The Worst Thing Ever (or) Validation, Stress, and Negative One-Upmanship

Everyone in the world has something that they would classify as the worst thing that’s ever happened to them. Those things can vary from “The day the rebel soldiers murdered my family in front of me” to “the day my fish died”. The variety of the human experience on this planet is utterly and ridiculously unfathomable, and as such, so are the “worst” things that happen to us.

When I was an RA, we went through a few weeks of training before the start of the year. One of the things they talked to us about was the validation of feelings. If a student comes to you because they failed a class, and that is the worst thing that ever happened to them, you need to treat it as such. Likewise, if a student comes to you because their family member just died and that is the worst thing that ever happened to them, you treat it as such. One person’s struggles do not invalidate another’s, even if we’re tempted to believe that they do.

The examples above are extreme, but I think that too often we get caught up in the culture of negative one-upmanship. Someone may say “Oh gosh, I had the worst day – x, y and z just happened”, to which someone else may respond, “Oh, that’s nothing, that happens to me all the time,” or, “Oh, tell me about it, listen to this”. The thing is, there is no point in trying to one-up someone in misery or stress. What can be gained by that? Certainly nothing good or positive. It may lead to temporary validation of a negative mood, but ultimately it only feeds on itself. And the person telling you about their stress probably just needs to vent, rather than feel as though their issues are invalid.

Because at the end of the day, struggles are struggles. And what may seem minute to us may be mountainous to another, or vice versa. We cannot afford to entrap ourselves in a cycle of “I have it worse than you” statements that feed on and inflate our own misery while simultaneously tearing down the feelings of another. Instead, we should simply encourage one another. If someone is having a rough time and you think you have it rougher, that’s okay, but it doesn’t mean they have no right to complain or vent, and it certainly doesn’t mean that they are not deserving of comfort.

We all struggle, and we all need to be each other’s life boats from time to time. Instead of trying to swim further into the depths than someone else to prove a point, why not give each other a hand and get onto the boat?

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