Why shaming ourselves for feeling bad, doesn’t make us feel better.

In my practice as a clinical psychologist I routinely see clients with an unhelpful thought pattern. It often revolves around seeing an example of a person who has a more dire situation than themselves.  

Simply turn on the television and we see people across the planet experiencing war, famine, traumas, deprivation, oppression, the list goes on. There are a number of variations for this form of self-torment.

I have nothing to complain about, other people in the world have it so much worse than me.

The client then looks at their own life and says “I have nothing to complain about, other people in the world have it so much worse than me.” Now… if this thought process helped a person to increase their empathy for others, practice gratitude for the positive aspects of their lives.

And possibly even prompt action to address the injustices and disparities in the world then I might say that this could be a helpful perspective. What I often see is clients then use the pain and suffering of others as a means to put themselves down for also having pain and suffering in the first place.  

“How can I feel bad about anything given that others have it so much harder than I do?”. I must be a terrible, ungrateful, awful, horrible person that I have so much and am still whining about my pain.

This person has now entered into a less than helpful thought process.  Here are the ways I  help my patients  out of this particular hole. A Cognitive Distortion (illogical thought pattern) that they might be engaging in is called Minimization.  

We shrink our pain away by comparing it to someone who potentially has it much worse.  The problem with this thinking is that minimizing our pain could mean that we are actually repressing or denying it.  

For example saying “I’m not supposed to have this pain” and then trying to drag a heavy load without taking the time to look and see what it might be about. Another way of looking at this thought pattern is engaging in a process of Invalidation.  

Almost as though what we are saying to ourselves is “others are in so much more pain than me, that means that my pain doesn’t count, I can’t acknowledge it or even look at it.”  What I’m getting after here is that we  need to be more judicious about how and when we compare ourselves to others.  

If you are in pain, you are in pain.  

The acknowledgement of other people’s pain will not take yours away.  Shaming yourself for having pain in the first place only complicates the issue.  What I encourage instead is to have a “right size” perspective on your pain.  

Many people suffering with anxiety, depression, panic, relational issues, alcohol/substance abuse, etc indeed have concerns and problems. Those problems don’t just go away because “others have it worse.”

Making and taking the time to sit with your struggles allows us to address these concerns, look for their sources and look for methods of healing the pain.  I would encourage taking a self-validating perspective.

Learn to acknowledge if you are in pain that this pain may not be to the degree of others, but it is still true that you are worthy of care and attention. Taking the time to heal yourself and get right, will position you all the better to have the energy.

And gusto to get out there and address some of the wrongs in the world. And just for fun, let me also state that unhelpful comparisons also swing the other way.  

A person can cultivate a sense of false confidence if not arrogance in themselves if they walk around constantly looking for examples of others who are worse than themselves. There can be a short ego boost that might come witnessing someone else’s failure or struggle.

But this also cultivates a habit of needing to see others fail in order to feel good about ourselves.  I would encourage a balanced perspective that would help cultivate acknowledgement and validation of one’s own struggles.

AND a sense of gratitude for the good things that we have in life. I have dedicated my professional life to helping people struggling with these and many other concerns.  

If you would like a free 15 minute consultation where we can discuss your situation, please click on this “link” and send me a message or call 619-414-0042.  

All the best,

Dr. Chad K. Cox PsyD
Licensed Psychologist PSY23320
San Diego, CA


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