Is my problem really that important?
This is a question I come across - both with clients at Peak, and within myself - on a pretty regular basis.
Now, more than ever, the intense suffering in the world (opioid poisoning epidemic, constant political drama, or various other crises) can feel pretty inescapable. Even if I try to avoid the news, it comes up in conversation, on my Instagram feed, or on newspaper covers as I’m walking down the street.
“Is my problem really that important?” also comes up a lot when folks find out about the work I do outside Peak Resilience supporting youth experiencing homelessness and street entrenchment. It’s hard not to to look at such extreme circumstances and think, “What am I so upset about? At least I’m not homeless”…
But I hear homeless youth saying all the same things.
“At least I have dinner tonight,” or, “At least I got a mat in a shelter.”
Many people (especially those in the activist community) use the acknowledgement of privilege to deny their own suffering.
What’s the alternative?
People acknowledging privilege AND suffering.
Sometimes it feels protective to think that things could be so much worse. But as Brené Brown says in this great 3 minute video, using “at least” statements doesn’t really acknowledge what we’re going through, and it drives disconnection from ourselves and from others.
What sticks out to me most about that video, and about this question in general, is that suffering is part of everyone’s life at some point.
Sometimes that suffering is on the front page of the paper, and sometimes it's something you’re quietly carrying alone - but they’re both important, and both worth talking about.
I can already hear your next question...
Why exactly is your suffering worth talking about? Here’s a short (and very incomplete) list:
Talking about the hard stuff with a kind and caring person usually feels pretty good, even if it’s tough.
Even if you might “have it better” on the surface, we all experience the same difficult and overwhelming feelings. Like Brené Brown said in her video, we all have experience with the same struggles - things like grief, loneliness, fear, troubles in relationship - and we all want to avoid pain.
Talking about suffering with another empathic human can help build your self-compassion. Self-compassion can not only improve your own quality of life, but has ripple effects to your relationships and the world at large (more compassion for yourself = more compassion for others).
Recognize that you can have privilege AND suffering. Allowing yourself to acknowledge both (instead of either/or) is part of being human.
Amanda Hamm is a Registered Clinical Counsellor at Peak Resilience who is passionate about helping folks develop self-compassion.