You’re allowed to have problems (and so are other people)

How many times have to told yourself ‘at least I’m not starving’ or something similar while trying to address a problem? Or heard someone else give you that advice? My problems aren’t as bad as others, so I have no reason to complain. It’s a basic attempt to put our problems into perspective. If we feel that our problems are pointless or unimportant then the following complaints are also meaningless.

I agree with this approach a fair amount of the time. A number of things that we complain about aren’t worth our time or energy and just leave us more frustrated than relieved. However, it can be useless and even detrimental at times. It can often leave us with a poorer sense of perspective afterwards.

When we first decide to say to ourselves that someone else has it worse, we make our initial problem appear trivial. It can be effective at first but as the problems become more serious, taking this approach illegitimizes it, ignores it, and ultimately fails to provide any solution. This is a problem that I face because the attitude is quite difficult to end. Mainly because I thought that focusing on my own problems was extremely selfish. Other people have it worse and my problems aren’t worth any attention.

You’re allowed to have problems.

The idea that we can’t focus on problems because others inevitably have it worse essentially means that only the most unfortunate have legitimate problems.

The problem with this approach to problems is that it doesn’t solve anything. If we don’t help ourselves, then we’ll never be in a position to help other people. Moreover, simply saying that other people are less fortunate than us, doesn’t actually help the people are less fortunate. It isn’t a bad thing to help yourself. It isn’t selfish. It isn’t rude. It’s necessary. If you never try to climb out of a pit of despair, then you’ll never be in the position to help other people out of theirs. Your problems are important – don’t think otherwise.

On the other side of things, it is possible that we can be too self centered. From what I’ve seen, a lot of people don’t actually notice it’s happening because they’re just trying to add to the conversation. Most examples go in the format of:

“I have a problem with X”

“I have that problem and a problem with Y”

The second person shifts the attention back onto themselves by saying their problem is much worse. It gives the impression that their problems aren’t worth focusing on which is extremely unhelpful. “I’m the most unfortunate person here, focus on me instead!”

Other people have problems too.

Issues are relative to each person. If someone else isn’t as hungry as you, it doesn’t mean they have no right to worry about what they’ll eat next. Simply because we see ourselves as dealing with worse, it doesn’t mean that everyone else can to handle their own issues. It doesn’t help anyone or even yourself. It comes off as an inappropriate plea for pity.

If someone asks for help, try helping them or just listen. Don’t spend your time trying to prove why you have it worse because the chances are that they won’t gain much from the situation. They’d probably think their problems aren’t worth focusing on and never solve them nor would they be able to help you. 

We don’t want to spend our time getting angry over small issues or have problems that are ignored rather than solved. We should attempt to solve our problems instead of seeing them as illegitimate straight away. This approach makes it much easier to determine whether we just want to vent and complain or have an issue that genuinely needs to be fixed.

***

I wrote this because I notice people either try to say their issues are unimportant and never solve them, or always try to shift the attention onto themselves by claiming they’re the most unfortunate. The latter happens more than the former though. I feel that nowadays both approaches are unhelpful.

However, it’s still difficult to stop feeling like I’m being selfish. Maybe I am. I’d love to know your opinions on the topic!

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