“It could be so much worse”; words used to diminish your experience

Written by Amie on August 3, 2013 – 3:20 am -

Diminishing my feelings

A few years ago in therapy I uncovered a conditioned belief that was ingrained very deep inside me. It came with the message, “be thankful, you don’t have it nearly as bad as many other people have it, it could be so much worse.”  This message felt so real to me that I also began to use it against myself. I would remind myself, “this isn’t that bad, you shouldn’t feel so bad because you know there are other people who have it way worse than you do.” It took me a long time to dissect the shame and guilt wrapped up in this little package of words that was used by others in my life to try to diminish my feelings and experiences. I believe these words were said with a goal in mind. (maybe on a subconscious level, maybe not). The goal in my opinion, was to allow the person saying these words to remain in denial. If only I would just stay quiet, if I would just swallow my thoughts and feelings about any given situation, if only I would just pretend that everything is “normal”, then the people around me could remain in denial. If I spoke the truth about the dysfunctional behavior, others might be forced to face the truth of certain situations.

how do you define “worse” in this situation?

This phrase has popped up again a couple of times in the last few months. I thought I would write about my experience because I’m thinking there are others who are familiar with these words and are in the process of figuring out why they trigger a feeling of shame or maybe anger. I want to validate your feelings of confusion around this.  If someone tries to diminish your experiences and emotions by telling you, “it could be so much worse”, please know they are trying to avoid facing something in themselves. These words are used when someone is trying to avoid feeling their own truth, when someone is denying what is true in their life. These words are used to project a person’s discomfort onto the person speaking the truth, in hopes of lessening their own inner feelings of truth. Your feelings are valid, you have a right to feel as you feel, no matter how bad other people have it. There are always going to be people who have things worse than you do, or I do,etc.  Also, how do you define “worse” in this situation? That could be another discussion by itself!  The fact that someone else may “have it worse” doesn’t change your feelings! You have a right to your feelings no matter what someone else’s situation is. (and feeling your feelings and talking about them does not mean you don’t have compassion for others and their experiences).

guess what happens when a person keeps “shutting up”? 

It took me so long to understand what was really going on when I was told to “be thankful, it could be worse”. I internalized shame and guilt when I heard these words. I felt ashamed that I could be “so selfish” as to think *my* feelings should matter. Who was I to think I could have any issues at all when there were so many others whose issues were way worse than mine! I am so grateful I figured this out and unraveled the insanity of this brilliant little phrase used to manipulate and control. I was able to step back to see the big picture. By diminishing my experience, it shut me up. When I shut up, others around me could stay in denial. If I shut up, we could keep playing the pretend game of “everything is so great! our situation is normal! I didn’t do or say anything hurtful.” And guess what happens when a person keeps “shutting up”? Depression. In a big way. By being told numerous times that my experiences and feelings were nothing compared to others, I internalized the message, “I don’t matter, my voice does not matter. If I keep everything inside, it will make others happy”. And so I learned to not “rock the boat”.

until I started rocking the boat

That is, until I started rocking the boat. And really, “rocking the boat” to me just means I started speaking up and saying what is true for me. I think of this as a positive thing, but not everyone agrees. Some are not yet willing to own their words and actions, and that’s okay, I understand. But that doesn’t mean I am going to stop saying what’s true for me. And it doesn’t mean I will go back to pretending all is well. It is interesting that if a person is not ready to hear the truth, they instead decide to blame the people who are speaking their truth. The message being sent is something along the lines of, “if you speak up and tell the truth, you are a bad person. You are a trouble maker, why can’t you just “forgive”, *you* are ruining relationships, it is your fault we are divided.” This is unfortunate, and sad.

All I really want

Because I remember very vividly what it feels like to protect myself at all costs, I understand being in denial and I understand not wanting to feel the pain of my experiences and truths. Because of this, I really can’t be angry with people who are not ready to face their pain (even though it could mean an end to their suffering). Being vulnerable and taking ownership of your experiences is not easy work. It can be very difficult, in fact. But it is part of being a healthy human being. Feeling the pain of things we are faced with in life is part of the process while on the path to finding the truth of who we really are. It is part of the process of taking back the power we give away when we suppress our emotions so that someone else can remain in denial. All I really want from others is for them to show up in an authentic way and to be vulnerable enough to own their experiences.

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Posted in Awareness, Depression, healing from depression, Help with depression, Self-love | 3 Comments »
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