You know when you tell a story about a struggle you have been through and the person you are talking to has to top your misery? You share that you have a headache and they share that their cousin has a tumor. You say you stubbed your toe and they tell you that their father lost their foot in the war. You discuss your mom getting arrested and they talk about both of their parents being in jail. THANK YOU competitive pain snob. We get it. Your pain is worse. I am not sure if they think they are comforting us by letting us know things could always be worse…but rarely is it actually comforting. I have found that as an adult child of an alcoholic, I have been the victim and the perpetrator of this annoying characteristic.
As the victim, I don’t care that you know someone that has it worse. I am not currently looking to get a guilt trip on how I should be grateful because my story isn’t the WORST story you have ever heard. That is not the point of me sharing. This is not a competition and if it is a competition, it’s the stupidest one out there. If I am sharing that my mom has been arrested, I want you to listen and simply say “That sucks”, “I’m sorry”, or “Is there anything I can do?”. Sure there is a time and a place for misery loving company but maybe say something like “If you want to talk to someone who has been through something similar, let me know” and then it will give me the option if I want to share that kind of company. I don’t need you to one up my story.
Why? Because it often minimizes my pain. I get it, I get it, I get it. I don’t need to cry for hours if my mom passes out at my nieces ballet recital but you don’t need to remind me that your uncle drunkenly ran a tractor through the family reunion so I should “count my blessings”. I cannot tell you how many times I have shared with someone that I was frustrated with my parents and they would start a story off going “Well if you think that’s bad….” stop right there! I see how you’d think that that’s showing empathy but it ISN’T. Just listen for a few minutes. I will run out of steam on the issue BUT I need to feel sorry for myself for a little while. If you don’t want to take part in the pity party, give a sympathetic nod and fake a phone call. It will be less degrading than you making me feel as if what is traumatic to me doesn’t meet your standards for trauma.
Unfortunately, since I did grow up in a home with alcoholism, I have also been the pain snob. Like those before me, I am not doing it to hurt people and I am not doing it to try to be competitive with misery but let’s face it, if you grew up in a home with addiction, you are entitled to say you went through some shit. There is a time and a place for that though. I constantly am working on myself with this. I have found that because I have been through a few rough times, I have become less sensitive to others’ struggles. I hate this about myself.
For example, my friend’s family was going through a rough spot in college. Her mom was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Her family didn’t tell her about it and when she found out months later, she was furious. Her mom was healthy by the time she learned but she still felt betrayed. She talked with me about it and I handled it just the way I would have hated it being handled had I been in her shoes. I tried to one up her with the stuff I was going through. I think in my own twisted way I was trying to remind her to be grateful? Maybe. I don’t know but it just came across awful. We were good enough friends that she called me on it.
At first, I was shocked and I was angry. How dare she accuse me of being a pain hog? She had no idea what I went through! She was lucky her mom was now healthy and not struggling with addiction her whole life. Sigh. God, I was annoying. After I calmed down, I realized she was completely right. Just because her parents weren’t alcoholics didn’t mean she couldn’t be upset about something. She was allowed to have her own pain. She was allowed to talk about it. It was expected of me to just listen. It was a really valuable lesson for me because I had always pointed the finger at those who competed for the “saddest sob story” and yet there I was, doing the exact same thing.
I think it’s hard for us who love those struggling with addiction because it is an incredibly painful role. No doubt about it. I think it’s important to remind ourselves though that we aren’t the only ones struggling. Sometimes it’s our turn to listen to our friends without reminding them of how our lives suck too/worse. Maybe our lives are harder. Maybe we are simply jealous because our friend’s problems are so much simpler than ours. Maybe we are even angry with them because they are complaining about something that we WISH was our problem. That’s not their fault though. Nobody likes a one-upper. Nobody likes a pain hog. Nobody wants to be friends with the pain snob.
Learn from my mistakes and be truly empathetic. We need to set the example. If we need the favor returned one day, hopefully they will show us the kindness we showed them and simply listen.
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