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Comparison Shopping For Emotions

Posted May 22 2009 11:55pm

Man Standing on Water. Photo Courtesy Ignacio Martel
Your friend tells you of her marital difficulties. While you commiserate with her, you privately think that although her problems and painful emotions are hard for her, what happened to you when you went through your own divorce, was infinitely more complex and dreadful to bear.


Your cousin tells you about his mother's foray into cancer and chemotherapy. You listen patiently, but remember your own father's agony, and again, privately consider that your situation was simply much more difficult. Your cousin just has no idea what difficult means.

A colleague relays a long and complicated tale of childhood abuse, and you listen - as one does - but your thoughts churn about the fact that what you know about abuse through your reading and what others have told you is so much more heart-rending. You look at your colleague, and while your heart goes out to him, you know that what happened was not nearly as bad as what you saw your childhood friend go through.

Someone else - over a long, leisurely dinner - tells you about financial difficulties she experienced when she first became independent and began working. She mentions how hard it was to pay for even a used car, and how she had to live in a very small apartment, that she shared with a roommate. You listen, but once again think that she really doesn't know what real financial privation is all about. Now if you were to tell her...
And another speaks of the infinite desperation she went through when she was widowed and had to take care of her own finances, write checks, speak to banks, and the broker. You look at her in a sense of inner askance. How could something so small, so almost ridiculous, have thrown her to that degree? And yet...for her it was monumental and required surmounting.

Our own emotions seem so much more important - or difficult - than those of others. We tend to compare them to what others tell us about their lives, and somehow our own stuff always seems to be vaster in scope or greater in pain than what we are hearing.

And it may be true...what you are hearing from the other person may, in fact, be of a lesser degree of difficulty if both situations were to be rationally compared. But logic and reason have little to do with emotions, especially difficult ones. I would like to suggest that all difficult emotions are hugely difficult - at least for a time - for the person who is undergoing situations that are producing them. Pain is pain, just as love is love. The depth of an emotion of another can not necessarily be guaged by us as we listen, nor can - and should - we compare them to our own.

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