to tend to our own feelings first with as much empathy as we would have for our friends and family.
Resentment often festers out of a feeling of having been wronged after a painful experience. Constantly questioning what you could have done differently or why an event happened to you rather than someone else can lead to distressing thoughts consuming your life. Being resentful of other people’s lives can cause bitterness. Bitterness will spread to those around you. Taking your anger and emotions out on your friends and family will only lead to a breakdown in the relationship. Recognising and accepting other people’s trauma creates a welcoming environment in which all parties feel safe and listened to.
No matter what you are going through, your emotions are valid. No one can tell you how you are feeling about a situation. Only you know truly how an experience has made you feel. Do not let anyone invalidate your reactions to a traumatic event.
Image courtesy of Maria Elizabeth.