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Comparative Suffering and Codependency

Comparative Suffering and Codependency

So… what a year this week has been. I know it’s not the first time that I’ve said this.

That’s pretty much been true for this entire pandemic, but it especially felt true this last week with the addition of escalating BLM protests in response to the death of George Floyd while in police custody.

I tried to mostly stay silent on this social media out of respect for the Black Lives Matter movement and the moment, and without disrespecting that in any way, I am glad to jump back into writing with this post which now seems especially timely, as I’ve certainly shuddered when I’ve seen people act on comparative suffering instincts in expressing their thoughts about the state of the world.

Now- I’ve never seen these two subjects written about together in any of the research or reading that I’ve done on codependency, so I’m really curious to get your thoughts on what I’m writing today.

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Have you heard of the term “comparative suffering?”

Generally, it means to downplay someone else’s suffering because of your own. You know the kind of person that does this. The friend that always has it worse than everyone else, no matter what is going on. It’s the girlfriend who starts a new job and “only” has three weeks of vacation and can’t stop obsessing about the fact that her friends at other companies people have four weeks. The family member that responds to your story of stubbing your toe with a story about the time they broke three of theirs… while being robbed at a gas station.

Comparative suffering means that one fails to look at the suffering of others for what it is, and instead compares it to their own trials.

Being emotionally intelligent means that we should be able to take other people’s perspectives into account while simultaneously not being blinded by what we are feeling at the moment.

As a codependent, I actually do the opposite. Anyone relate?

Instead of downplaying someone else’s suffering, I elevate their suffering. Above my own. Way above my own. So much so that I forget about my suffering.

Codependency is vicious because it causes us to abuse ourselves. We judge ourselves for being human. At the core of our relationship with ourselves, when in the throws of codependent way of relating to others, is the feeling that we are somehow not worthy and not loveable.

we teach people how to treat us

So, when we see someone we love hurting, we minimize our own pain and suffering. Sometimes the very pain and suffering that the person we love caused us.

I. CANNOT. TELL. YOU. HOW. MANY. TIMES. I. DID. THIS.

There was a vicious cycle in my marriage that I recognized early on. It was an approximately four week cycle, magnified by my ex’s schedule of working 9-80s, 4-10s, or having Monday/Friday as remote work days, which usually meant that Thursday nights into Fridays, particularly every 4 weeks, would be the darkest moments. The cycle was similar to the cycle of abuse. For those of you that aren’t familiar, here’s a graphic.

cycle of abuse

With my situation, he didn’t go into the making up phase (also known as love bombing) right away. There was an additional sub-phase, if you will- the deep depression phase. So there would be the event, the deep depression, the make up, the calm, and then the build up to the next event.

What that deep depression phase did was rob me of the ability to ever process what happened or feel anything other than extreme pity for him because I became immediately engrossed in his suffering.  I could never feel the anger or sadness or frustration or whatever else it may be because I became lost in the destruction that he caused in the “event” stage- whether that damage was to me or to himself or someone else altogether. It encouraged me to never hold him accountable and to never let him feel the consequences of his behavior. It was enabling the behavior, frankly, and it took me a long time to understand that.

It was peak empath behavior, and really- the exact opposite of comparative suffering. It is also a surefire way to make sure you are completely out of touch with yourself, and as you all know, I am on a quest this year to be my most authentic self. So these behaviors had to change!

Narcissists do not have the ability to stop taking from you. Ever. They may turn the knob down a little in various parts of the cycle, but they always take. Always. So your suffering will never be as important as theirs. They will never allow you to experience it because that would mean that they had to face the fact that they caused it and have empathy for it- something they are not capable of.

Codependents and empaths alike have unhealthy ways of relating to others. We feel too much. We care too much. And we fail to protect ourselves by setting boundaries on behaviors we’re willing to accept or tolerate. That all but ensures that the destruction the narcissist wrecks on their own life will permeate to ours, and it’s a hard cycle to break.

I’d love to hear if this is something you relate to at all, whether simply being someone who knows the quintessential comparative sufferer or if you, like me, over-empathize and minimize your own suffering.

And here’s a picture of beautiful sunny Florida, because I forget what it looks like after ten days of rainstorms. Just trying to be expectantly optimistic and all 🙂

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By 3under3andme

Krista is an attorney residing in Pittsburgh, PA with her husband, son Nico, daughters Gabriella and Milana, and their au pair, Chloe!

One Comment

  • Have you read Melody Beattie’s “Codependent no more”? I am also codependent and I was constantly looking for a “cure”. It took a long time to realize this is it. I will always be codependent, but I have learned healthier ways to deal with it. (Having said that, the old demon shame suffused my spirit as I wrote this) I had different terms though, in stead of comparative suffering it was “competition between martyrs”. Which, really is the same thing. I have family members who still do that – compare their painful experiences to mine, and theirs, of course, is always much, much worst. I learned not to go to these people for comfort but every now and then I’d forget. At any rate I came to understand that they were sick with co-dependency too, but I had sought help and got it. That allows me to both protect myself while having a bit of empathy for those who have not.

    I want to thank you for posting this. It seems that I still need reminders these many years later. I have discovered that I can and will revert to old codependent behaviors during times of great stress – like a pandemic! Although thankfully I now know the signs and can pull myself out of it.

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