Why Comparing Feelings Isn't Helpful

A woman with a sad expression looking out the window.

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When you are coping with something difficult in your life, it isn’t uncommon for someone else to say “it could be worse.” You might even find yourself thinking, "Well, at least I don't have it as bad as that person does." Comparing your own pain and other emotions to others is common, but that doesn't mean that it is always helpful. 

Comparisons are often natural and can, in some instances, even be helpful. They can serve as a way to gauge our progress or determine what might be appropriate in a certain situation.

In other cases, comparisons can stifle growth, prevent self-compassion, and even make it more difficult to empathize with other people.

Some ways that comparing feelings might be harmful are listed below.

People Experience Things Differently

Each individual has different resources and experiences that play a role in how they are affected by different emotions. Just as not all people feel joy in the same way, not everyone feels pain in the same way. There is not a hierarchy of emotion that says that one person’s feelings are better or worse, stronger or weaker than someone else’s.

For example, if you are going through an emotionally painful loss, you might be tempted to compare what you are feeling to someone else who has gone through something that seems objectively worse.

It is important to remember that hurt is hurt. Comparing your pain to someone else who seems to be suffering more only serves to minimize what you are feeling. 

Comparison Often Leads to Minimization

The focus of comparing your emotions is often to minimize either what you are feeling or what they are feeling. Some examples include:

  • You might think that you don't have the right to be upset about something because someone else is going through something worse.
  • You might feel like you don't have the right to feel lonely because you have more friends and family than another person does.

But someone else's experiences do not negate your own. In such cases, comparing feelings is a way of minimizing your own experiences.

This is something that you might do to avoid feeling a negative emotion. Rather than face it, it is easier to dismiss it as being "not as bad as it could be."

It is a form of toxic positivity, in which people feel that they have to hide or reject any negative feelings in order to focus on a false sense of optimism. 

It Keeps You From Facing Your Feelings

Even if someone else's situation is objectively "worse" than yours, it doesn't mean that you are not experiencing very real, very valid emotions. You are allowed to feel upset when someone hurts you or disappointed when something doesn't work out the way that you wanted it to. 

Yes, other people also have their own pain and disappointments to face, but those experiences don't diminish or eclipse yours.

Negative feelings can increase stress when they aren't dealt with properly. But even difficult emotions can be important sources of information. They can tell you that something needs to change and help motivate you to make positive changes in your life.

Everyone Deserves Help

Comparisons often lead people to think that they can just deal with problems on their own. Rather than reach out for help and support, people are often left feeling that their issues aren't serious enough to warrant attention.

A person who is experiencing symptoms of depression, for example, might not seek out help because they think that they don’t have any “reason” to feel depressed, especially when they compare their life and experiences to other people who seem to have it worse. This means that they won’t seek out the help that they need, whether it is therapy, medication, or support.

In such cases, comparisons can lead to avoiding your problems rather than finding ways to address them. Even if you feel like your problems "aren't that bad," you still deserve support and help.

How to Respond Instead

The next time you are tempted to compare your feelings to someone else's, take a step back. Will it be helpful? Or are you using it as a way to dismiss your emotions? Instead of comparing:

  • Allow yourself to sit with your emotions without judgment.
  • Give yourself permission to feel what you are feeling and remind yourself that your emotions are valid.
  • Lean on others but don't feel the need to minimize your struggles or compare your problems to theirs.
  • Avoid judging other people’s emotions. Instead, focus on valuing the fact that they are willing to share what they are feeling with you.
  • Listen to what people are saying. Acknowledge what they are feeling. Simply saying that you can see how hard it must be and that you are there to listen can be a crucial way of offering validation and support.

Remember that when someone is in a vulnerable place, it is not the time to make judgments or comparisons. And that applies to your own emotions as well.

Dealing with those emotions, even when they are difficult, is what allows people the chance to learn, grow, and heal from their experiences. 

Sometimes sharing your emotions can help. Research also suggests that just talking about what you are feeling can help reduce the intensity of those emotions.

When Comparison Might Be Helpful

The reality is that some degree of comparison is inevitable. People are simply wired to notice what other people are experiencing and then consider how it compares to their own situation. And in some cases, it can actually have a positive effect, including:

  • Comparisons may help you feel gratitude for your own life.
  • It may help you consider options and think about what you want.
  • It can lead to observational learning where you gain knowledge without actually having to go through that experience yourself.
  • It can help you see what you need to do in order to achieve what you want in life.
  • It may help you feel more compassion for others, which can help compel you to volunteer to help.

It is important to remember, however, that minimizing your pain is not a part of gratitude. You can be grateful for the good things in your life and still feel disappointed, sad, or upset. 

A Word From Verywell

The next time you find yourself thinking “it could be worse,” think about what those types of thoughts are actually accomplishing. If it’s a way to minimize or deny your feelings, focus on your emotions without judging or shaming yourself for feeling such things.

And before you tell someone else that at least they don’t have it as bad as someone else, pause and remind yourself that such statements are rarely helpful. Instead, focus on being a supportive listener.

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Article Sources
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