November 2017
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on comparing one person's suffering to another's


"If you had to deal with what I've had to deal with, you'd realize that what you're going through is nothing."

Statements like this have always infuriated me -- not just because of their condescension and arrogance, not just because they are callous and invalidating, but because they are completely illogical. Suffering is a condition of emotion, and emotion is not quantifiable and not the same from person to person. Even if the situation is exactly the same, it will affect people in different ways; personality and experience affects the resultant emotion just as much as the situation itself.

For my current self, having my looks insulted by a stranger would be cause for laughter and sympathy, as it would speak to me of how silly they are to assume that I value their opinion of my attractiveness, how they do not understand what makes a person attractive/worthy, and how they are trapped within a horrible world of judgment and distance and self-loathing. For my previous self, having my looks insulted by a stranger would be an affirmation of everything I'd most feared, and would cause me to increase in self-loathing perhaps even to the point of suicide (as that was something my previous self was never far from). It's the same situation and the same personality, but because of a difference in experience (practicing self-love, learning to see all looks as equally beautiful, and learning about the falsity of the 'ideal', as well as healing in general and thus not being so close to self-destruction), the emotion resulting is completely different and therefore a 'hurtful' act can cause extreme suffering or none at all.

And that may be a fanciful example, but the same is true for all pain. For one person the death of a parent is devastating; for another, it's just another day. For one person the death of a pet fish is just a fact of life; for another, it is cause for deep sorrow. Thus you cannot say that the death of a parent is more painful than the death of a pet fish, because suffering is more about personality and experience than it is about the situation itself.

I am convinced that the only meaningful way to measure suffering is by how much it affects a person, and the only meaningful reason to measure suffering is to learn how much support that person needs in that situation.

LJ idol topic 2: "Uphill, Both Ways, Barefoot"

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Comments
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cindylou07 ══╣╠══
very nicely written. I wrote about something kind of similar for this topic. Great job!
belenen ══╣artless╠══
Oh, interesting! I like how we had similar takes on the topic but wrote so differently ;-) and I love that Plato quote.
stormkitty ══╣╠══
belenen ══╣writing╠══
yessss. And in my experience it's usually an attempt to manipulate -- "my pain is worse than yours so to make up for that we'll do it my way." :-p

and thanks!
oceanid ══╣Melting Heart╠══
This post is poetic, out of all the posts you've made, this one has truly touched me. You inspire me so much to be a better person each day <3
belenen ══╣writing╠══
aww ♥ thank you! It's actually a re-write of an entry I wrote four years ago: http://belenen.livejournal.com/225446.html
pixiebelle ══╣╠══
I completely agree. Great entry!
belenen ══╣writing╠══
thanks!
rattsu ══╣╠══
This would actually work rather good as last week's subject as well!
xenopsi ══╣╠══
Amen!
spokenonlyonce ══╣art / green╠══
I like what you have to say here. I recently was in an argument with a thin woman of color in a feminist community, talking about beauty standards. She basically said, in not so many words, that I should just shut up because the emotional abuse I experience as a fat person is nothing compared to the threat of physical assault in public. I felt really upset after the exchange ended (not so amicably, she just stopped replying).

I've been thinking a lot about it and it makes me remember something a professor said in the quarter of my practicum class where we focused on human sexuality. In the week we discussed sexual abuse and assault (yeah ONE week? don't get me started) the professor, a long-time therapist, said that he found clients who had experienced physical sexual assault as children generally were able to recover more quickly and with less ambivalence/complicated feelings than those who were never so overtly abused. He said the hardest cases of sexual abuse were of the sort where the little girl was always referred to as 'our little princes' or called 'sexy' at a young age. He said that often women who'd experienced that as children never fully came to closure because it was such an ambiguous situation, where most of society would say her family had done nothing wrong and yet her wounds were deep and real.

Anyway, I get really sick of people saying that threat of physical violence is "the worst" form of oppression and those who are subtly, constantly verbally and emotionatlly abused need to shut up and sit down. I am in NO way suggesting the reverse, that my experience of abusive oppression is worse than that woman of color's. But can't we just agree that each of our experiences are unique, and each of us deserve respect and support as we find the way to heal of past trauma and cope with ongoing trauma?
miintikwa ══╣╠══
I am with you 100%. The "pain olympics" drive me batty. Especially when they come from someone with an invisible-- or visible-- disability. "Well, my pain matters more than yours!" Yes, it does. To you. Gah.

Oh my! Where did that soapbox come from?
aliyna ══╣Back Turned╠══
I agree with this so deeply, I was just thinking about this sort of thing recently, actually. That everything is relative.

I know someone who has been through a lot of shit with regards to their health, and oftentimes I will notice them- for lack of a better choice of words- telling people they have no right to complain about a headache when [the person in question] might have cancer, and no right to complain about their fathers because [theirs] died, things like that. And I just never really understood on what planet that was an okay thing to say to a person.

I just want to say, yes, your situation was hell for you, but that doesn't change anyone else's reality.
rustedxemotions ══╣╠══
I don't know how people could even say something like that was a straight face, it's so idiotic. :\
saturnsdaughter ══╣╠══
I am convinced that the only meaningful way to measure suffering is by how much it affects a person, and the only meaningful reason to measure suffering is to learn how much support that person needs in that situation.

People would be so much easier to get along with if we all believed that. Great entry.
johnnyinamerica ══╣╠══
This was wonderfully eloquent. Something I agree with but have never been able to put into words suitable enough to get my point across effectively.
austentatious ══╣╠══
I agree and empathize with this a lot. I really like the conclusion that you came to. I have somehow never thought about that before, but I will definitely pass it along to some of my friends. That's a great way to individualize someone's pain. Thanks for sharing.
hyrkanian ══╣╠══
So very true. I tend to have the opposite reaction - I usually feel (if not say out loud) that whatever I am going through or have gone through is not as bad as what others have gone through.
sylvanfae ══╣Pain╠══
This is just beautiful. =)

I think people who say such things need to have their pain acknowledged. Maybe they feel like nobody cares about their suffering, or knows how deep it goes. Could be a cry for help.

Although some could be thinking they'll give the person some perspective and make them realize they don't have it too bad. But that's a clumsy (& yes, arrogant) way to go about helping.

Loooove your concluding sentence.
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on communication, social justice, intimacy, consent, friendship & other relationships, spirituality, gender, queerness, & dreams. Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.
Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.