“It could be worse.”

“Just be happy with what you have.”

“At least you don’t have cancer.”

“Don’t look so grim.”

What these phrases are really saying: Your feelings are trivial.

I know most people mean well when they say things like this. The problem is, these people don’t realize that such phrases do more harm than good to help those who are suffering emotionally or physically. I often smile and nod when faced with these careless phrases, but everything inside of me screams, You don’t get it, do you!?

Assuring someone that another person always “has it worse” or that they should appreciate what they have does not ease the pain; it makes the person feel guilty for feeling what they feel, and often people push the pain down further instead of acknowledging that it’s okay to feel this way. It’s okay to feel emotional because then you can deal with it. If you keep pushing your emotion and feelings aside, then you are just fooling yourself—and for many of us here, taking it out on food (or other modes of self-harm).

Yes, “things could be worse.” If your mom died, you could say the same thing. Both your parents could be dead, right? So why be sad if “just” your mom passed? You silly girl, you have so much more to life! Perk up a little!


I always want to encourage positivity, so this is not a plea to complain about the woes of your life all over Facebook or bombard your friends with every little thing that goes wrong in your life. But we should acknowledge our feelings and be okay with letting someone know we are struggling.

I feel that many people don’t understand the crux of a difficult circumstance lies not in comparison to a worse circumstance, but in recognizing the emotion someone feels. There’s a difference between being negative and being real. It’s not as easy as changing the frown to a smile. That’s putting a Band-Aid over the situation. How many times have people said they wear a mask to hide the true feelings beneath? It’s because our society perpetuates this! By telling someone that they shouldn’t feel the way they do by comparing their situation to something “worse” tells them that their feelings are not justifiable.

We need to look at the psychological component, to help and support someone to handle the stress and difficulty of a situation. Listen to them. Give them a hug after the tough days and tell them they are allowed to feel upset and frustrated. We can’t tell them to improve without giving them a chance to vent and learn from their frustrations. My mom always gave me solid advice that it is okay to wallow in self pity and pain after a bad race for a day or two, but once that time passes, you have to pick yourself back up and move on. And I agree—because once you face your emotions and let yourself think and ask for help, you can move on.

We need people who can listen and hug and cry with and for each other, because that is how we break down the walls to rebuild again rather than trying to build on a rocky, unstable surface—

The pain beneath.

Don’t hide your pain. Feel it, embrace it, talk about it, and then yes, when you’re ready, leave it for good at last.

Order your copy of Running in Silence: My Drive for Perfection and the Eating Disorder That Fed It here.

4 replies
  1. Katie
    Katie says:

    I have wanted to say the same things so many times. I used to be terrified to ask for help because I thought people would presume, “she must think she’s really important, so special, has it soooo rough and she’s just this privileged girl who has nothing to worry about except for what she looks like, how vain when people out there are really suffering.” (Most of this, I should say, came from my own internal dialogue and lack of self-worth, but there were definitely messages supporting smiling and shutting up out there, too.) The fact is, suffering cannot be weighed on a scale and quantified. My suffering is mine, and your suffering is yours, and there’s no way to compare our internal experiences by comparing the events we may be reacting to. What is a huge loss for me may be minor for you, and vice versa. We don’t need to earn our feelings or our right to share them. It ALWAYS could be worse, but that doesn’t take the sting away from how bad it feels right now. I like that you highlighted the difference between being negative and being real. Expressing suffering is not being a drama queen or a pessimist; everyone needs help and support sometimes. It isn’t helpful to dwell and ruminate on the negative, but pretending it doesn’t matter isn’t much better. Once we open up our closet of skeletons and let some air in, we find out how much tension we’ve been holding the whole time we’ve kept our back slammed against the door, and we realize that we don’t have to lie down and roll around in the ruins feeling bad for ourselves to let some light in once in a while.

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