As a therapist, I’ve worked with people on issues that run the full gamut of life, from the devastatingly traumatizing to the relatively benign. To me, the issues are all real, all deserving of honoring. Some of my clients feel guilty about having trouble with issues they feel they should be able to just “get over.”
“I know this isn’t very important, it’s not like I have problems like that girl in Syria who was raped and watched her family get shot…” Well, no. Not the same level of problem. But that doesn’t mean that their issues with ongoing depression and anxiety, for example, aren’t important, aren’t worthy of their attention, respect and curiosity.
Abraham Maslow had a theory about our hierarchy of needs that basically says that we have to have certain needs met before we can even think about anything else. But that we do, in fact, think about those next level issues when the fundamentals are there. So we’re not going to think about our feeling fulfilled as an individual when we don’t have enough food to eat. But once that is in place and reliable, then we will turn our attention to making sure we’re safe, and then that we have a friend or connection with someone, and so on until self-actualization. It’s a reflection of our mandate for growth and evolution.
The Irresistible Urge to Compare (Unfavorably)
Just because our issues aren’t on the bottom of the hierarchy while some people’s are doesn’t mean they aren’t important. Comparing ourselves unfavorably to others, discounting what we’re having a hard time with, comparing our insides to other people’s outsides, berating ourselves for not being smarter, faster, braver, for having the problem to begin with – all these are ways we keep ourselves stuck.
I’m amazed at how much we all do this. I’ve had clients tell me hair-raising stories about unspeakable abuse they’ve endured, only to discount it by comparing themselves to someone else’s story they perceived as being worse.
Maybe it’s a way of avoiding work we don’t want to do. Maybe we’re just sick of our issues and want someone else’s for a change. I ran a group years ago for phobia clients, and without fail people would listen to other people describe the things they were phobic of, and say they’d rather have that phobia than their own. I think we just get sick of our own shit.
Maybe it’s just easier to be forgiving of other people than of ourselves. We would never (or hardly ever) talk to anyone out loud the way we talk to ourselves in our heads. And if we’re helping people with their stuff, we don’t have to deal with our own. Perfect!
Embracing the Mystery of Being Where You Are
So while it is reasonable to keep perspective on the stressors of our life, we do ourselves no favors by judging ourselves for being human and having a hard time. You are where you are in your life, right here and right now, for a specific reason.
So embrace that frustration or even rage at not getting what you want. There are real, deep reasons for your upset, and maybe they aren’t what you think at first judgment. They may be deeper than you suspected. Give space to that feeling of fear and pain that you’re not finding your purpose, or your relationships don’t seem to be working, or you’re anxious all the time. Go toward it, sit next to it, see what it has to teach you.
Odds are pretty good that shit is going to happen to you, sometimes some big shit. And the work you do now on what might seem like minor stuff, is going to equip you with the resources you will need when the big shit really hits the fan.
Meanwhile, of course, you get to enjoy your life more – with more contentment, fulfillment, and appreciation – which is a worthy end in itself.