Competitive Suffering

I’ve decided humans are naturally competitive, which I think can come from natural pride. 

You often see people competing with one another by either subtly or not so subtly bragging about their accomplishments, only presenting their perfect moments to others, or by pointing out other’s mistakes and saying, “I would never do that.” 

Let’s use moms as an example. Moms will post on social media the progress of their kids, often pointing out when they’re “ahead” in a certain developmental area. A subtle brag. Sometimes they’ll just outright say, “my kid is actually just way smarter/stronger/etc than the average.” Which honestly is probably true. But just the fact that you’re comparing your child to an “average” shows there’s an element of competitiveness. 

Moms will also often post on social media pictures of “perfect moments” with poetic, angelic captions about how wonderful motherhood is and how absolutely perfect their baby is. These posts aren’t lies, but they don’t show the whole picture either. Moms will choose the best moments to share, and if they share a non perfect moment it’s usually accompanied by a funny caption that makes them seem just super chill about all the bumps of raising children. 

Now don’t get me wrong, lots of moms are more real on social media. It’s actually becoming much more popular to be. But there’s still lots of competition. 

And finally, we’ll never be short on those self-righteous moms commenting about strangers saying, “she shouldn’t be a mom,” or “mom fail,” or “I would never do that.” This is the dear old mom-shaming. Which ALL of us have been guilty of. Some of us don’t mom-shame openly, but we ALL do it in our heads at least every once in a while. Its the classic judgement, the trying to pick a speck out of someone else’s eye when we’ve got a beam in our own. 

Now I could go into a whole thing about all of the above, but what I really want to talk about today is competition on the opposite end of the scale. 

Let’s keep using moms as an example, because hey, I am one, so I understand the world of moms to a certain degree. 

Let’s say a group of moms are gathered together sharing birth stories. One of two things could happen, if the women are being competitive. Either there will be a competition for whose birthing was more magical and miraculous, or there will be a competition for who experienced the most pain and complications.

Thankfully, I find that the latter is more rare in this specific example. Women tend to have a sense of respect towards one another when it comes to difficult labors. We understand the pain that is possible to feel and understand how different everyone’s experiences are. 

However, it isn’t rare for people to get competitive about the negative things. 

How often have you seen or been part of a “who has it worse” competition? 

Why on earth would someone want to win that competition?!?! So you get the most pity? But pity is demeaning, why would anyone desire pity? Don’t we instead desire comfort and empathy? 

Well, I think usually people do. But sometimes we let Satan convince us misery is fun or something, and so we wallow and decide we want to win the “nobody loves me, everybody hates me” competition. 

Here’s the big issue with this, besides the obvious fact that it’s going to make you miserable. This totally invalidates what someone else has gone/is going through. 

It’s ok to share with people your hardships, and it’s ok to acknowlege that those hardships can be different, and to even acknowledge that they’re very unique. Like sometimes I point out to my husband that he’ll never understand just how terrible pregnancy is. That doesn’t mean his aches and pains don’t matter, it just means I sometimes need him to be extra compassionate because he can’t know what exactly my body is going through. It means I don’t want him to assume he understands what I mean when I say my back hurts, or that I’m tired. 

This is also true for oppression. When a person of color expresses their difficulties as a person of color, it’s ok to acknowledge that is a trial a white person cannot understand. That does not invalidate the other person’s life experiences. 

The danger comes when we try to “one up” each other. Yea, it could be true that you have it worse. In some areas. And maybe I have it worse in others. But WHY does that even matter? It’s still hard. It still sucks. It was still earth shattering for that person to go through, so why would we EVER say to another suffering human, “you don’t even know what depression is really like until you spend a day in my head.” 

Enter the mental health connection. What this is ALL about. 

I often hear almost bitter comments from sufferers of mental illnesses that people with “high functioning” or temporary rather than chronic mental illness just can’t understand the REAL struggle. 

I’m sorry but, if you suffer from chronic mental illness, you know how painful and shattering living just ONE DAY with it is, so how can you look at another person who has had even a taste of that agony and say they can’t complain? How can you feel bitterness towards that person because they don’t suffer the same way you do? Many women commit suicide when suffering from post-partum depression, a “temporary” mental illness. 

Even more often than judgements passed on high function or temporary illness, I see the same bitter comments aimed toward people who confide that they struggle, but because they appear to have it together or because they have a good support system, their experiences are invalidated. 

You cannot know what a person is suffering in the private moments of deep loneliness and darkness. 

You. Cannot. Know. 

It comes from the other direction too though. Not as often, but it does. I’ve a couple different times had people say to me, “well, my thing isn’t nearly as bad as what you go/went through…” And I just want to look them in the eyes and say, “no. Don’t compare yourself to me. My experience is mine, and your experience is yours. What you are going through is hard. It sucks. It’s actually the worst. And I’m so sorry that you’re going through it.” 

Sometimes I have said that. Sometimes I haven’t, because I am absolutely not perfect. I sometimes forget to be humble, and think to myself, “heck yea my life is harder than yours.” But later I have to re-focus my priorities, stop competing and comparing, and repent and show compassion. 

Let’s say you’re not convinced. That you’re still like, “well… except I really DO know I have it the worst.” Well, if you really want to play the one up game let’s take it all the way to the top. 

The Savior wins (or looses?). And that is the end of it. 

But this is a beautiful thing, because even when you feel others cannot understand your level of suffereing, even when you feel that bitterness, you can take comfort in knowing there is one being who understands perfectly. And remembering that is true humility. 

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