Emotional pain hurts relative to the person experiencing it, not on some objective scale.
The first piece of adult wisdom I was ever graced with was that nobodies pain is special. It came to me in a flash as I was thinking unkind thoughts about somebody who appeared to be in great pain for reasons that seemed trite to me, while I thought I was holding in my well-earned pain with more courage and humility. In that thunderclap of understanding I became ashamed and humbled simultaneously.
While the causes of pain may appear more or less valid or extreme, nobody feels their pain on any scale we could measure validity or strength with. We feel pain as it is – raw and uncompromising.
For example, you might have two people, one a middle-aged adult who just lost a long term spouse, and the other a college freshman who just lost a lover of a few months. It may appear that the older person has more reason to be hurt, and is therefore more hurt, but that is not how it works. Each of them are experiencing the most emotional pain they have ever experienced. What will really separate them is not the cause or depth of their despair, but the ways in which they address and deal with it.
There might be a small part of you inside arguing that I, the author, cannot possibly understand your pain; let alone judge it equal to my own. And that is correct. Nobody can understand anybody else’s, nor are they fit to judge it. Which is why it is best to work from the premise that nobodies pain is special. It does not just make you more empathetic/sympathetic of others, it makes it easier to let go.
It can be easy when you live with pain to believe that it owns you. Some of us build entire identities around our broken hearts. That is not a healthy thing to do. I suspect we do it because we need to feel that our pain is special, that it has purpose and meaning, or is inordinately deserved and necessary. Or we do it out of some sense of honor or decorum. There are many reasons we get caught in the momentum of our own tragedy, but perhaps the greatest of them is the belief that it is, or makes us, special.
Each and every one of you reading this is doubtlessly special in ways it would take lifetimes to observe, understand and appreciate. But your pain is not one of them. It is simply there to push you into developing all of those other ways that you are truly unique and deserving of validation. Do not let your pain define you, let it drive you, but don’t give it the title to your vehicle.
Now go find a piece of paper and write it down. “Nobody’s pain is special.” Put it on the fridge or somewhere else you will see it regularly. Whenever you see it, let it wander around in your mind, stirring up new thoughts and ideas. In a few weeks or months you might begin to notice a shift in how you view yourself and others, hopefully for the better. And perhaps you have found new wisdom in the process that you can share with others to bring them peace, harmony and joy. Each one, teach one, until we all reach number one…together.