Monday, February 3, 2014

Making Comparisons

When I was in college I volunteered at a sexual assault center for a couple of years. We worked as "advocates," which means that we were on call for 12 hour shifts in case of an assault. If you got a call, you went to the hospital and met the survivor, the police, the nurses, family or friends, etc. But you were really only there for the survivor. Our role was to be completely on his or her side, with no agendas of our own. This is so important for survivors of rape, because the rapist took away their sense of control. A big part of healing is taking control of your own body and life again. That's why it's so important that you not pressure someone into reporting a rape if they don't want to, or even getting a rape kit done. Not my body, not my call.

One of the first things we learned is that survivors have drastically different reactions to assault. Most I met were just quiet, almost as if in shock. Some sobbed (very few); some were laughing hysterically; some joked around; some were (understandably) enraged. No one responds to rape the same way: we are all different people, with our own experiences and histories and bodies.

What's more, no one can tell you how you should react. One of the fallacies about rape and other crimes is "if it really happened, she would say/ do xyz." But there is no formula when it comes to personal experience.

That's why I am trying, trying, trying to learn not to compare my own experiences with those of others. It goes both ways. On the one hand, I cannot say "well I really didn't have a hard year because at least I'm not starving on the street." On the other, I cannot say "well look at that whiner, she doesn't even know what real stress is." It's all relative.

Another thing I learned is that you have the right to say "it was a bad year/ month/ day/ whatever" even if good things happened. You can own it. I'm not saying you should wallow in it, but don't feel guilty for your feelings either. Just because every second of your life was not pure agony does not mean that it's been all roses and sunshine either.

So if you're in the habit of telling others why they should really be happy with their lot, please stop. You may have the best of intentions when you say "well at least your grandma isn't suffering any more," but those words are poison. They rob the other person of the right to feel.

Also, if you're in the habit of comparing your life with that of others, please know that you are damaging yourself. No one knows the pain or joy in another person's heart, not even of their spouse's.

No one can tell you how to feel, and you cannot tell anyone else how to feel. Go write in on your mirror so you won't forget, and I'll do the same.


  1. I have felt judged beyond anything because of the way I handled the hardest year of my life . . . last year. I just deleted a bunch of stuff I wrote, but because I didn't react the way people thought I should I lost family and friends. How does anyone know what someone will do in a crisis? They aren't that person and everyone is different.

    1. Oh my, I'm so sorry, that sucks. It's so rotten to be kicked when you're already down. I hope things will go more smoothly for you this year!

  2. Caroline, would you mind e-mailing me please? An issue came up due to RCIA this week that I think you may be one of the few who understand. I mean, we have a very similar church background. Thanks so much. jenndiggy gmail com :)