I was in a conversation the other day in which a friend was mentioned. She is in poor general health, struggling with chronic fatigue and a host of other pain issues. I was speaking with her mother, asking after her and expressing a wish for ease in her life. Her mother said, “I don’t know why she has these problems. Her father and I don’t have any of them.”

Okay. I can roll with that. But I know this person fairly well. Enough to love her. And I know she went through some shit in her life. So I say, “I know she went through some trauma as a child. That can affect how our bodies heal.”

Her mother says, “Yes, but so did I, and my trauma was much worse.”


I really want to shake people who trump a person’s trauma with their own. Instead, I imagine Keanu Reeves because he was foxy back in the day. Am I right? He is also a person who has been through some serious shit but keeps on chugging.

But back to her mother saying, “Yes, but so did I, and my trauma was much worse.” Let’s ignore for a moment that the woman I was talking to is crippled periodically by anxiety and depression. Let’s set aside that she is in denial of her own needs –because she is. It’s common for us to exist this way. Instead, let’s focus on this horrible statement she made, albeit with no ill intent.

“My trauma is worse than her trauma.”

That’s effectively the same as, “Suck it up, sweetheart.”

Or, “You shouldn’t feel that way.”

Stop for a second and recall the last time you told someone they “didn’t need to feel that way.” Pretty recent, right?

Hey, I don’t know this woman’s story. I barely know her daughter’s. The surface I have scratched tells me that both of them are carrying some compelling baggage, and that mine is minuscule compared to theirs. But comparisons aren’t helpful. Yes, we all have shit. Some is piled deeper than others. But some folks can extract their feet from their boots and slap barefoot over that shit, while others of us sink deeper and struggle with the muck for a lifetime (or longer, depending on your spiritual views). In fact, there is an entire continent of humans today currently mired in worse shit than I will ever face. That doesn’t change that my experiences were painful or that I had to heal from them emotionally before I could be physically healthy.

That’s what we’re talking about here for my friend. She has to heal emotionally before she will find full physical relief. See what Science has to say about this! Much of her exhaustion is from the stress of the experiences she keeps inside, maybe because she has voices in her ear invalidating her life experience by telling her she shouldn’t be feeling what she is feeling.

Please don’t do this. Don’t try to make someone feel better by telling them it could be worse. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve been in where I have been given the same message.

I have a request: the next time you find yourself telling someone they don’t need to feel the way they do, stop yourself. Apologize. Recognize that they have every right to feel the way they do. Say instead, “That sounds painful” or “I can hear that was hard for you” or “I’m sorry that happened.” A hand on the shoulder can say as much if silence is more comfortable. Let the person feel what they are feeling in that moment.

The thing is, quitting the feeling doesn’t end the pain. Instead, we carry it around while it festers, eventually popping back up later to confound us because we have no idea where it came from or what triggered it. Then we have a much longer process of rediscovery and re-experience in order to feel what we weren’t allowed to in the first place.

Stopping to feel allows us to heal. Say that to yourself. Please, please remember. I made it rhyme so it’s easy.

Stopping to feel allows us to heal.

Carry that forward, friends. Let me know how it goes.

*edited to remove self-limiting statements.

Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is an essayist, fiction writer, poet and instructor with an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Some of her work has been published in The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, [wherever], The Huffington Post, The Oxford Review and Exit 7. Her writing explores the intersections of race, place and survivorship. She writes with honesty about her own experience in order to transform pain.

5 Discussion to this post

  1. Heidi says:

    Wonderful piece. I have experienced this many times, especially from my own mother. When we don’t allow others to process their pain, we are also affecting our own progress. I believe it is a control issue…and Keanu knows, most of us with that kind of trauma experience…control issues. 🙂

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  2. soangiewrites says:

    This is really important work you’re doing with your words. I’m glad to meet you. Thank you.

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