I work with many different types of adults who come to see me for therapy. Yet, there are so many similarities in what I hear from my clients. Clients often share the following in session: “I know there are people who have it much worse than I do.” Which is usually followed up by feelings of shame and guilt for expressing their suffering in the first place.
Where they’re right, is that a great deal of suffering is happening around the world. That’s the unfortunate truth. Comparing that to your own suffering typically isn’t helpful though.
Honoring Your Own Difficult Experiences
Imagine for a moment that you have just been let go from your job. It was unexpected and you’re left scrambling figuring out what to do next. The following week, in our weekly therapy session, you share with me: “ I feel lost and honestly in a bit of shock. I haven’t been able to get out of bed and I’m glued to my phone waiting to hear back for any possible job interviews.”
We begin processing those feelings you’re having and you follow up by saying “ I shouldn’t be complaining, at least I have a roof over my head. There are people who have lost their houses due to Natural Disasters, warfare, or worse. I can’t believe I feel bad for myself. I’m a terrible person.”
Deflection in Therapy as a Defense Mechanism
Let’s break down that above interaction. You shared your experiences after losing your job and how that has affected you. Together, we start to dive into how difficult it has been for you to function in your day-to-day. As we are discussing, you compare your situation to that of someone who is perceived to be in a worse position than you. Immediately the conversation shifts from you and your valid concerns to feeling even worse about yourself for something you don’t have control over.
It makes sense why we do this. It’s good to acknowledge the pain and suffering experienced by others in the world. It allows us to see humanity for what it is. Where this becomes inefficient is when we are comparing our suffering to greater humanity’s suffering. What almost inevitably happens is we can feel immense amounts of shame for being affected by our life circumstances, setting us back even more. This could even be a common defense mechanism that helps you avoid your own deeper pain and suffering.
Do you notice yourself falling into this pattern often? You’re not alone.
Using Self-Compassion to Get Perspective
If you find yourself in a position to provide any type of support to those who are also suffering around the world, do what you can to show that support.
Beginning to acknowledge and address your own personal suffering requires ‘self-compassion’. Viewing your situation through a self-compassionate lens can allow you the opportunity to begin dismantling and processing why you are suffering in the first place. You are seeing the situation for what it is, noticing lingering sensations or intrusive thoughts and begin the process of decreasing that suffering. You can do this on your own through moments of reflection, tuning in with yourself, maybe even adjusting some daily habits.
How You Can Change Your Suffering
In summary, Thicht Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, also known as the “Father of Mindfulness” speaks on human suffering with this quote: “
“If an arrow hits you, you will feel pain in that part of your body where the arrow hit; and then if a second arrow comes and strikes exactly at the same spot, the pain will not be only double, it will become at least ten times more intense. The unwelcome things that sometimes happen in life—being rejected, losing a valuable object, failing a test, getting injured in an accident—are analogous to the first arrow. They cause some pain. The second arrow, fired by our own selves, is our reaction, our storyline, and our anxiety. All these things magnify the suffering.”
To translate, when a difficult situation arises, that represents the first arrow hitting you. You feel those difficult emotions and try your best to work through it.The second arrow can represent unnecessary suffering in thinking about how it could have been worse or how others have it much worse than you do, contributing to increased negative self beliefs. You have the power to not make your situation worse by shifting focus back onto what you can do in that moment. In practicing mindfulness, you’re able to focus solely on how to better your circumstances without comparisons to others.
When to Seek Out Talk Therapy
If you’re noticing that some of those difficult feelings that I discussed above haven’t decreased or you’re feeling even worse, that could be a sign to get in touch with your support system or reach out to a mental health professional.
How We Can Help
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Other Therapy Services Available at Catalyss Counseling:
Here at Catalyss Counseling, we want to meet all of your counseling needs in the Denver area. Our supportive therapists provide depression counseling, therapy for caregiver stress, grief and loss therapy, stress management counseling and more. We also have specialists in trauma and PTSD, women's issues, pregnancy and postpartum depression or anxiety, pregnancy loss and miscarriage, and birth trauma. For therapists, we can also provide clinical supervision! We look forward to connecting with you to help support your journey today.
Marie Clyne is a licensed social worker and therapist at Catalyss Counseling. Her focus centers around adults who struggle with Depression, Anxiety, and ADHD. Marie's passion lies in getting to know you, who you want to be, and working together to help make those goals a reality. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.