I came to this realization the other day after talking to a friend: The reason that people silence themselves and feel shame is because of other people's comments and judgment. I realize it's not a new concept. But I've seen it more and more lately. And that makes me sad. In a world where we're all so different, we should be celebrating what we all can bring to the table. Not being judge-y and trying to "one up" each other's experiences.
The second realization I came to is: The most judgey-est sentences that I hear always begin with, "Well, at least...".
For example, I talk a lot about my difficult relationship with my mom, and there will inevitably be someone who says, like clockwork, "Well, at least you have a mom." Seriously? I'm incredibly sorry for their loss. I would never, ever diminish someone who has lost, or even never met, their mother. That's awful. And I do love my mother - I wouldn't be alive today if she didn't give birth to me, obviously. Things have mellowed out considerably now that we're both older. But because there are people in the world who have lost their mother, I should never ever voice my experiences and express myself? I shouldn't talk about how the relationship has impacted me, or influenced my own parenting? It's important to me and MY story.
Here's another example. A friend of mine is pregnant and was recently talking about the difficult time she's having with it. And before she could finish her sentence, people are immediately telling her, "Well, at least you can get pregnant." Again, my heart absolutely breaks for people who want to have children, but can't. I can't imagine what that's like and I would never, ever diminish their pain and suffering or what they are going through, or brag about being pregnant. But silencing people who are going through a tough time, however temporary or permanent, because it's not perceived as being a "tough enough" time, what does that gain us as a society? All that does is reinforce silence and shame and thoughts like - "I better not say anything about how I'm feeling because no one else ever talks about how hard this is. I must be the only one. Plus, there are people in the world who can't get pregnant, so I should shut up and keep everything bottled in." Who are we as people if we can't even talk about how we're feeling to the people we care about?
Lucky you, you get one final example. Another friend of mine lost her job not too long ago. And someone told her, "Well, at least your husband still has one, so you'll be OK." As if being fired is just a run-of-the-mill experience. As if adjusting to the abrupt departure of 2 incomes, and transitioning to only 1 with no warning, is just same shit, different day. Will they make it work? Most likely. But does that diminish the shock, pain, worry, stress, anxiety that she's feeling right now? Not at all.
Again, I'm not making light of anyone's pain and suffering. In fact, I think the people with their not-so-well-meaning comments are the ones who are silencing others from feeling the way they feel. If the standard of being able to express yourself and your experiences is - "don't say anything because someone else out there has it worse" - it will be a silent world, friends.
Why can't we all have compassion for one another? Every single one of us has it hard in life. That hardness will take different shapes, last for different time periods, be influenced by different circumstances. But the common denominator through it all should be - keep an open mind and an open heart. You don't know what it's like to walk in another person's shoes. So let them tell you about it. Their journey is just as important as yours. Their pain is just as valid, their happiness is equally justified. It doesn't mean you can't call someone out if they are being deliberately hurtful and ugly. It doesn't mean you can't gently tell a friend that something they said hurt you. But projecting your own feelings and circumstances onto someone else's life is like putting a square peg in a round hole. They aren't you, you aren't them.
Lighting your own candle doesn't extinguish someone else's flame.
In fact, we'll all shine brighter if we can shine together. I hope we'll get there one day.