“It could be worse” are words often said to make someone “feel better” after something that caused a disequilibrium in a person’s nervous system. Often, people say these words with the intention to remind a person of their blessings and they “should” shift their mindset to gratitude.
Human brains are negatively biased. According to Dr. Randy Larsen, negative events imprint quickly and linger longer than positive ones. It is how we have survived as a species. Unlike the animal kingdom, which can find themselves in full flight or fight and able to regulate, the human species does not.
Recently, there has been an emphasis on Capital T traumas (physical, emotional, and sexual abuse) and lower t traumas (embarrassing moments, hurtful statements received) in mental health. As a society, we are making strides to normalize mental health, it is ok to not be ok, and seeking help from a therapist is great. However, in the process of normalizing mental health, we have found ourselves competing in the trauma Olympics.
People are comparing their situations and trying to up one another on “who had it worse.” Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy” This comparisonitis not only occurs between people but also happens in our minds. How often have you caught yourself saying “I know this isn’t that bad and so many people have it worse than me but…”
The unintended consequence of this trauma Olympic is a re-traumatization of the person, gaslighting others and self, and building a distrust in our intuitive (gut feeling) nature. It is making people hypervigilant and questioning their reality. How did we get here? How did we start to minimize other people’s experiences, and deny our realities? Is it unresolved traumas, acute grief, personality disorders, or children not being taught how to identify and regulate emotions? The news and social media have allowed us to access information instantly from any place in the world. You can google, “worst life experience” and get thousands of search results. The results will provide your mind proof that you are being “dramatic” or self-talk that it is not that bad, others have it worse.
As a society, how do we even begin to address the trauma of the Olympics?
The first step is awareness. This article intends to raise awareness that this is happening. We cannot address a concern until we are conscious of it.
Secondly, become curious about whether you are doing the comparison and/or are the receiver of the comparison. How is this showing up in your life?
Third, once you become aware of how the trauma Olympics are playing out in your life, choose to not compete. Remove yourself from the race and bring the attention back to you. Set boundaries with people in your life. Reflect on how your trauma makes you feel, what triggers it, and how to heal.
It may be helpful to collaborate with a mental health professional, teacher, mentor, and coach to help cultivate the mindset. Participating in the trauma Olympics is a choice. People often project onto others their inner landscape. At the end of the day, most humans just want to be seen, heard and acknowledged. Take your power back by realizing that this has nothing to do with you, instead it is a projection of pain, hurt, and an inner child wanting to be seen.
It is important to consider that some are truly trying to alleviate someone else’s pain and do not view their words as dismissive or negating. After reading, we hope that you realize that it is ok to acknowledge someone else’s pain without the need to “fix it.” Yes, there are people all around the world with “worse” situations. Even with this knowledge, how do we know their pain? We do not and even if we did, it does not make you feel any less.
Ultimately, comparing pain and trauma is unhealthy, all the way around. Who are we to say that someone’s pain, grief, or trauma is any less or more than another person’s experience? Let us aim to be more humane and to stop doing this to each other. Remember that compassion and grace are available to us all. We choose to refrain from speaking if we cannot show compassion. Sathya Sai Baba said it best, “Before you speak, ask yourself: Is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve the silence?”
Share what comes up for you as you read this. Has this happened to you?