The other day I was catching up on reading (you’d be surprised how little you actually read of other work when you spend your day writing) and I came across this piece on a girl who was in love with a guy who raped her. I read through the column, definitely had feelings or opinions about it and then I made the great mistake of looking at some of the comments. The first comment uses the incredibly dangerous phrase “actually raped,” as if there is an invisible sliding scale to determine sexual assault. But what bothered me the most wasn’t the fact that people started arguing about rape. What bothered me was the need for another girl to insinuate that her trauma was worse.
The thing about trauma is that it’s always terrible. But why is there a need to say “My trauma was worse than your trauma”?
I think we’ve all seen it. It can be small things like, “I was in a fender bender,” that’s combatted with “I was in a four car pile up.” But then there’s the escalation to “My boyfriend cheated on me,” to “Well mine did with my best friend who was a guy.” Or it’s as huge as someone saying “I used to have an eating disorder,” only to have someone else say, “Well I had a feeding tube mine was so bad.” And then we start arguing about the classification of rape or who was damaged more when in reality, all that matters is that at her core, a girl was violated and hurt.
And the worst part? I think we’re all guilty. It’s the one up game. You throw out a story about a drunken night and I have one that’s crazier. You talk about your first time getting a facial and I talk about the first time I went to a sex club. You talk about a one night stand that was awkward and I tell you about the time my one night stand was my Lyft driver the next weekend. It’s the competition gene that, like or not, we all have. We’re all competitive to a certain extent and I think, and I absolutely hope, that it rarely comes from a malicious place.
But when it comes to comparing the things that have hurt us, the “my pain is worse than yours” trauma olympics, we need to knock it the fuck off.
The fact of the matter is every single person on this earth is dealing with something and you have no way of feasibly knowing how it’s affecting them. It could be as simple as a minor annoyance that just crosses their mind from time to time, or it could be keeping them up at night. Every one has unfortunately had something bad happen to them, something we wouldn’t want to happen to us, and when you say, “Well this is what happened to me,” it is an attempt, whether intentional or not, to lessen their pain.
Instead of competing, instead of saying, “I got hurt worse than you,” why not try finding common ground? Why not say, “I’m so sorry that happened to you. This happened to me and I would never wish it upon anyone.” I guarantee you that opening up a dialogue instead of a fight will always make you feel better, instead of competing in something that no one wanted to sign up for in the first place.
Here’s the thing about the trauma olympics: no one wins. At the end of the day, you both were hurt, you both were violated, you both had your hearts broken and your spirits damaged. You can deem your pain worse and get in your own head that they’re exaggerating and don’t deserve to feel the way they do but that doesn’t mean you win; it means you are letting your own personal pain define you. And in deciding that your pain is worse and in turn worth more pity isn’t going to make you feel better, it’s going to keep you from moving on. .
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